Architect: SANAA | Date completed: 2010 | Location: Teshima, Seto Sea, Japan | Travel year: 2016
Teshima island is the epitome of an artistic and magical place. It is a rural island in itself where you will find many rural homes still inhabited by mostly fishermen and old people. However, it is a very exciting travel destination to see contemporary art. Getting around the island is fairly easy; however, the best bet for fast and handy transportation we found as a group of about 18 people was to rent bicycles. It is in fact, impossible and tiring (unless you are a world-renown athlete), to get to the Teshima Art Museum by foot. It is imperative also, to rent an electrical bike. Trust me when I say this, the experience was not a fun one, trying to go up the craziest hills of my life in a bike with no gears. People told me I was crazy, but I was sure I was in the best shape of life — I thought wrong.
After about 15 minutes of going up hill walking alongside my bike – Yes, I was taking the bike instead of the bike taking me – we finally arrived to a leveled land, where there was a spectacular view to the ocean. All along the road up hill, trees were shadowing and blocking the view so I could not see what was away from the border of the hill. But reaching the Teshima Museum was a gold mine. We were sitting on top of rice fields and agricultural lands with the best view spot in the whole island.
The reception office was beautiful, again you see the concrete themed walls with very smooth surfaces. Extremely technological lockers and amazing bathrooms with talking toilets. From the street you could see a tiny glimpse of the Teshima Museum but most importantly there was a similar structure next door to it, which was the gift shop and cafe. A seating area overlooking the sea with some really comfy pods and what looked like to be a route going around a circle. We were told to follow this route, as always, Japanese architecture deals mostly with the path and the experience of the individual before, during, and after being in these spaces, somewhat like a procession.
I was prompted to put all my belongings into a small pocket-sized purse they hand out. To put my shoes neatly away in a bin, and not to touch the water drops and to be completely silent. Going into this space, which seemed so pure and void of preoccupations, was a beautiful experience. Inside, you could see people looking up at the sky from the two holes of the museum and/or sitting down around the droplets and following their path.
“It was important to us to create an architectural space that could coexist with Rei Naito’s work, and act in harmony with the island’s environment. We proposed an architectural design composed of free curves, echoing the shape of a water drop. Our idea was that the curved drop-like form would create a powerful architectural space in harmony with the undulating landforms around it.” – Ryue Nishizawa
And they were right, the museum seems to have a relationship between nature and the man-made structure. The concrete is so thin that you do not feel it to be a massive piece of architecture, but instead you feel it to be part of the external landscape, like a slope or a hill from the outside. Inside, there are large apertures on the surface of the shell to let light, wind, and rain in.
Inside the structure, you could hear something. It is extremely interesting what can be heard when everything is so silent, but you could hear the water emerging from the tiny punctures in the concrete on the ground. You could hear a pitched noise somewhat like a noise I had never heard before that made the water drops move and vibrate. It was almost as if it was coming from the ground, from under all of us. Another thing you could hear was all the sounds of nature. Birds, crickets, insects, anything with life and noise you could hear. You could hear the sea and distant sounds that meant the world was following its rightful path. Interestingly enough, the installation by Rei Naito, the water droplets, come from two openings underground that collect rain water. The water system, which impulses the drops out from the concrete into the floor, is located in two sides of the structure.
The openings inside the shell are very interesting too, for the fact that they shape the nature outside. In one, the one seen above, people can appreciate the passing of the clouds and the changes in the sky. On another one, you can see trees and birds passing by. At one moment in my time inside, a bird flew in from the outside and stood just on the concrete, along with other insects that were around us, spiders and ants who have made this their home.
The fact that every piece of structure in the island is almost made of concrete is something worth looking at. What does “pure simplicity” mean? We always associate the words “simple” and “pure” with Mies van der Rohe, the modern architect that made us believe that the best materials to achieve simplicity and emptiness are translucent glass and steel. Others, have tried to recreate this theme by doing projects in materials such as acrylic and aluminum. Concrete never seemed like the best idea to accomplish the simplicity lifestyle technique. But what we can learn from this, is that if you believe concrete is not a material worth using to create pure and “nothingness” you are wrong. Also, how can we make curves in concrete? Is it even possible?
Ryue Nishizawa, a co-founder of the Pritzker winning firm SANAA has worked hard with a structural engineer to propose a structure that is concrete-based and still undulates. Never before had a structure so pure been created, a form without doors, windows or handrails. Something that did not look like it had structural support, it was just made like a form in nature. This is where the shell came into play. The shell for the structure had to be pour all at once, over a period of 22 hours, with a mortar formwork. The undulating small hills created by the concrete are the ones that make the water drop installations run free and you can see them skim along the sloping surface. Droplets are absorbed by droplets and you can even bet which one will get to its hole in the floor the fastest depending on their speed. The installation is very engaging, that is the whole point.
The next thing to keep in mind is the relationship between nature, art, and architecture. When given a site such as this, architects seem to forget the relationship it has to the outside world. What is around the site? The beautiful growing rice fields and the curvatures of the terrain. SANAA was able to incorporate nature to the project by also bringing in the openings and light into it. Inside of the bubble, you can feel how the wind travels inside the structure, and how every sound is heard. It is an amazing experience, which brings all the senses and perceptions to play. Something that Japanese architects are very good at doing.