National Museum of Contemporary Art, Osaka+ expand detail
145,000 square feet / 14,000 square meters
The National Museum of Art posed an unusual design challenge: to create an iconic image for a museum in which only the entrance lobby was allowed to be built above ground. The design for this subterranean contemporary art museum responded to this requirement with an entrance that is an enormous stainless steel and glass sculpture. This web of intertwining stainless steel tubes stands against the sky with greater impact than its size would seem to permit.
The entrance structure is designed to resemble reeds along a riverbank or arching stalks of a bamboo grove. The complex, organic composition appears to bend with the wind, sprouting mysteriously from the plaza and creating a landmark for the new cultural district.
The lightweight structure acts as a counter-point to the massive form of the neighboring science museum. The titanium-coated stainless steel tubes rise to two vertical peaks, rising 52 meters and 34 meters (170 feet and 112 feet) above grade. These steel “stalks” are allowed to sway, whimsically animating the plaza and attracting visitors to the two museums. For the steel tubes that penetrate the skylight glass, there is a watertight seal in the form of a plate with a bellows. The bellows allows the steel tubes to move 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inches) in any direction.
The underground site posed a particular challenge for an art museum because the soil is infused with water and there is no bedrock on the island. The solution was to sink the museum into the soil like a ship with triple-hull construction, which resists the water’s buoyancy by its sheer weight. The museum is distributed on three levels below grade. The first level is a public gathering space, followed by two levels of galleries for temporary and permanent exhibitions. The three floors are spacious and receive natural light. Visitors soon forget that they are underground and become absorbed watching people and viewing the exhibitions.
The National Museum of Art was awarded an AIA Connecticut Design Award in 2005.