An iconic gateway to an underground world of wonder at Osaka’s National Museum of Art

Osaka, Japan

The National Museum of Art is an international destination for contemporary art in Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area. The museum was at the heart of a sweeping urban development effort on Nakano Island — now a major cultural and arts district in the city’s historic center. This distinctive museum is entirely subterranean with three levels of underground exhibition galleries and public gathering spaces. A landmark presence in Osaka’s skyline, the museum’s entrance lobby is a larger-than-life stainless steel and glass sculpture inspired by the region’s native bamboo groves. The evocative structure appears to ascend from underground, curving and tilting to form a dynamic glass-enclosed entrance lobby that welcomes visitors from around the world.

meters is the total length of tubular steel structure
The design team making the steel tube structure model in the New Haven office.
“The forms are an expression of bamboos growing from the ground, reaching for the clouds and swaying in the wind. They represent a very dynamic and exciting view of contemporary art, continually renewing itself.” — Cesar Pelli FAIA, RIBA, JIA
A sculptural landmark in the city, the silvery reed-like spires appear to burst through the glass roof and soar skyward.
20 meters
total depth below grade

A creative feat of imagination and engineering

Nestled between the Tosabori River and Dojima River on Nakano Island, the museum’s underground site descends below flood-level, with no bedrock and soil heavily infused with water. The museum’s subterranean design evokes a three-hull submarine, allowing the building to use its substantial weight to sink into the soil and resist the water’s buoyancy. The building’s three-layer shell of concrete and waterproofing membrane reaches a thickness of over ten feet. This innovative waterproof design reduces energy use, increases protection against earthquakes, and enhances security.

Daylight pours in through the glass rooftop, bringing an everchanging play of light and shadow to surround visitors as they enter the museum. 
From the entrance lobby, visitors flow smoothly down to the first level’s ticketing reception, auditorium, and intimate restaurant.
The engine of Osaka’s thriving arts district since 2004, the National Museum of Art attracts visitors from around the world.

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Architect of Record: Jun Mitsui & Associates
  • Structural Engineer: Mitsubishi Jisho Sekkei
  • MEP: Mitsubishi Jisho Sekkei

Project Information

  • Location: Osaka, Japan
  • Client: Ministry of Construction, Kinki Regional Construction Bureau, Ministry of Culture
  • Size: 145,200 sq. ft. / 13,500 sq. m.
  • Completion: 2004
  • Firm Role: Design Architect


  • 2005, AIA Connecticut Design Award
  • Principal Project Photography: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO