Roku Museum by Hiroshi Nakamura 26.04.11

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"This is a design that makes people want to snuggle up against the building," says Hiroshi Nakamura about the Roku Museum, his latest work. Housing a small gallery and cafe, and situated in a typically diffuse periurban area on a busy road in the city of Oyama, a couple of hours north of Tokyo, the architect has crafted a building vigorously responsive to context on a site where there is nothing much to respond to. Rather than drawing cues from the built environment, Nakamura sought first to invent a natural environment, and then form his building around that.

A copse of 18 trees was planned, carefully selected and positioned, with deciduous species to the south and evergreens to the north. These trees were accurately modelled by computer to simulate the movements of their branches in high winds. The built volumes took their form from the spaces traced out by these movements.

The result is a building that manages to combine the high abstraction of Boolean operations with a quirky vernacular appeal, something simultaneously figurative and spatial. The exterior is a complex form that swoops and crests under the concave impacts of the trees' foliage, yet one whose sculptural drama is rusticated with a uniform cladding of brown asphalt shingles, which looks uncannily like a computer texture map.

The interior, a gentle repudiation of "white cube" neutrality, is a top-lit realm of softly draping convexities, finished in a white elastic plaster. The trees can always be felt, even when they cannot be seen. The responsiveness to the spatial requirements of the trees overrules those of the building's human users in some places. The entrance is low, requiring a stoop to pass through; an area of the cafe cannot be occupied except by sitting down. Nakamura describes these techniques as ways to shift everyday behaviour and consequently perception, an approach also found in the traditional Japanese teahouse. "When people bow their heads," he observes, "it brings about a feeling of humility. People discard their social status and pretence and return to their real self."

"Our hope is to create a special type of communication between nature, people and the building" says Nakamura. For all the evident formal and behavioural sophistication here, the goal remains prelapsarian – to use architecture to reconnect people to nature.

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Sergio Pirrone



Julian Worrall

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When people bow their heads it brings about a feeling of humility

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