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Focus features two in-depth reviews each month of fine art, architecture, and design exhibitions at art museums, galleries, and alternative spaces around Japan.

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image image Connection to the Earth: A New Art Space Envisioned by Architect Kengo Kuma
James Lambiasi
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Exterior view of the Kadokawa Culture Museum. Photo © Kadokawa Culture Museum

Tokorozawa Sakura Town is an exciting new facility located within the lush green environment of Tokorozawa, a city northwest of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, where architect Kengo Kuma has deftly knitted together community space, cultural facilities, and industry into one complex. Created through an initiative by the city and the Kadokawa Corporation titled Cool Japan Forest Vision, Sakura Town contains a wide array of functions, including a museum for anime, an anime-themed hotel, an event pavilion, a religious shrine, an office campus, book manufacturing facilities, retail shops, and restaurants. The crown jewel in this complex is the Kadokawa Culture Museum, a place where art, education, and the culture of books are integrated together. Standing like a stone fortress in an ancient castle town, it is a granite-clad monolith that simultaneously houses the museum facilities within while providing an iconic backdrop to the bustle of community activity and the verdant park surrounding it.

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Two views of the Kengo Kuma exhibition. Top photo by James Lambiasi; bottom photo © Kadokawa Culture Museum

While the official opening of the entire complex is scheduled for 6 November this year, the completion of the Kadokawa Culture Museum is currently being commemorated by the preliminary opening of portions of the building from 1 August until 15 October. Concurrent with this opening period is an exhibition that highlights the design concept and process of the museum and other iconic works by Kuma. Entitled Kengo Kuma: The Birth of an Art Space Connected to Nature -- Transcendent Architecture in Stone and Wood, it offers exhibits that provide extensive explanations of the building's exterior and interior details, several models of Kuma's work that document the evolution of his work in stone and wood, and an installation that projects more than 200 images of Kuma's works by photographer Kenshu Shintsubo along a 40-meter-long wall.

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Model of Tokorozawa Sakura Town, scale 1/300, © Kadokawa Culture Museum. Photo by James Lambiasi


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Exhibit of actual museum facade material exemplifying Kuma's "transcendent architecture in stone,"
© Kadokawa Culture Museum. Photo by James Lambiasi

A key component of the exhibition showcases the painstaking work that went into constructing the intricate stone cladding of the exterior facade. The monolithic form is composed of 61 triangular facets, similar to the faceted surface of a diamond. Each of these triangles consists of a pixel-like array of rectangular 50-by-70-centimeter white and gray granite slabs imported from China. In order to ensure that all 61 of the triangular facets had the correct arrangement and balance in color, each one was laid out on the floor of a factory space in Japan and checked before they were attached to the facade of the building. Detailed construction drawings and actual stone samples demonstrate how embedded steel hardware is used to attach the stone panels with great precision onto a steel lattice framework.

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Bookshelf Theater mockup, with a photo of Kengo Kuma on the right, © Kadokawa Culture Museum. Photo by James Lambiasi


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View inside the Bookshelf Theater, © Kadokawa Culture Museum. Photo by James Lambiasi

Due to open on 6 November and accessed from the fourth floor of the museum, the Bookshelf Theater is a 10-meter-high atrium space completely surrounded by bookshelves. Filled with a varied collection of new, old, and rare books, this towering chamber is an energetic expression of the power books provide through learning. Kuma studied the design of the bookshelves through life-sized mockups, one of which is on display as an exhibit and shows how clever variations in depth, staggered lengths, and subdued vertical supports help to emphasize the presence of the books themselves.

The entry ticket to the Kuma exhibition while it is open until 15 October also includes access to the Manga and Light Novel Library. Reminiscent of the Bookshelf Theater, this library consists of plywood bookshelves and seating that create an ambience integrated with the books, conjuring an environment especially friendly to children that entices one to pick up a book and start reading.

To restrict the number of visitors during this time of heightened awareness of COVID-19 prevention, entry to the museum requires an advance reservation that can be easily acquired online. The museum administration is thoroughly implementing a variety of measures to ensure a safe environment that visitors can relax in and enjoy.

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Manga and Light Novel Library, © Kadokawa Culture Museum. Photo by James Lambiasi


All images shown by permission of the Kadokawa Culture Museum.


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Kengo Kuma: The Birth of an Art Space Connected to Nature -- Transcendent Architecture in Stone and Wood
1 August - 15 October 2020
Explanatory text about the exhibits is provided in Japanese and English.
Kadokawa Culture Museum
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James Lambiasi
Following completion of his Master's Degree in Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1995, James Lambiasi has been a practicing architect and educator in Tokyo for over 20 years. He is the principal of his own firm James Lambiasi Architect, has taught as a visiting lecturer at several Tokyo universities, and has lectured extensively on his work. James served as president of the AIA Japan Chapter in 2008 and is currently the director of the AIA Japan lecture series that serves the English-speaking architectural community in Tokyo. He blogs about architecture at tokyo-architect.com.
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