Tokyo, Part II: A Design Study

I could go on forever about the buildings in Tokyo because they were so varied and there was so much to see. I could have spent at least 3 more days in Tokyo, then another week in Kyoto, a week in Osaka… oh, I just need a year in Japan I think.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (AKA Les Corbusier)

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (AKA Les Corbusier)

There was ONE building I didn’t talk about in the last post, because I felt it deserving of its own post. You see, I finally stepped foot in my favorite architect’s work! Not only did I experience the work of the great Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (AKA Les Corbusier), I visited a museum he designed which housed a significant exhibit of his work. It felt amazing to look at models built by him (or his office), and see his sketches and planning drawings of Villa Savoye among others. To see models of his ideas for urban planning- the start to what today’s cities are, felt almost surreal, magical. Photos cannot possibly do this building justice, and there were many areas where photos were not permitted, so I’ll do my best to find references images.

Drumroll please… the building was the National Museum of Western Art.

This was one of the two days of really cruddy weather. Weather aside, the building was still beautiful.

This was one of the two days of really cruddy weather. Weather aside, the building was still beautiful.

One of the things I love about Les Corbusier is that his architectural forms are understated. He makes a statement, and often a bold statement, but not by getting overly extravagent. No walls of glass here, no outlandish textures or unusual shapes. Just an elegant mass seemingly floating above the nearly hidden entry.

The first exhibit we saw was the Les Corbusier exhibit. Photos were allowed here, but since my Japanese is rusty, I was understanding the sign to read “no photos” and thought I was being sneaky getting a few quick shots. In the entry exhibit, the ceiling vaulted to the second floor and a loft that overlooked it. A gorgeous, triangle skylight was centered over the space, giving natural light, and on a rainy day it was still quite sufficient:

Natural lighting does the trick for general lighting on a rainy day. It is a museum after all, and specialized lighting is a must.

Natural lighting does the trick for general lighting on a rainy day. It is a museum after all, and specialized lighting is a must.

It may look simple to some, but this space blew me away. The lighting was perfect. The use of color, contrast, weight, texture, and balance was phenomenal. Notice the lowered ceiling that is painted black, so that this feels like an interior space within an almost exterior space. The contrast in scale and light felt almost like that of stepping from an open field under the canopy of forest. Even in the incredibly tall space, it felt warm, inviting, and comfortable.

Jeanneret-Gris is one of the few architects who really celebrates color in his interior spaces. It may not be apparent in the image above, and most of the spaces where it was very clear were the areas where photos weren’t allowed. I found some, but very few images and pinned them to illustrate the color use throughout the building.

There were several panels behind the art that varied in color, mostly a pale blue or a rich teal. Accents I recall being in red, black, and blue and could fill a full wall. This space breaks so many rules that I learned in school.

  1. Do not use direct daylight to light art spaces (ahem.. professor who gave me a bad grade on that project).

  2. Do not use color in art spaces, it distracts from the art (cough, cough, only the god of architecture can do that, huh?)

So, what did I learn from visiting this space? Rules certainly can apply, but some rules are meant more as ideas and thoughts than rules. It is our job to explore the things we should do as well as the things we should not. A few other fun observations below!

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris on the left, and me proudly posing in my Corbusier style glasses to imitate my hero. I kind of think we look like we could be related, don’t you?

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris on the left, and me proudly posing in my Corbusier style glasses to imitate my hero. I kind of think we look like we could be related, don’t you?

I admit, I got a little choked up when leaving here. Why didn’t I go back to school for a Masters in Architecture when I could have? I was good at designing modern homes, and could have designed so many wonderful spaces. Why? Well, I had a Bachelor’s in Interior Design with a minor in Business Administration, an AA, then shortly after a Masters in Business Administration. I love interior design. I love the focus on interior spaces and working within an existing shell. I love that in my business, my project are more interior architecturally based than froof and fluff as I say. I love the built environment, and maybe one day I will be a HOME designer. I am certainly moving in that direction. But, I am very happy to take baby steps and get there one foot at a time. For the time being, my passion for architecture allows me to preserve the architect’s original intent and honor it when working on existing spaces. My inner Jeanneret-Gris is still there.

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