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Jun Aoki: Giving a century-old museum a glass face lift

How can a historical building remain relevant for the next century? Architect Jun Aoki transforms a key Kyoto cultural site for contemporary relevance.

Photo by Joanna Kawecki


March 23rd, 2020

After nine decades, one of Japan’s oldest public art museums in Kyoto has unveiled its first, highly-anticipated renewal since the buildings historic completion in 1933. The Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art has welcomed a modern transformation of the original Imperial Crown western style structure with a striking new entrance and brand new annex, intended to house and present the museum’s contemporary works.

Photo by Joanna Kawecki

The large-scale renovation was led by renowned Japanese architect Jun Aoki, who aimed to create a new design to “seek continuity whilst adding a new layer”. Aoki, whose projects include Louis Vuitton Japan retail stores and the Aomori Museum of Art, recognised the historical site held structural and preservation constraints and saw them as an advantage. Aoki explains, “My idea was to allow a new visage to emerge while preserving the underlying architecture.”

Photo by Joanna Kawecki

For the project, Aoki worked alongside Kyoto-born architect Tezzo Nishizawa, a former architect at Jun Aoki & Associates who had led the firm’s design for Aomori Museum of Art. Both architects brought complementing perspectives to the concept and approach with their “similar attitude towards architecture,” as noted by Aoki. “We decided to join together on this project due to Tezzo’s extensive experience in renovation and gallery interiors, such as his renewal of the collection room galleries at the Tokyo National Museum.”

Photo by Takeru Koroda

The museum now boasts a striking new entrance created by joining glass panels to create an undulating glass ribbon form, where visitors are drawn into the museum from a sloping, piazza-like open public area, furthermore leading to new museum cafe and retail spaces. “We used a very delicate treatment of the slope angles to encourage people to come to the museum, and to gather and interact.” Aoki notes.

Photo by Takeru Koroda

The building’s interior navigation was originally deemed austere and unaccommodating due to the narrow and uninviting entrance. Aoki and Nishizawa decided to utilise the basement as the main entry point with a new staircase leading towards exhibition halls and the rear Japanese garden. A rooftop area, open free to the public 24 hours a day, sits atop the new annex building and museum storage facility. The interconnected spaces add a sense of harmony and fluidity. Aoki explains, “If you can feel some continuity or some penetration into the building, you can feel more comfortable. By connecting the west and east of the building, I tried to draw out the museum’s embedded axis.”

Photo by Takeru Koroda

Aoki’s use of repetition can be found, with curvatures found balcony contours to the central spiral staircase and the building’s sinuous entrance. Aoki’s use of GFRC (glass fibre reinforced concrete) utilised in a former project, was reinterpreted to reflect the buildings historic brick facade. The limestone-like modules include slender stainless steel panels that reflect light throughout the day, creating an ever-changing atmosphere. Whilst making additional updates such as seismic reinforcements to meet current regulations, the architect’s intention was to reinvigorate the historic 90-year-old structure in a modern context and remain for another century as; “A Museum Where Time Converges”.

Photo by Joanna Kawecki


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