Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, Japan

I would like to dedicate this article as a tribute to the architect with whose work I fell in love with – Akio Okumura (1928 – 2012 December 27th2012 ).

The University is located in a hilly area on the eastern outskirts of Nagoya. Established in 1966 the campus covers a large area of approximately 410,000 square meters, with University facilities blending harmoniously with the surrounding nature and greenery.  It is a third public art school build after the war in Japan.

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View from the Faculty of Fine Arts drawing room to the Faculty of Music

The main architects who worked on the design were Junzō Yoshimura (1908-1997) who was credited for the design and  Akio Okumura who was a young assistant professor at the time and who actually did the main work.

I actually visited the site before the death of Akio Okumura. Upon retuning to the Europe I collected the facts and the details of the University and it’s design process. Back then, just a few weeks ago, there was scarcely any information about the works of Akio Okumura or the architect himself. Now, however the articles, stories and photos to be found on the web have at least tripled.

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Lecture Building

Discovering the modernist gem:

Strange ways lead me to this place: one nice afternoon, when I was visiting Nagoya city, I decided to visit the most recommended tourist attraction in the region: the Toyota Automobile Museum. The means of getting there was on a specially made MAGLEV train, what is elevated from the ground on special tracks. When I got out of a train and took few shots of the tracks, that was it: a battery of a camera got flat. It automatically meant that we will not be going to the museum as what is the point of being there if you cannot take any pictures (a bit shallow, I know). Since the Toyota Automobile Museum is outside the city limits and it already took long time to get there, I started looking around maybe there is something else to see nearby. There was a sign on a street to an art university (university was the trigger word). As I had my research of architecture in Nagoya done prior going there, I assumed that this must be the Nagoya University, designed by the famous modernist Fumihiko Maki, a winner of Pritzker Prize. So without much hesitation off we went, in the back of my head I knew this was not the university I mentioned before, but I though “well you cannot go wrong, universities are always interesting”. And it resulted into the best unintended architectural finding ever! This university that I am showing to you now definitely is not the one I originally wanted to see, but latter-on I did visit and photograph the University of Nagoya (so please come back to check out my posts!).

The fist visit to Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music left a deep impression on me. I had plenty of time to wander around the campus and enjoy the atmosphere. Being without a camera actually helped me to really be there. The day was cloudy, and in such weather modernist buildings look even more attractive than in perfect sunny conditions. I fell in love, understood and saw the ideas behind the buildings. The designer must have loved this design, something that architects know from their experience. There are sometimes designs that may not be perfect, but you just happen to feel unreasonably passionate about them. That night, before falling asleep, I was still walking around and seeing the Art University buildings with my eyes closed. I even do not think that has ever happened to me before, not with a building at least. I am not even sure that prior discovering these buildings I even liked modernist architecture at all…

Fragile moment in time or to be saved and appreciated?

Few weeks passed and I came back, and took the photos. No matter how much I photographed, it still feels it was not enough and I do not have enough shots of the wonderful details. I have a fear that the beauty and uniqueness might disappear forever, next renovation and all might be gone. All the wonderful tiles in interior, original furniture, handles, the spirit just might be gone soon. A state of the buildings is the best described as neglect, however this and assumingly a lack of money were the main factors that all has survived until this day.

At the time of my visit there were new buildings constructed next to the old campus. The new buildings were designed with the respect of the old style. As much as I could understand from different resources, the whole original campus will be renovated as well. But the renovation is not carried-on respectfully: the bathrooms that I first saw in Lecture Building were intact original ones (and yes pretty disgusting – squatting ones form the 60′s), later-on they were being renovated. However I could bet, that the process was done by just regular plumbers with no involvement or  advices from an architect. What if the management just changes all: little by little, first  “better” flooring, then “better” insulated windows, then, of course more “comfortable” seating, etc…

Some of the smaller buildings in the campus have been just left to decay on purpose, a tactic, described by local magazines as “sneak attack”. That means when the buildings become too unsafe and too expensive to renovate – there will be the easy way out as demolition strongly encouraged.

I can only hope that the death of the architect, albeit very sad, will be the trigger raising public awareness of the state of these buildings and the need to preserve them.

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Original furniture and finishes in Lecture Building

Some facts behind the concrete, bricks and wood:

This campus has been designed with a view of nature conservation. Some endangered species live in this campus ground. Certain insects and flowers can be found what are listed in the Red Book of Japan. (I saw a huge green praying-mantis, surely not rare, but a first time for me to see this insect)

Akio Okumura was struggling a lot at the time and the design, he drew a tremendous number of drawings until he came to the final version of design.

Akio Okumura envisioned Aphrodite from “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, standing on top of a large shell when he designed the Odeum, or concert hall. However the usage of such symbols was very unusual for this architect, otherwise very scientific man.

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Odeum or concert hall

The Lecture Building is lifted into the air, carrying a reminiscent of a museum, a linear building covered with white louvers, the building also is very symbolic.

The level of concrete detailing on Lecture Building is a piece of art, I do not think that anyone today could be bothered in making something like those elegantly curved columns.

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Lecture Building of Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, view from the North

The Lecture Building acts as a central axis between the Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Music on the west to the east. The different disciplines are connected with covered passage and one can gaze upon music faculty from plaster room or drawing room.

Plenty of traditional elements incorporated into the design, especially the overall landscaping and specific details.

To get a “perfect” perspective in photos I had to bend my knees slightly.

Full slide-show here (please enjoy!):

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2 comments
  1. G.Co. said:

    Great! You’ve got a really impressive blog! I’ll have to check out this Uni the next chance I get to wander around the city of Nagoya…

    • Thank you for the positive comment, it really adds on motivation to keep on writing :)

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