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Timeless

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!):

This time a bank building from Brussels, Belgium. It is one of the best examples of modernist architecture and one of the best known in the area (if you ask design related locals to recommend nice modernist building this will be the one).

Modernist bank building in Broekstraat 1

Prefabricated concrete pieces mounted together with the help of metal pieces and tension cables, make an intricate façade. The building looks contemporary enough, some designers nowadays copy the style, however the level of detailing and quality of execution is difficult to match. I can hardly imagine what building, built in recent years, will be looking at least ok, 50 years down the road.

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Very sculptural corner detail:

 Modernist bank building in Broekstraat 3

The building is in a very good condition, my guess is that concrete façade must have been cleaned-up recently.

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View from the street, Brussels as a permanent construction site (changes for the better, thought) :

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However and sadly my on-line search could not retrieve any information about the building nor who designed it. It would be great if anyone from the readers could tell me, if they happen to possess such information.

Currently used as a headquarters for a Dexia bank, this building marks the great times of Brussels architecture. Designed and build in 1969, it features some well executed details. Most people nowadays would probably call it ugly. Surely this is not the only of the type or the most spectacular office building of the region, but it shows the period and is a living example of  the true spirit of Brussels – the endless bureaucracy (fr. bureau + gr. κράτος kratos – rule or power).

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And still as a bank building of the 60′s it still looks good and contemporary enough nowadays. I especially like the decorative façade, which stands a bit away from the structure and the windows. This type of solution gives some architectural play – the slightly sculptural window patterns cast  shadows on the tinted windows as if putting some lace on the office box.

This building is 13 stories high and it is 56 meters.

This is a second architect’s residence, that I visited and photographed. This time a classic modernist project form Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. This wonderful building is built in 1966 (!) and it is designed by Takamitsu Azuma. He called this project  “Tower House” (“Tou no Ie” jpn.).
Built only on 20 square meters site this architectural masterpiece consists of 5 stories above ground and one level of basement. The ground level is garage, basement is a storage space, second level is living and kitchen, third level is a toilet and a bathroom, fourth floor is a bedroom and top room originally was designed as a child’s room.

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In the bottom right photo of the collage, you can see me hugging a corner of the building to show the scale of it (I have been there and it still bends my mind).

Inside all the levels are connected by one volume, shared by an inner “tower”. The idea behind it is about sharing the space, feeling one with everyone in the house, possibility for unverbal communication; one can easily hear, smell and feel what other people do in the house.

At the moment a grown-up child, who also became an architect,  Rie Azuma a daughter of Takamitsu Azuma and her family is living in the house. In the past she left her parents to live in the United States and after she came back her parents moved out. My personal guess is that for ageing parents it was becoming difficult to move up and down the number of stairs everyday. However out of respect to her father the name plate on the house still bears the name of Takamitsu Azuma.
The building is kept as original as much a possible. Some of the fixed furniture was replaced, but has been rebuild to the original design.

This amazing building is very well know in Japan, architecture students go thought this project, study it and make it’s models. Every month a number of visitors visit the house on a scheduled tour. I feel lucky to have dashed by this building and when seeing it my hands almost involuntarily grabbed the camera to photograph it.

One more library, this time form Oslo, Norway. Built in 1913, architect Holger
Sinding-Larsen and renovated in 2005, Longva arkitekter AS and Østengen
og Bergo Landskapsarkitekter AS.

It adds to my personal collection of visited public libraries and renovated public buildings. This building definitely has a special charm, the period when it was originally designed is when the most notable Norwegian architecture was born.  Lighting design from Olso is especially charming and National library is no exception.

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The story of the Lahti church (Evangelical Lutheran) begins at 1950, when the city of Lahti announced an architectural competition what was won by Alar Aalto. The original site however was not empty-on the hill there stood the city’s wooden church, what was from 19th century and designed by Jacob Ahrenberg,  apparently the wooden church was too small for the community. The church is on the visual axis with Lahti town hall designed by  Eliel Saarinen. The  drawings for the construction of the project were drawn in 1969.

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The construction was finished in 1978, almost 30 years later than original design was made. If one looks at the design as from late 50′s, early 60′s the impression is one, but if you look at it at something from late 70′s there is a completely different attitude. The spacial solution of the roof structure nevertheless is still very impressive. All the details  like interior and exterior lamps, handles and seating are designed by Aalto, except of the ones in the basement.  The final design undergone many alterations from the original project: the number of seating decreased; a basement was added; additional balconies were added as well.

The space was very pleasant, the colours almost grey-scale, the day when the photos were taken was rainy and gloomy (I guess typical Finish weather), but inside only due to natural light it was still bright, the atmosphere was uplifting and it was easy to concentrate. Those are the features that, I assume, were originally sought after by Alvar Aalto himself.

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The legend tells – that this was the last project of Alvar Aalto. And when the star-architect died, the drawings of Lahti church were on his drawing table.

Interesting notice: there was actually no real cross on of the tower in the original designs. After long discussions and negotiations now the tower has a small cross on it after-all (not visible in my photos).

The TU Delft central library, The Netherlands, designed by the Mecanoo architects designed in
1993 -1995 and built in 1996 -1997.

I walked on the green roof around the cone. The green roof was very pleasant to lay down and I could almost see myself happily rolling down the slope… However it started raining and I had rush down inside. The general feeling while walking on the roof  made me remember Oslo Opera House, I think the latter building was influenced by the former (also the shape of the entrance). The difference is that TU Delft library possesses feeling of human scale and the Oslo Opera house has much more sense of grandeur.

The entrance of the library is not accessible for handicapped people(that is surely due to building being relatively old, public awareness has changed, plus the laws have changed), and my attempts to photograph the front nicely were hindered by un-photogenic trash bins (what surely were not a part of original design).

Some more remarks about exterior – the random openings on the concrete wall by the entrance really amused me. Whether consciously architects realised it or not, the origins can be found on defensive walls and their shooting holes around the world, especially similar ones can be seen in Japanese castles.

Views of the library from outside and inside from the ground floor:

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Interior was pure visual and photographic pleasure. Easy to orient oneself, bright colours, calm and inspiring environment for study. Atrium in the cone structure, brings natural light down to the very center of the building.

Some more images of the library from the first level:

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The building won several awards: in 1998 National Steel Construction Prize by Dutch Steel Building Institute and in 2000 Award for the Millennium by Corus Construction.

A run down romanticism style palace in Jurbarkas region, Lithuania, on a right side of river Nemunas (here). Originally built in the mid 19th century. Falling apart, but still full of amazing details.

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This building is in private hands since 2005 and hopefully something will be (is) done with this haunted mansion. There is hope, as nearby castle was being renovated at the moment I was visiting the area.
Belveder means “beautiful to see” – a popular name for houses in picturesque areas around the world.

Interesting design from 60′s, on Ise-Shima Skyline – picturesque privately owned mountain top road. The Rest House is closed for quite a while now and used to be a restaurant.

Building and some of the surrounding views:

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The shape of the building is designed after shrines nearby Ise city (most important Shinto shrines).  However to my western eye the roof shape reminds fish!

Stone steps in front of the building are reused stones from tramway line what was running in Ise city until 1961.

One of the most famous feature used to be sitting outside with the feet soaked in naturally warm water, gazing into the Pacific Ocean (supposedly on an extremely clear day you could see mount Fuji).

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