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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!):

The Music Academy MWD (Academie voor muziek, woord en dans Dil’arte) in Dilbeek, just out of Brussels city limits to the north west in the Flemish area of Belgium.

One of the most spectacular buildings I ever had a chance to see and visit! Designed by a Spanish architect Carlos Arroyo, with some Belgian members on the team. Construction finished and the building was opened for use in September 2012, competition won in 2007.

Generally this building seems to be a bit over the top, a dominant in the distance, precisely detailed, well sculptured shape, plenty of symbolism in the design and even with dynamic qualities as it changes from different angles!

Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek

The building changes as you move along the façade: from the front, at a slight angle a forest is visible, then slowly more colours appear, and when you look back the building suddenly becomes different variations of blue. I love that the façade is on permanent summer, even if reality around it is Belgium winter. The forest pictured is Wolfsputten, a protected area of natural forest located just at the back of the plot.

Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek 1 Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek 2 Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek 3 Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek 4 Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek 5 Amazing cantilevered music academy MWD in Dilbeek 6I cannot shake off the idea of cycling back and forth many times and watching this façade changing.

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Architect himself clams that the idea behind the coloured louvres was influenced and designed as a piece of music (Canon for 36 voices by Johannes Ockeghem). Without knowing the fact the building is definitely very entertaining to look at, and personally I see more straight forward associations: the vertical panel pieces look like piano keys.

The back façade is interesting just by it’s form alone and the length and shape of the cantilever is just amazing!

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At the same time the building stands out and blends in with the surroundings :

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Despite the welcoming text in the official website my colleague and I were kicked out of the building! On the front page they say: “Welcome, young and old” , original text in NL. “Jong en oud zijn welkom in de academie voor muziek”. But beware, in reality the staff is not welcoming at all!

I took about one hundred photos from outside and walked in two steps to the main lobby and while I tried to adjust the camera settings for the different light conditions, a man rushed to me telling to leave as he repeated in few languages that “this is not a public building”. So here are the two pictures I managed to take before the incident:

academie dilbeek interior 1

academie dilbeek interior 2

Should I have been asked of my reason to be there, or should the website say “open only for students”, or should at least an entrance door tell “no photos”, or is their welcoming text only a bad joke? Well that was a bitter experience I did not expect and a first time ever to be kicked out of a building on my architectural journey around the world. Just to mention: there were no students to be seen (only few staff members in the distance), if the concern was somebody’s privacy.

The nearby building says: “Dilbeek waar Vlamingen THUIS zinjn…”, in English it would be “Dilbeek is a HOME for the Flemish…” Maybe the whole problem was that I am not one of them?

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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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Central Library Amsterdam or in Dutch Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam Centrale Bibliotheek was completed in 2007. The building was designed by Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands. Located just across a pedestrian bridge from Renzo’s Nemo Science Centre.

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This is the largest public library in Europe. It is a home for over 1.7M books (circulation 5M), has 10 floors, a floor surface of 28,500 m2, 1200 seats, of which 600 with Internet-connected computers, staff of 200, an auditorium, an exhibition room, 2 museums, 2000 parking spaces for bicycles and a restaurant with a south-facing terrace.

The building is divided in three vertical sections: the public bottom with attractive children’s library, space for periodicals and computer users,  the centre, houses the books and creates much calmer, silent, carpeted, low ceiling spaces. The top where the theatre and the restaurant are located, is the place where people can relax and meet others. The restaurant terrace provides great views to the city.

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The same materials used for the exterior are used for the interior.

Overall impression was very positive: accessible, bright, inviting, monumental, plenty of different zones for everyone’s preference. I was visiting this building at night. The library works until 10 pm. and is free to enter for anyone, therefore I believe that is just as it should be: public building serving the public and it’s needs. This building is attractive enough to be a part of design oriented/book lover tourist’s itinerary. Or at least can be visited as a viewing spot.

The shiny façade finish (at least on a sunny day!) was the element what attracted me to this building, since dominating shades in the city are rather grey. Upon closer inspection it is obvious, that the façade is well detailed, especially the corners are neat.

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However I must express a doubt about operable exterior blinds: Brussels is dusty city, therefore the blinds are going to be very dirty in a matter of few months.

This buildings has an inner enclosed courtyard.

On the very bottom right photo a booth for garage parking-meter is photographed.

One of the few buildings that is well designed and evidently much work and thoughts put into it – every corner of it is photo-worthy.
This project Haagse tramtunnel comprises of 28000 m2 in several levels underground, 1250 m long tunnel, 500 parking spots, two tram stops of which I visited photographed and present one: station Spui. Designed by OMA – Rem Koolhaas, the design was later taken by architect Rob Hilz, construction started in 1996, finished in 2004.

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There were some troubles on the way to implementation: the tunnels got flooded, the construction halted, budget exploded. But these problems were soon forgotten after the project won several prizes. It seems that good architecture can save the day.

Buurthuis / maison de quartier at Nijverheidskaai / Quai de L’Industrie street:

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This community building happens to be on my favourite cycling route in Brussels, next to the canal. The best on the route!
Between a social housing block, and a chop-shop (and I always get talked to!).

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