Ando’s wood building in the Berkshires will open this weekend

Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s first wooden building in the US will open this Sunday, June 22.

He comes from a land that I suppose knows something about wood.

Ando’s previous buildings in the US have been mostly in the smooth concrete he specifies,

such as his miraculous Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis.

(Through October 4, 2008 The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis is showing Dan Flavin: Constructed Light. Wouldn’t that be fabulous to see in Ando’s spaces? And to go along with that, to demonstrate the “shapes of light,” the Pulitzer will present on June 18, 2008, a concert of music by John Cage, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Smart programming. With David Robertson conducting!)

But the Clark Art Institute is in the Berkshires and Ando’s wood – along with steel and glass – fits in well. Here it is, seen last winter. I posted on it then, here and here, when it was under construction, and before the landscaping was done.

The Clark says,

“The selection of Mr. Ando was influenced by his other work in pristine rural settings, where he has created modernist buildings that complement the natural beauty of their surroundings.”

In the Berkshires, he’s building among the fir (?) trees:

Ando’s favorite material is concrete, but he has used wood before, such as at the Japan Pavilion for Expo ’92 in Spain and at around the same time, for the Museum of Wood deep in Hyogo, Japan’s Mikata-gun Forest.

“The Museum of Wood was built to celebrate the National Tree Festival, which has been held every year for forty-five years since the Emperor established it following destruction of the country’s forests in the second world war.

The museum is a declared homage to the huge task of reconstruction of the forest resources of which Japan is now justifiably proud, and the fact that it is constructed almost entirely out of wood demonstrates the Japanese veneration for this product of nature that underlies the country’s traditional concept of what architecture is.”

Earlier this month I was in Japan and saw Ando’s shopping mall (shopping mall!) – upscale to be sure – on Tokyo’s famed shopping street Omotesando. (Omote-sandō (表参道))

It’s one of the rare avenues in the Japanese capital to feature trees for a great stretch. There he built along that street’s famous zelkova trees:

These are the trees that inspired his fellow Japanese architect Toyo Ito’s building for Tod’s, across the street.

Ito’s Tod’s also takes the form of the famous zelkova trees, and reflects them.

The Vuitton store, a masterpiece by Jun Aoki, also shows off the zelkovas.

And doesn’t it, in its way, look like the Katsura Villa in the very top photograph?

Anyway, back to Ando. He designed a shopping mall (with high-end residences) for this street. On the outside:

And on the inside, shadows of trees are brought in:

The shadows move, with fancy machinery such as this (how very Japanese!)

And you hear new age music and the recorded sounds of birds:
(click on the arrow)

And even though a mall, it’s lovely inside:

And isn’t this like a river, cascading through the forest.

Who would have thought that Ando’s concrete would work so well, be elegant enough for a high-end mall? But it’s done well, poured well, finished well and proportioned well.

In a way this is a wooden building, although you don’t see it. What makes Ando’s concrete “smooth-as-silk” is not the mix of concrete he specifies, but the high quality wooden form work into which it is poured.

Back outside, in the rain that makes that the trees grow, Ando’s translucent glass shines beautifully modernist on the avenue.

Saturday, June 21 2008, Tadao Ando will be at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. for the opening of Phase I of his work there. He’ll speak about his Clark projects and other recent work in a members-only lecture. Join the Clark, it’ll be worth it. Ando packs a punch. He’s a former boxer (true!)

Saturday night the Stone Hill Center, as this new building is called will open with a gala.

I can’t wait to see this landscaped, and in summer. Although, good Japanese architecture understands winter too.

Ando has given us a nice modernist interplay between the straight line and nature’s curves. Between the industrial and the organic. And a very provocative, yet satisfying Japanese interplay between solid and void.

32,000-square-feet for new galleries, that’s them behind the glass above, so they’ll have natural light when appropriate.

To open these rooms this weekend, the Clark has chosen twelve paintings from its collection that should heighten the connection with nature already embodied in the architecture.

From Clark PR: “Stone Hill Center brings us into the surrounding landscape as never before and allows for spectacular views from the terrace of Tadao Ando’s splendid new building,” said director Michael Conforti. “We have carefully selected these works by Homer and Sargent to highlight the art in nature experience….
Paintings owned by the Clark show Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent capturing sensations ranging from North Atlantic cold to North African heat.

On view June 22 through October 19.

Should be nice, a dozen paintings in contemplative rooms in the woods.

The Stone Hill Center will also house a meeting and studio art classroom, and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, the largest regional conservation center in the U.S. Here’s one of its rooms with a view:

A terrace café will offer calming views of the Taconic Range and Green Mountains (also seen last winter.)

A new network of trails and paths helps integrate the building into the landscape. Landscape architecture by Reed Hilderbrand Associates.

The Clark is rightfully- and now more than ever- proud of being one of the few major art museums in the world in a rural setting. And theirs is the beautiful Berkshires.

Remember, this week only Phase I of their expansion will open. Phase II will be even more exciting. It will include a second new building by Ando: the Exhibition, Visitor, and Conference Center. Plus a one-and-a-half-acre reflecting pool to visually connect all the buildings on the main campus and reorient them toward Stone Hill.

I think most public buildings could use a reflecting pool. But that’s enough reflections from me.

One more shot from last winter from inside one of his new galleries.

Reminds me of the Farnsworth House porch, and the cross at the end reminds me of Ando’s famous Church of the Light in his home town of Osaka.

The solids and voids are reversed. Is that because the church is sacred and the gallery profane?

I’ll be at the Clark this Friday and Saturday. (I’ll also tour the Sol LeWitt installations going up at the nearby MASS MoCA.)

I’ll talk to Ando, and bring you all the news and new photos. Maybe even more video!

I think I’ll ask him about this: When Ando was a boy in Osaka, a carpenter lived across the street. Ando spent a lot of time there. The carpenter taught him a love for wood and working with it.

Update 6/22: We’ll have lots more to say about the new Clark building, having spent three days there, including interesting talks with Tadao Ando. Check back soon.

2 Responses to “Ando’s wood building in the Berkshires will open this weekend”

  1. Richard Stafursky Says:


    “The Museum of Wood was built to celebrate the National Tree Festival…”? Whenever you build in the natural landscape you destroy it. Destroying trees to honor trees is gross ignorance of nature.

    I.e. Frank LLoyd Wright made this mistake, big time. He built for the very rich and built in/on natural features thus destroying them for us all.

    Even in the US there are not enough acres for the earth itself. Each acre is important.

    Dollars will soon be frittered away. Memories of difficult, good deeds remain forever.

    Self evaluation is always suspect.

    Richard H. Stafursky
    (802) 257-9158

    WSL (World Species List Forest)

    The Natural Landscape

  2. Edward Lifson Says:

    From The Architectural Review
    Jan, 1997 by Phoebe Chow

    Deep in a Japanese forest, Tadao Ando’s new museum devoted to the study of wood is an exquisite exercise in refined elementality; yet this apparently impassive monolith contains surprising spatial drama.

    Unlike many of its south-east Asian neighbours, Japan is fortunate to have largely retained its huge swathes of forests. These are highly prized, both as a natural resource and as a reminder of the potency of nature. Historically, timber was also one of the principal materials used in traditional Japanese architecture, fashioned by the needs of priest and peasants alike, giving rise to a rich and complex vernacular.
    Veneration of wood has long been institutionalised in the annual celebration of National Arbor Day, commemorated this year in its 45th cycle by the opening of a new Museum of Wood, designed by Tadao Ando.

    Located at Mikata-gun, in the southern prefecture of Hyogo, the museum, appropriately, occupies a site within a forest. The densely wooded surroundings were disturbed as little as possible, so that the building makes an explicit connection with nature, being effectively enveloped by its subject matter.

    … the raw texture and repeated rhythm of the timber cladding embody a powerful elemental quality, despite being ordered by modern functional and formal demands. This elementality heightens the building’s curious sense of timelessness; looming through the trees like an abandoned temple to ancient forest gods, there are few clues as to what is concealed within the imposing timber flanks.

    The refined minimalism of the exterior is reflected in the simplicity of the plan. The building is essentially a single doughnut-shaped space, 18m high, broken up by quartets of towering laminated cedar columns. The tops of the columns display a tectonic intricacy derived from traditional forms, demonstrating the poetic potential of post and beam construction. Light is filtered through a narrow incision in the roof, casting angular shadows on the plain white walls and reinforcing the spatial drama. A gently curving ramp coils languorously around the interior, marking out a circulation path through the array of exhibits relating to the cultivation of forests and the uses of timber.

    At the centre of the museum is a circular courtyard, animated by water and fountains. A secondary ramp penetrates the building at first floor level, bisecting the inner courtyard. Within this artificial forum the sensual play of water is heightened by the concentrated presence of wood and sky – the curving walls of the courtyard are clad in the same lapped planks of Douglas fir as the exterior. The walkway leads out through the building into the forest, eventually connecting with a small cuboid annexe, which offers further views of the landscape.

    Visitors to the museum experience the wealth of the forest in both practical and didactic ways – the elevated forest path provides a first-hand experience of nature and the museum disseminates how humankind has used this natural wealth through the forces of culture and invention. Subtly responding to the silent grandeur of the forest, Ando’s building is imbued with a quiet dignity that will hopefully help to foster an increased sense of awed responsibility towards the natural world.

    COPYRIGHT 1997 EMAP Architecture
    COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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