Chichu Art Museum: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Chichu Art Museum: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism

The Chichu Art Museum is situated on Japan’s Naoshima Island. That was built in 2004 and is regarded as one of the top art institutions for contemporary art. It was designed as a site for rethinking the interaction between nature and humans. Tadao Ando, a well-known Japanese architect, designed the museum. The museum’s spaces look loaded with energy and volatility, but the surface appears silent and ordered. Because of the museum’s development, Naoshima Island became known as Japan’s art island, and it now houses five separate art galleries. It houses and exhibits works by three artists: Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter de Maria.

Chichu Art Museum

Case Study of Chichu Art Museum

  • Project Name: Chichu Art Museum
  • Architect: Tadao Ando
  • Location: Naoshima, Japan
  • Structure: Reinforced Concrete
  • Materials used: Exposed concrete, marble, granite, wood flooring, plasterboard
  • Year of Construction: 2004
  • Site Area: 9990 sq. mt
  • Total Floor Area: 2573.48 sq. mt

Architectural Style of Chichu Art Museum

The Chichu Art Museum was designed in a brutalist style by the architect. However, concrete was used to develop the building’s clear lines and to provide in-built embellishment. Part of the attractiveness is that the architect paid attention to even the museum’s empty parts. Every component of the building is built with the idea of how a person moving through the area will feel it.

As its fourth artwork, the secluded Japanese museum began with architecture. When designing the museum, Tadao Ando, a young architect, had two fundamental issues that need to address. His first priority was to reduce the building’s environmental impact, and his second was to engage with the artists and artworks in the design to be entirely site-specific. The museum’s curators stated that the paintings on display are specifically suited for certain places, whether inside or outside the chamber.

Use of Concrete in Chichu Art Museum

Also, Read The Whitney Museum of American Art: Museum as a piece of Art


Naoshima is a small island with a population of 3400 people and a land area of around 14.22 km2. Since the museum’s creation, the island has shifted away from its industrial beginnings to become a Mecca for art. When Mitsubishi Mining opened a copper smelter in 1917, the economy was thriving. Nonetheless, due to the heavy metal trash placed there, it has become a badly contaminated island. Until the 1980s, it was utilized as an industrial waste treatment plant. Later the same year, in 1989, Benesse Holdings, Japanese publishing, and education corporation, invested in the island’s cultural and arts center. The goal was to beautify the island that had been devastated by humans with human hands. The island has been changed from a garbage island to an art island. The museum hence was instrumental in transforming Naoshima into an art island.

It is located in the northern area of Japan, 300 kilometers from Tokyo Station. Because it is surrounded by water on all sides, it can only be reached by boat. The museum’s entry is a terraced patio along the seashore. It also functions as an outdoor performance area as well as a place to sit and ponder the peaceful surf of the sea and the natural beauty of the surroundings.

Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Chichu art Museum on the map

Vision and Concept of Chichu Art Museum

The word ‘Chichu’ literally means ‘Underground’ in Japanese, and with it, the building is expected to represent a dim environment devoid of natural light. The building believed to be ‘rethinking the relationship between nature and mankind’. Because it is built underground utilizing natural materials. The island is distinct from the white cubic galleries and museums found in most major towns, instead emphasizing the complete experience, taking into account the natural features and the surrounding region. It enables the revitalization of its rural villages. It also fosters a reflective and direct engagement with art, self, and nature.

“Darkness rather than brightness, below ground rather than above – the Chichu Art Museum is the most direct representation of this feeling entrenched deep within me,” stated architect Tadao Ando. Artworks in this museum are meant to be experienced with our complete body. This is an ambitious endeavor to use the underground environment to create locations where visitors can experience the works in their purest form. Visitors are isolated from the outer world, their perceptions are sharpened, and they are able to focus entirely on the artworks. This is a bold concept for an art museum.

Tadao Ando fulfilled his architectural concept of not inflicting violence on the ridgelines, skylines, and horizons of the surrounding islands in such an extreme fashion that the so-called context and architecture of nature co-exist at the site to adapt to the natural environment. Skylights and windows in the ceilings employed to bring natural light into the museum’s underground areas.

Chichu Art Museum – Bird’s eye view

Also, Read Tadao Ando- The Architect of Light

Design and Planning

When viewed from above, it resembles a playful graphic design billboard, but instead of paper, it lies on top of the hilly ground. This combination of geometric and organic forms represents a particular polarity. That is inherent in humans and nature, namely the desire to order and instinctual.

Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Site Plan of Chichu Art Center
Plan Showing First Basement
Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
the Plan Showing Second Basement
Plan Showing Third Basement
Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Section of Chichu Art Center

The architects’ choice for the museum’s design and corridors is reminiscent of a narrative structure. It works on both the micro and macro levels, where the experience of outside influences merges with the real structure to form a play. As visitors approach the museum, they are guided across the space by the silence and simplicity of the walls, as well as a mix of natural and dark shadows. There is an interim space with skylights, wall openings, and courtyards that connects each gallery to the outer world.

The corridor leading to Monet’s Painting

The museum built with the architect’s characteristic material palette of concrete, glass, and wood. Except for the entrance, the museum has no exterior walls. All of the halls are located beneath the hill, with different sections of the museum exposed to natural light. The skilled craftsmanship and meticulous design prevent any sense of being underground or claustrophobia, which may possibly detract from the experience.

Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Isometric Diagram of Museum

The Museum has three stories and has organized into three sections: an entrance area, two courtyards, and three underground art spaces. The museum’s design is based on geometric shapes such as a square, hexagon, and triangle. The view from the top of the hill to the sea is provided by two voids on the north and south axes.

Diagram depicting the experiences in the spaces

Spaces of Chichu Art Museum


The floor instantly slopes away as you enter, and you follow a concrete corridor below. On both sides of the slope leading to the entrance lobby, the walls inclined at 6 degrees to the east. The slightly distorted area builds the tone by intensifying the tension and anticipation of the following space. The entrance then travels through two voids where the wall meets at a sharp angle, hiding the area ahead and creating a dramatic atmosphere. When one looks closely, one can see that the spatial composition of the building is based on the flow of movement, with the bright and dark spaces alternately repeating themselves.

Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Entrance to the Chichu Art Center

Courtyards at Chichu Art Museum

Visitors must pass through a lengthy and narrow passage in the dark to reach the square courtyard. In the center, there are two courtyards: a square courtyard and a triangle courtyard. Each section had surrounded by submerged spaces. Furthermore, these two courtyards connect by an outside trench-like corridor. The brilliant light from a window at the end of the corridor produces a wonderful contrast and arouses curiosity about the space on the brighter side. The courtyards reveal the natural ground beneath them, whether in the shape of grass or perfectly paced jagged rocks. The triangular court connects the tree artists’ display space. The circulation ramps are located on both sides of the walls.

Square courtyard at Chichu Art Museum
Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
Triangular courtyard at Chichu Art Museum

Also, Read The Church of Light by Tadao Ando

Display of Artist’s Work

Three artists’ works are on display at the museum. Each artist’s space in the museum meant to complement and improve the installation experience. It houses a massive artwork by Walter de Maria as well as James Turrell’s meditative light works. Finally, a collection of Claude Monet’s exquisite “Water Lilies.” Tadao Ando has designed a unique art environment for each work.

The curatorial goal was to bring together artworks that ‘confront nature,’ whether through sunshine, neon light, natural materials, or natural subjects. Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria are all engaged in altering and enhancing our perception of nature.

Claude Monnet

The first interaction with art in the Chichu Art Museum is with Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. At a distance, the picture may see through an empty, round room to a white one, whose doorway perfectly frames Monet’s Water Lily Pond painting. This effect immediately captures the attention of a visitor. The first room’s curved wall is expressly designed to direct the line of sight. The room’s interior completed with local white coarse sand plaster, and the floor is Bianco Carrara marble. The skylight above the room illuminates the room. Natural light enters the space more softly than any artificial light could ever be.

Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’

James Turrell

Three of these artists’ works are on show at the Chichu Art Centre. The line between art and architecture is becoming increasingly blurred here. He is an American artist – fascinated by light and how people perceive it. When visitors enter “Afrum – Pale Blue (1968),” they notice a blue shape that appears out of nowhere. It gives the appearance of mass and weight when, in fact, it is pure light.

Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
James Turrell’s ‘Aafrum-Pale Blue’

The “Open Field (2000)” is absolutely surreal; one ascends steps towards a blue light TV screen, only to go through it and learn it is actually a space filled with neon light. There are no edges or points of reference that point back to the doorway. However, the color of the entrance room has altered, and it now resembles a two-dimensional screen.

James Turrell’s ‘Open Field’

“Open Sky (2004)” is part of the artist’s skyscape series. The sky itself becomes an intrinsic feature of the piece through an opening in the roof.

Chichu Art Center: Portrayal of Japanese Brutalism
James Turrell’s ‘Open Sky’

Walter De Maria

Walter De Maria’s creation is a 2-meter-diameter polished granite sculpture. The artwork is in the center of the room, with 27 golden geometric sculptures carefully arranged around it. However, natural light enters the area through numerous openings in the ceiling. These openings, combined with the light, produce a magnificent lighting effect that changes throughout the day. At sunset, when the soft light of the setting sun floods the space, the installation is even more stunning. It is accentuated further by gilded statues.

Walter De Maria’s ‘Time/Timeless/No Time

The Chichu Art Museum possesses this power and magic since the modern world lacks the capacity to accomplish this level of regard for nature as well as the artist’s work. The Museum successfully resolves the issue of being architectural yet non-monumental by confining the architecture to an underground structure and refusing to have an outside design rising out of the ground. Furthermore, the artistic approaches of Walter De Maria, Claude Monet, and James Turrell, as well as Tadao Ando’s architectural approach, merged into a single site.

Also, Read The 4X4 House by Tadao Ando

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