Friday, August 27, 2010

Designer of the Month: I.M. Pei / Japan Part 8

Week 4: the Miho Museum

Image courtesy of the Miho Museum.

I'm very excited because this week is really 2 posts in 1. It's not only the culmination of I.M. Pei as August's Designer of the Month, but also Part 8 in a series that is almost complete, of pictures and stories from my recent trip to Japan. So let's get to it!

Image courtesy of the Miho Museum.

The above image is an aerial view of the Miho Museum. Are you still surprised by Pei's use of pyramids, or is it all just as expected at this point? Although Pei did incorporate one of his favorite shapes into the design of this museum, other than this characteristic of Pei's architecture, the Miho Museum really is incredibly unique. For starters, it's located in a nature preserve, on a mountainside. Getting to it involves taking a 20 minute train ride from Kyoto and then transferring to a bus that takes nearly an hour to wind its way over tiny little two-way roads that somehow manage to be barely big enough to live up to the claim, before reaching the spectacular museum itself. Luckily, it's more than worth the trip, both for the architecture of the museum itself and for its world-class collection.

Before even reaching the museum, there's the building that houses the ticket office and restaurant. From there, visitors can chose to either take a 5-minute walk or wait for a tram to take you through a tunnel,

and over a bridge, conveniently allowing you to cross two mountaintops,

Image courtesy of the Miho Museum.

and to the museum itself. And what a museum it is. Built to house the private collection of Mihoko Koyama, the Miho Museum does an amazing job of displaying these extraordinary works of both Asian and Western art. My favorite thing about the displays was related to the Asian art, particularly the collection of ceramics. Koyama believed in surrounding herself with beautiful objects, and that these decorative objects should be used for their intended purpose. As a result, many of the ceramic vases in the permanent collection, plus some additional objects, have beautiful flower arrangements incorporated into their display.

Continuing with this idea of utilizing objects for their intended purpose was the book Appetizing Beauty: Kenzan and Seasonal Dishes, which I came across in the museum's gift shop. Winner of the 2005 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in the photography category, this book features the most delicious looking dishes, categorized by season and displayed on objects from the museum's collection. Needless to say, even though most of the book is in Japanese, it ended up coming home with us anyway.

Approximately 80% of the Miho Museum's structure was built underground as a method of preserving the landscape and harmonizing with nature, a concept that has been beautifully executed.[1] As Pei remarked about the museum, "I think you can see a very conscious attempt on my part to make the silhouette of the building comfortable in the natural landscape."[2] The use of glass roofs and limestone walls brings a very warm, spacious and light quality to the museum's interior which, combined with the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, makes for a very dramatic setting. If you ever find yourself in the Kyoto area, the Miho Museum is not to be missed.

[1] Miho Museum online, "Architecture: Assimilation into Nature," (accessed August 26, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

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