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National Museum of Art
Pelli Architects

November 03, 2004 /

Osaka, Japan

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Photo: N. Kurozumi, courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

Soaring titanium coated steel tubes, resembling the wings of a butterfly, rise from the lobby to become a sculptural icon on the Osaka skyline.

Located on an irregular and extremely tight below grade site, in a major arts district, the museum was conceived as a sculptural form that will serve as an important civic landmark.  

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Photo: N. Kurozumi, courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

Due to the constraints imposed by the site, the building had to be built entirely underground. Making a virtue of the constraints the architects designed the museums icon, the steel and glass of the skylight roof, out of the only elements that were available above ground.  

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Photo: N. Kurozumi, courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

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Photo: N. Kurozumi, courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

The roof seems to rise up from grade level, curving and tilting through the site, to become a glass-enclosed entrance lobby.  Titanium-coated stainless steel tubes, woven together, not only support the glass of the skylight/ lobby but also surround it, penetrate it and rise freely above it, as high as 170 feet, to create a sculptural landmark.

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Photo: N. Kurozumi, courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

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Photo: N. Kurozumi, courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

Two floors of gallery space and a third floor of public amenities are all housed within a building, constructed like a three-hull submarine, placed below the flood level of the surrounding rivers.

Responding to the need for a watertight underground museum the bulk of the building is encased in a three-layered, concrete wall that is almost ten feet thick. The sheer weight of the structure resists the buoyancy of the watery soil, while enabling the building to provide the necessary temperature and humidity controls at greatly reduced operating expense.

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Section image courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

Although the gallery space is entirely underground, the interior layout allows natural light to flow throughout the exhibition floors.  The design of the steel-and-glass skylight/lobby also creates a complex and constantly changing play of shadows within the public areas of the building.

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Drawing courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates


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Drawing courtesy Cesar Pelli & Associates

The museum opened with an installation from its permanent collection and with the temporary loan exhibition Marcel Duchamp and 20th Century Art, on view from November 3 through December 19, 2004.

Built on behalf of the National Government, the new museum building occupies a difficult but highly important site. Nakano Island, between the Tosabori and Dojima rivers, is currently being developed as a new cultural and business gateway to Osaka, the bustling city that has been called the Chicago of Japan. 

A recently built Science Museum is immediately adjacent to the site, and the Nakanoshima Mitsui office building, also designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates, is located nearby.  The relocation of the National Museum of Art to this site from the outskirts of Osaka is a key element of these redevelopment efforts.

Facts about National Museum of Art

Total area:

145,000 ft2

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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