About 400 years ago on the island of Naoshima in the vicinity of a shrine, a plan for a town was laid out. Called Honmura, literally the origin village, it was conveniently positioned by the calm waters of the strait between Naoshima and adjacent Mukaejima, and it prospered for centuries on fishery and salt production. But with the sudden opening of Japan to the West and its technologies, spurring on the belated but all the more hurried coming of the Industrial Age in the country, the island soon experienced the fate of many others in the Inland Sea. Uninhibited exploitation of their resources for fluctuating economical gains laid waste to the eternal natural beauties of the islands, leaving unerasable scars deep in their landscapes. Subsequently the concentration of power and transition of production to the urban centres meant the gradual depopulation of the Inland Sea. For decades, the cultures of the once-central islands slowly decayed as the remaining aging population dwindled. In an attempt to alleviate this, the local prolific philanthropist and patron Soichiro Fukutake bought large parts of the island to transform it into a new sort of idealistic art reservation, fusing the beauty of the setting and the charm of the islanders and their culture with the dreams of international contemporary art. Some of the traditional abandoned houses in Honmura were gently transformed into entire artworks in themselves, and on the southern side of the island he commissioned Tadao Ando to build museums and accommodation for the growing number of visitors. The project has since expanded to other nearby islands, with permanent galleries designed by famous Japanese architects, including Hiroshi Sambuichi’s Seirensho Art Museum and Kazuyo Sejima’s Art House Project on Inujima, as well as Ryue Nishizawa’s Teshima Art Museum. In addition to this, Fukutake hosts an art triennial in the area, last time involving 12 islands and attracting a yearly attendance of no less than 1 million visitors, an astonishing feat for such a remote place with difficult access.
Street crossing under a large roof
Despite the overwhelming success, Fukutake has recently endeavoured to influence societal change in the area much more directly. As an example of this, he asked Hiroshi Sambuichi to give proposals for a strategy for the future development of Naoshima, prompting the architect to embark on an ongoing research project that, after 2½ years, materialised for the first time in the Naoshima Hall. Commissioned by the Naoshima municipality, the small complex consists of a community centre and a gymnasium for the inhabitants and visitors of Naoshima.
The streets of Honmura flow through the interior of the community centre, consisting of four separate rooms under one large roof, the apex of which provides daylight through an opening. Two layers of louvres integrated into the opening let rain trickle to the ground while filtering the wind. In addition to a large communal kitchen and a public restroom, the two main rooms are meeting spaces floored with tatami mats, for the occupants to convene during festivities and events.
It is, however, the iconic gymnasium that attracts most attention, with its grand roof clad in hinoki wood. In form, it resembles the traditional irimoya hip-and-gable roof, but with a great void unThe