While in Japan, I had a great fortune of visiting a place called Benesse House. It is an art museum and a hotel all rolled into one. This wondrous place is located on Naoshima Island. The word ‘naoshima’ means sincerity in Japanese. It is also referred to as Art Island.
I think the idea of a very cool, modernistic hotel integrated into a beautiful, architecturally significant museum is a brilliant idea. The building is made of cast concrete. Great attention was paid to integrating both natural light and artificial light into the structure itself. Everywhere, there are little slots and reveals that allow daylight to come in and wash walls with illumination. At night these same spaces used integrated linear LED lighting to create a similar effect.
You arrive by ferry onto the island and are greeted by a piece of art created by Yayoi Kusama, known as the Princess of Polka Dots. In fact, there is public art all over the island. You receive a map at the hotel to tell you where all of the pieces are located.
The museum, along with the adjoining hotel, is built into a hillside. You don’t know how huge the place is until you get inside, because it feels very low and linear as you approach.
I was impressed by the warmth of the LED lighting they were using. A comfortable 2700° Kelvin with a 90 CRI. Often, commercial spaces will use a 3000° kelvin or higher which I feel is just a little bit too cool. A high kelvin rating is not the inviting color of light with which we were all brought up. The warm incandescent quality of the specified light in light makes this public space feel homier.
The Benesse house opened in 1992. The philosophy of the site is a place that promotes the coexistence of nature, art and architecture. The huge expanses of glass and open covered pathways allow you to experience the natural surroundings, even when you are indoors.
The Benesse House Museum was designed by architect, Tadado Ando. The building has three floors, much of which are below grade. Overtime, artists have been invited to create site specific works which are permanent.
One of the interesting things is that while many museums block off natural light, this architect, deliberately incorporates natural light into the design, and it feels quite refreshing. Have you ever been in a traditional museum and felt exhausted by the third gallery space? It’s partly because your eyes are trying to adjust between the illumination of the art, and the dark wall spaces in between. Here, a natural indirect illumination washes the ceiling walls and art, which is much more relaxing for the eye.
Here at Benesse House, new gallery spaces are continuing to be added. The latest one is called Time Corridors, which opened in 2022. It features the collective works of Hiroshi Sugimoto. The space is designed like a futuristic tea house where you can sit on the art and take in the paintings and photography on the walls.
Close by is the Cheechoo Art Museum, which opened in 2004. It features the artwork of Claude Monet and James Terrell. The building itself is underground and is mostly invisible from the outside. It is quietly astounding.
As a sidenote, you are asked to remove your footwear in the museum spaces. Slippers are provided. In a way it feels like you are participating in the preservation of the space.