Inujima Seirensho Art Museum
By Jakob Harry Hybel
In the middle of nowhere, on the small island of Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea off the southeast coast of Japan, lies a quite unique museum. The Seirensho Art Museum by Hiroshi Sambuichi is an idealistic project with a vision of regional revitalization through reuse of the island’s industrial heritage.
The museum is built on the remains of an early 1900s copper refinery that was abandoned after the island’s resources had been drained. For a century it was left untouched until it was rescued from decay and transformed by Hiroshi Sambuichi sponsored by Forbes-listed billionaire and philanthropist, Soichiro Fukutake.
Recycling the Remnants of History
Through and through, this is quite a unique project. It does not rely on expensive lighting or heating technologies, as is usually the case with museums, especially when art is at show. Instead, it is consequently powered and lit by the earth, the wind and the sun.
The museum is composed of four spaces: the Earth Gallery, an 80 meter cooling corridor that utilizes the earth’s temperature, the glass-covered Sun Gallery collecting heat by means of sun energy, the Energy Hall controlled by the greenhouse effect that serves as a buffer zone and the museum’s central anchor point, the Chimney Hall that controls the circulation of the air.
These four spaces and their simple, yet incredibly sophisticated interrelation ensures a constant flow of air throughout the entire museum, making it possible to retain the same average indoor temperature throughout the year.
The museum is built mostly of slag bricks, a by-product of the copper smelting process. After carefully analyzing the materials available on site, the architect found that the slag, which were in abundance, had extraordinary heat storing capacity. Over 17,000 bricks were manufactured from leftover industrial waste to cover the floors and walls of the museum.
Fusing Art and Architecture
The six-piece artwork exhibited at Seirensho, entitled ‘Hero Dry Cell’, is made specifically for the museum by Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi and is completely integrated with the design. The building is both a container for and an integral part of the exhibition.
In the Earth Gallery, the tale of Icaros is told with a series of mirrors, mounted at the corners of the zigzagging corridor, reflecting natural light drawn in from a north-facing light shaft. Visitors are walking in darkness moving closer and closer to the sun, pushed forward by the wind.
The rest of the exhibition centers around notoriously nationalist Japanese author, Yukio Mishima, who famously attempted a coup d’état in post-war Japan and committed suicide shortly thereafter. Yanagi has acquired said author’s former residence, which Mishima has deconstructed and collaged as a giant mobile swaying lightly with the gusts of wind passing through the building.
How the World Works
Sambuichi’s vision of architecture is all encompassing. He feels it has the capacity to show us how the world works. The Seirensho project is his attempt to bridge the gap between the Japanese industrial heritage and the rapid modernization the country has faced in recent decades – a trend that has left the island of Inujima, and many others like it, hopelessly in the wake.
The simple lesson here is that modernization is not necessarily synonymous with high-tech solutions. We can learn important lessons from our heritage, we need only look for them, and consider all existing materials – including our heritage – as re-generable resources.