Studio SUMO's Mizuta Museum

Light slits continue from the vertical to horizontal surface along panel seams (SUMO)

A sheltering facade wraps a new home for a university’s art collection

The Mizuta Museum of Art is building a new home for its important collection of Ukiyo-e, or Japanese woodcuts, on the Josai University campus in Sakado, Japan, just north of Tokyo. Scheduled to open on December 9, the museum was designed by New York-based Studio SUMO, who also completed the university’s School of Management in 2006. The Mizuta project began as a retrofit of two floors in an existing building, but seismic, mechanical system, and floor height requirements led SUMO partners Sunil Bald and Yolande Daniels to propose designs for a new two-story museum building on campus.

  • Fabricator Minato Kenzai (precast concrete)
  • Architect Studio SUMO
  • Location Sakado, Japan
  • Status December 2011 completion
  • Materials Precast concrete
  • Process Vectorworks, concrete casting

The university provided little in the way of programmatic requirements for the building. Bald said this approach is common in Japan. “It’s more common for the client to say, ‘Please give us a building and we’ll figure out how to use it,’” he said. “Statement buildings are used more and more to attract students, because it’s an aging population.” However, the museum was concerned with protecting its woodcut collection from temperature fluctuations and did not want the gallery’s exterior walls to be hit by the sun. Another concern was how to provide loading and entry access without the use of a freight elevator.

The SUMO team solved both problems with two ramps: One leading up to two galleries that will house the permanent collection and visiting exhibitions by local artists and craftspeople, and another that leads down to a campus information center, a natural use for the ground-level space because the museum sits close to the campus entrance. In addition to eliminating the need for a freight elevator, the ramps will help create an environmental buffer for the galleries. They are sheltered, but not entirely enclosed, by a facade of 52 L-shaped precast concrete panels, which clip onto the primary cast-in-place concrete structure.

Bald said that the involvement of Japanese construction company Obayashi Global, who has a longstanding relationship with the campus, allowed the team to approach Minato Kenzai, a precast company in the Ibaraki prefecture and convince them to take on the small, experimental project. “For an architect like us, a small firm from another country, to be able to do a project that is materially and tectonically intense might be unusual in any other place or through any other mechanism than the one we are working with in Japan, so we feel very lucky,” he said.

Each precast panel is different, but all were cast from a single mold at the rate of one panel every other day for nearly four months, then shipped nearly 100 miles to the campus and installed over the course of three days. Panels are approximately 4 feet wide and less than 10 inches thick; the longest vertical panel measures 28 feet and the longest horizontal pieces are nearly 11 feet. In order to create panels with two surfaces that could be exposed, the fabricator cast them on their sides, an unusual technique that required complicated steel formwork and made it difficult to prevent air bubbles from forming. The design also required 1-foot-wide slots to be blocked out along panel seam lines, creating slits in the facade that allow light and ventilation into the enclosed passageways. The spaces will be lit with overhead LEDs and LED strands set into cast channels between panels. Slabs are coated with a pigmented stain, to conceal the mottling characteristic of precast concrete.

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