Art Tower Mito

Art Tower Mito
Art Tower Mito is an arts complex in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. It opened in 1990 as part of the centennial celebrations of the municipality of Mito. There is a concert hall that seats 680, a theater for up to 636, a contemporary art gallery, and a landmark tower. Isozaki Arata was the architect, with acoustical design by Nagata Acoustics.

Mito-shi, Goken-cho 1-6-8

The Design of Art Tower Mito by Isozaki Arata

The plateau upon which the city of Mito arose resembles the back of a horse. To the northeast flows the Nakagawa river, while in the southwest lies Lake Senba, a remnant of an ancient ocean inlet. At the tip of the plateau lies the ruins of Mito castle, and at the bottom is Mito Station, from which a shopping area runs lengthwise along the plateau. Art Tower Mito lies on the site of the old Goken Shogakko (elementary school), which adjoins the residential area to the rear of the shopping area. Topographical it lies virtually at the center of the plateau.

From an urban standpoint, the tower and plaza serve as the source or starting point of these facilities. Since Art Tower Mito was conceived in commemoration of Mito's centennial as a city, a tower was believed to be the most appropriate means by which to express clearly its monumentality. It was specifically built at a height of 100 meters above the plateau to signify the hundred years' anniversary. It is easily visible from most of the new urban developments stretching around the plateau of Mito. As for the plaza, although most traditional Japanese cities lack such a space, it was desired to create a place of recreation and relaxation for the citizens of Mito. Enclosed by corridors, most of the plaza is covered with a lawn. On the side nearest the road have been planted three large keyaki (or zelkova) trees, the official tree of the city of Mito. Moreover, a fountain has been constructed in the recesses of the plaza in reference to the etymology of the name "Mito" (the characters stand for "water door" or "water gate"), which from ancient times has had deep connections with water. In the fountain, which I have named "Cascade," a natural piece of granite weighing some 20 tons has been suspended diagonally by six cables, with water jets streaming upon it from both sides. Most visitors to Art Mito Tower take their souvenir photographs in front of the fountain, and children frolic in the water during the summertime.

Art Tower Mito constitutes a full-fledged compound of art-related facilities: the Concert Hall ATM with a capacity of 680 persons, a theater in the round (ACM Theatre) with a capacity of 517 persons, a contemporary art gallery with 1,200 square meters (around 13,000 square feet) of display rooms, a conference holding 78 persons, and an entrance hall. Each of these facilities -- separated from the others to allow for independent activities- - has its own special design and atmosphere, with the intention of allowing each facility to fully express its own individuality and peculiarity. On one hand, the facilities surround the plaza through the corridors, while they lie along the road on the other hand. For that reason, Art Tower Mito bears the appearance of strong geometrical shapes, while simultaneously abiding to classical architectural techniques. It has been divided in such a way that exudes and emphasizes the human scale.

The primary materials used in the construction of Art Tower Mito are hard and solid: tessera tiles, stone, and so forth. Although they tend to diminish the openness of the rooms within, the expressive intention was to emphasize the geometrical shape of the outlines composing the separate units that compose the facility. Besides using cubic, rectangular and cylindrical shapes, the lower sections of the structure are made up of forms such as domes, pyramids and arches, all of which suggest relatively stable centers of gravity. In contrast, the tower has intentionally been designed to conflict with the rest of the structure. It is basically composed of tetrahedrons stacked on top of each other as they ascend upwards, reminiscent of the ridgeline of the DNA helix. The infiniteness of the series of similar shapes -- inspired by the ideas of Constantin Brancusi -- has been somewhat abruptly truncated at a point 100 meters above ground. It represents the axis of time, continuing ever onward. The accumulation of triangles, each angled in a different way, is covered with titanium panels that subtly catch the light, affording a kaleidoscopic variety of appearances depending on the position of the sun and the condition of the weather.

The two extremes of design of Art Tower Mito stand in opposition with each other via the plaza -- the exterior of the lower sections of Art Tower Mito, with their classical architecture, versus the ahistorical shape of the tower's design and the expression of the new materials. The resulting tension -- the conflict between spatial elements (i.e., form) and between chronological elements (i.e., historical) -- was the primary goal of the compound's design.

The concert hall at Art Tower Mito features a hexagonal shape, with the audience's seats arranged along a gentle slope and divided into three sections in an unusual vineyard arena fashion. Seats have also been built behind the stage, and can be used by a chorus if necessary. The three large pillars that stand within the concert hall and divide the space actually serve to prop up the central dome. The bottom of the dome describes a reverse arc so as to improve the acoustics of the sound transmitted from the stage. The quality of the acoustics can be altered by raising or lowering the dome, adjusting the air volume and angle.

The ACM Theatre within the complex is round-shaped, and is encircled by three galleries, the top of which extends above the stage. Exactly half of the central arena of the theater is taken over by the stage, with audience seats occupying the other half. Stage props and other devices are contained in the upper portion. Seen from the exterior, the theater appears to part of a cube resting on top of a cylinder. The shape of the theater's stage can be freely altered thanks to its division into ten separate sections that can be raised or lowered as needed. In principle, however, the basic structure employed is the traditional thurust stage (by which seats arranged in a flat area surround a protruding stage). Theater performances essentially take place at the center of a cylindrical interior, lending to the development of a relationship between the audience and actors.

The third major component of Art Tower Mito -- the contemporary art gallery -- makes maximum use of natural light, which acts to connect the various separate rooms that differ from each other in terms of size and proportion. The skylights can be mechanically shaded or blacked out to adjust of the amount of light let in. Also, the walls and ceiling have been painted a neutral white and the floors are wooden to accommodate the prevalence of spatial installations in modern art.

The main entrance hall in the complex is positioned to unite the three main components of Art Tower Mito described above, and runs from the street to the courtyard. A pipe organ has been installed in the entrance hall to provide accompaniment for visitors as they progress to the art museum, theater or concert hall. The hall can also be used to hold its own concerts.

The rest of the complex is made up of a conference room, cafe, restaurant and shop, each featuring a distinctive interior design.

Artistic directors have been appointed to run each major section of the Art Tower Mito complex, and the final design details have been wrapped up on the basis of a long-term vision. The unique process chosen by the city of Mito to design and construct the Art Tower Mito complex is worthy of special mention, especially at a time when most local governments in Japan seem to fall into the trap of favoring "box" architecture. Since its completion, that is why the three major sections of Art Tower Mito have honed their level of presentation and performance, receiving high accolades in the process. I am convinced that the city of Mito can rightly be proud to offer Art Tower Mito as a new model of how to design and operate cultural facilities on a local basis.