News 14-07 (No.319)
Issued : July 25, 2014
Rurikoin-Byakurengedo—a Buddhist Temple Oasis in Tokyo
By Toshiko Fukuchi
Walk just 3 minutes from Shinjuku Station’s South Entrance—through the maze of narrow streets where skinny multiuse buildings filled with bars and tiny restaurants proliferate—and turn into one of the streets that are more alley than avenue. Suddenly, you will come upon a white concrete edifice that looks more like an alien spaceship than a Shinjuku building. You have arrived at Rurikoin-Byakurengedo. Yes, this is a Buddhist temple; no, this is not your usual Buddhist temple.
Typically, Japanese Buddhist temples are built in a compound with separate structures for the “Hondo” (main building that houses the Buddha statue), a temple office and an ossuary. Rurikoin-Byakurengedo has all of its facilities in a single building, adapting to the tight space constraints of its Shinjuku neighborhood.
<< Overview of the Project >>
The building owner is Komyoji Temple of the Jodo Buddhist sect. The owner’s overall representative for the project was Toyota Industries Corporation. AMORPHE Takeyama & Associates served as the architectural firm and Takenaka Corporation was the general contractor.
Nagata Associates participated in the project to design the acoustics of two rooms. One of the rooms is Nyorai-Do, where the temple anticipates it will host concerts in addition to using it for Buddhist music. The other space that we designed is Kuu-no-Ma, the “Emptiness Room”, which extends upwards like an atrium to have a ceiling height 3 stories above its floor.
The building has one basement level and 6 floors above ground. Facing the front entrance of the building, the ground floor appears narrow while the second and higher floors look to be wider and have overall more volume. The result is that the entire building seems almost as if it is floating on air.
The exterior of the building is clad in white, exposed concrete appropriately named “white lotus” concrete. The surface of the exposed concrete bears the subtle texture of having been poured in Japanese cedar forms. White concrete has a reputation as a difficult material to use in construction applications but the curved corners of Rurikoin-Byakurengedo all look well formed. A vertical, elongated elliptical cut-out makes an imposing statement on the exterior wall of the entrance side of the building. On the longer sides of the building, small vertical and horizontal rectangular windows punctuate the walls in a random pattern. Viewed from any angle, it’s obvious that this building is anything but ordinary.
The floors from the basement level through the third floor house the temple’s ossuary in the center of the building, forming a center core. On the two longer sides of the building, these same floors have a variety of rooms encircling the ossuary core. The lower floors near the ossuary have worship rooms. Higher floors have the temple office and storage rooms on the east side of the building and the main temple and the Nyorai-Do on the west side. Directly above the ossuary is Kuu-no-Ma.
<< Kuu-no-Ma (the “Emptiness Room”) >>
Architect Takeyama thought it would be appropriate to leave the space directly above the ossuary empty and he proposed not giving this space a specific purpose. Just around the time that Mr. Takeyama presented this proposal, the temple’s chief priest had in mind that the temple had just made a donation to the memorial pagoda and installation in Kucha, China to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the passing of Kumarajiva, the Kuchean Buddhist monk who lived from 334-413 CE and who translated many Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese. Apparently, because the chief priest learned of Mr. Takeyama’s proposal at a time coinciding with the temple’s donation, the chief priest became strongly motivated to approve the proposal.
The Kuu-no-Ma space rises to a ceiling height of 8.7 m (28.5 ft) and has a strongly vertical visual appearance. The ceiling has a slight slant and we designed the taller wall to have an upward tilt to prevent the 2 large side walls from being parallel surfaces.
Along the entire surface of one of the 2 short walls an early decision called for paneling of Laos cypress wood. For acoustical design reasons, we requested that the paneling be a wood pattern with an uneven surface and the architect incorporated this request into the design. Also, we specified a sound absorbing wall for the other short wall. The project team also implemented this specification.
The sound reverberation time in Kuu-no-Ma measures 3.4 seconds (at 500 Hz in an empty room). This is a very long reverberation time. The Swiss composer Pierre Mariétan, who combines environmental sounds with music, dedicated a work named “Between Heaven and Earth” to Kuu-no-Ma. Listening to Mr. Mariétan’s composition with the long reverberations of Kuu-no-Ma makes both sound and time seem to flow with a loose, undulating rhythm.
<< Nyorai-Do >>
Nyorai-Do occupies the buildings fifth floor, adjacent to Kuu-no-Ma. At the front of the room, the Amida (Amitabha) Nyorai Buddha is enshrined in a way that the Buddha seems to be floating on clouds. The deep ultramarine surface of the panel behind the Buddha—a color achieved by using the traditional pigment of pure natural lapis lazuli—gives a formal and dignified atmosphere to the entire room. The arrangement of the windows in this room causes the Buddha to be bathed in natural light at 3:00 p.m. on the spring and autumn solstices.
The wall facing the Buddha is an exterior wall. For acoustical design reasons, we specified that this wall have an outward tilt towards the ceiling so that Nyorai-Do, like the adjacent Kuu-no-Ma, avoids having any perfectly parallel walls. Both Nyorai-Do’s walls and those of Kuu-no-Ma are a combination of stucco and exposed white concrete made using Japanese cedar forms. The architect and contractor both agreed to our request to give all of these walls roughly textured surfaces. The walls of both rooms have no smooth surfaces. In addition, to enable adjustments to the liveliness of the room for a variety of uses, in Nyorai-Do we installed a retractable curtain. Pianist Akiko Ebi selected Nyorai-Do’s Bösendorfer piano. The room can accommodate up to 150 chairs for concerts and also has appropriate acoustics for the chanting of Buddhist music.
On June 18, Ms. Ebi performed a concert titled “In dedication to the Nyorai-Do Buddha”. Ms. Ebi’s virtuosity shone in a wonderful performance and the Bösendorfer’s hallmark of refined tones flowed through the room. In the midst of listening to music in this space, I was not the only one who thought they saw a smile on the Buddha’s face.
<< Byakurengedo’s Repository of Art >>
The temple also has many other valuable Buddhist artworks. Of particular note are the temple’s full-size replica of the Chinese Dunhuang 220th Mogao Cave mural and facsimiles of the famous, but damaged Amida Triad painting and the Fugen Bosatsu of Nara’s Horyuji Temple Golden Pavilion.
In addition to the temple’s Buddhist worship and art collection activities, Byakurengedo plans to host other cultural and art events and activities. Even though surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku, standing in front of the Nyorai Buddha instills a wondrous sense of calm and serenity. I urge you to make time to pay a visit if you are in the neighborhood.
The Byakurengedo Temple website (in Japanese): http://www.byakurengedo.or.jp/.
The New Opera House for Russia’s Perm State Opera and Ballet Theatre
By Dr. Yasuhisa Toyota
Existing Opera House
At the foot of the Ural Mountains, on the mountain range’s west side, the Russian city of Perm is a regional city with a population of about one million residents. The city is home to the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, whose general manager, Mr. Mark de Mauny, picked up the phone one day and—without any formal introduction—gave me a call. The date was sometime in October, 2013. Over the phone, Mr. de Mauny explained that design work for a new opera house was in progress and that he wanted to hire me as the project’s acoustical consultant. The new opera house (with approx. 1,100 seats) would be built adjacent to the existing opera house (970 seats, built in 1870). The design work started two years before I received Mr. de Mauny’s phone call. The schematic design documents were complete and the construction documents were in progress. However, the opera’s Artistic Director Teodor Currentzis had come to realize that he had radically different opinions than the design team’s acoustical consultant (from a major European acoustical consulting firm). Mr. de Mauny was contacting me because Maestro Currentzis had personally told Mr. de Mauny that he wanted to hire me and Nagata Acoustics as the project’s acoustical consultant.
<< Changing Acoustical Consultants Mid-Way through a Project >>
Certainly, I am always delighted to be contacted by a new client about a new project. But I can hardly remember ever being contacted by a potential client about a project that another acoustical consultant had already started. Replacing one acoustical consultant with another one is not easily accomplished once a project is already in progress.
The new Perm Opera House project architect is London-headquartered DCA (David Chipperfield Architects). The DCA architectural team assigned to the project operates out of the firm’s Berlin office. I attended two meetings at the Berlin office with representatives of Perm Opera present. As a result of these meetings, Nagata Acoustics agreed to take on the project and perform the remaining acoustical consulting work. When the second meeting ended, Mr. de Mauny presented me with a CD box set of Perm Opera’s 2014 recording of The Marriage of Figaro.
<< The Amazing and Masterful Ensemble and My Own Ignorance >>
After the meetings in Berlin, I made my first visit to Perm for a meeting to sign the contract for the project. This was in May, 2014. I must admit that I knew little, if anything, about Perm or the Perm Opera. Before my visit, I wanted to familiarize myself as best I could about the Perm Opera, and I began by listening to the CD set Mr. de Mauny had given me.
In a word, I was utterly “amazed” and everything that followed and that I write here traces its roots back to the incredible surprise and delight I experienced listening to Perm Opera’s Marriage of Figaro CDs. How luscious this music is! How precisely detailed the ensemble’s performance! For 3 uninterrupted hours I listened to the entire opera, repeatedly filled with renewed astonishment at this marvelous recording. Then I listened to specific portions over and over again. If this recollection of listening to CDs seems like hyperbole, let me share that this kind of reaction to a CD was definitely a first-of-its-kind experience for me.
Surely, I had previously been greatly moved when listening to the CD of a virtuoso performance. But this time, in addition to hearing the impeccable skill of the Perm Opera’s musicAeterna Orchestra led by Maestro Currentzis, who nurtures and pushes the orchestra to its achievements, I was also forced to embarrassingly acknowledge to myself how blind and ignorant I had been of Perm Opera’s very existence. I rushed to read the liner notes included with the CD. There I learned a brief summary of Maestro Currentzis and his musicAeterna Orchestra.
<< Perm Opera, Maestro Currentzis and the musicAeterna Orchestra >>
Let me paraphrase the story those liner notes tell. The governor of the Perm region took upon himself the task of revitalizing Perm, which was once a bustling industrial city but had slipped into decline. He determined that the revitalization effort should include putting resources and energy into developing culture and the arts. To this end, he invited Maestro Currentzis to become artistic director of the Perm Opera, which has a venerable and illustrious history dating back to its founding in 1870.
Mr. Currentzis, who was born in Greece, chose Russia’s Saint Petersburg Conservatory of Music for his conductor training. At the conservatory, he was the last student to study under the famous conductor and teacher Iliya Musin. In 2011, when the Perm Opera extended him the invitation to become its artistic director, Maestro Currentzis was the lead conductor at the Novosibirsk Opera House where he organized the musicAeterna Ensemble of young, like-minded musicians who share both his taste in music and his work ethic.
Maestro Teodor Currentzis
As a condition of accepting the appointment to artistic director of the Perm Opera, Maestro Currentzis required that Perm bring all the musicians of musicAeterna to Perm and, in addition, that Perm increase the number of musicians in the ensemble to a full-size orchestra. The Perm Opera agreed to these requirements and the entire musicAeterna ensemble moved to Perm. Of course, the Perm Opera already had a full orchestra and conductor. With the arrival of Artistic Director Currentzis and musicAeterna, the Perm Opera now became responsible for sustaining 2 full orchestras.
In today’s economic environment, the cost of one orchestra can be prohibitively high for a community and the world’s premiere orchestras spend significant efforts to find ways that ensure their funding. From a common sense business perspective, the 2 orchestra situation created in Perm as a result of Maestro Currentzis’ condition of employment was an unthinkable idea. But he and Perm made it happen.
<< The Immersive Lifestyle of musicAeterna Orchestra Musicians >>
The newly formed musicAeterna Orchestra’s members are mostly in their twenties and thirties. In addition to their regular rehearsal times and performances, they spend much of their personal time practicing their instruments in private, always striving to maintain and exceed their high levels of musicianship. The Perm Opera guarantees them a comparatively higher salary than the pay rate for members of Perm’s other orchestra that predates musicAeterna Orchestra. The talented, young musicians of musicAeterna Orchestra welcome the immersive environment in Perm where they can play and study their music and instruments from morning to night.
The ability to create and sustain this seemingly utopian, ideal environment for the musicAeterna Orchestra musicians comes from the intersection of Russia’s long classical music tradition and the unique situation of the Perm Opera’s location in a regional city somewhat lagging in its economic development. In one of the world’s major music centers, a grand experiment of this kind would simply be unimaginable.
<< An Exciting Time for Perm, Maestro Currentzis,
the musicAeterna Orchestra and Nagata Acoustics >>
Mozart: the Marriage of Figaro
If you listen to Maestro Currentzis and his newly formed musicAeterna Orchestra’s first recording: The Marriage of Figaro, you will have a palpable experience of the awesome undertaking currently happening in Perm. I am certain that word of Maestro Currentzis and the Perm Opera will increasingly spread throughout the global classical music world.
At this exciting time for Perm, Nagata Acoustics has the pleasure of participating in the project to build the orchestra’s new Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre home. I am thrilled to be working on this project and look forward to sharing news about it in a future edition of this newsletter.
Soccer 2014 Pavilion in Tokyo Japan
By Satoru Ikeda
Soccer 2014 Pavilion
The 2014 Soccer World Cup games captivated the whole world—and equally so in Japan. During the days that the matches were held in Brazil, the Brazilian Embassy in Japan set up and ran “Soccer 2014 Pavilion” (Pavilhão Futebol 2014) in the front courtyard of the embassy grounds.
The Pavilion was conceived as a way to take advantage of the Brazilian World Cup to strengthen ties between Japan and Brazil. The Tokyo Brazilian Embassy, designed by Brazilian Architect Ruy Ohtake, is located in the Kita-Aoyama section of Tokyo and has a spacious courtyard in front of its entrance. The temporary Soccer 2014 Pavilion was erected here using a design by Japanese Architect Shigeru Ban.
The pavilion installation lasted for just over one month. During this time, the Brazilian Embassy hosted a variety of World Cup-related and Brazilian cultural events, such as movies, live Bossa Nova dance performances and a seminar about Brazil’s economy.
The pavilion was a quintessentially simple building constructed of the same kind of paper core tubes used to build temporary emergency structures in places affected by natural disasters. Paper core tubes of several sizes and diameters formed the columns and crossbeams to support a polycarbonate roof. Short pieces of paper core tubes placed horizontally created a honeycomb-like exterior wall and soccer balls were inserted at the ends of some of these tubes for an appropriately festive design that was visible from the street.
This kind of pavilion provides an easy way to temporarily set up a venue for a public event in a convenient location, allowing the event’s organizers to focus their attention and resources on the content of the event. Its use for the well-publicized Soccer 2014 pavilion sets an example that others will hopefully adopt for other events.
On June 11, the day before the first World Cup matches, it rained all day in Tokyo, delaying completion of the pavilion’s construction. Nevertheless, the Brazilian ambassador and his wife successfully hosted a cocktail party in the finished pavilion and celebrate Mr. Ban’s winning the 2014 Pritzker Prize for architectural achievement as well. The large number of guests ignored the strong rain coming down outside and congratulated Mr. Ban before his next-day trip to Amsterdam to accept the prize. Everyone had an enjoyable pre-game evening.
A Gathering in Memoriam for Mr. Shoichi Sano
By Satoru Ikeda
Mr. Shoichi Sano, President and Principal Emeritus of Yasui Architects & Engineers passed away on March 20 at the age of 93. A memorial gathering took place on June 12 in Osaka to remember and honor Mr. Sano. It was attended by many architects and others from the design and construction industries.
Mr. Sano devoted his professional career to the growth of Yasui Architects & Engineers and to establishing its legacy and succession. He called architecture his lifework and we had the pleasure of working alongside him on a number of projects, of which Suntory Hall was probably the one he considered the pinnacle of his career. On that project it seemed everything we did was new and a pioneering effort. In the Akasaka-Roppongi part of Tokyo, in the new ARK Hills complex, we together designed the new classical music concert hall that brought accolades from the entire world.
In 2016—just two years from now—Suntory Hall will mark its 30th anniversary. The Berlin Philharmonic Hall has already reached its 50th anniversary and a number of exhibits have been held and books published to mark the milestone year. When these events and publications trace the course of concert hall developments since the opening of the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, they duly recognize Mr. Shoichi Sano and Suntory Hall, his outstanding contribution to the great concert halls of the world.
Nagata Acoustics Inc.
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