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What Do We Need To Preserve Cultural Properties?

What do we need to preserve cultural properties? Read to learn more.
© Keio University

The Noguchi Room had to be relocated to the terrace of the Law School Building, and required a new spatial design. The architect Kengo Kuma was in charge of this design. Here, we’ll learn how this new spatial design was created.

The Noguchi Room was Destroyed while Calling it “Relocation”

In the end, the Noguchi Room had to be dismantled and relocated in order to build the new Law School Building. This happened because understanding of the room’s value as a cultural property was not widely shared in the Keio University community.

The Noguchi Room was a work of composite art with site-specific characteristics in which the architecture, garden, and sculpture were harmonized. Stripping this context was equivalent to destroying the work’s identity. Deficient relocation of this sort is nothing more than an imitation of the original. And it raised a problem: how to create a new, different space while still using the materials of the Noguchi Room.

In October 2004, the environmental design for the Second Faculty Building, whose core would be the Noguchi Room rebuilt on the terrace of the Law School Building, was entrusted to the landscape designer Michel Desvigne. The post-rebuilding space design was entrusted to Kengo Kuma, a member of the Reconstruction Review Committee.

The Indoor Space by Kengo Kuma

Kuma was faced with a difficult problem. He had to satisfy conflicting objectives: rebuilding and preserving a building that had lost its identity, while not maintaining the same space as the original building. On this point, he expressed the following recollections in an article “Preservation/Creation” in the magazine Shinkenchiku (“New Architecture”).

What are preservation, restoration, and creation for modern architecture built with an abstract, anonymous material like concrete? I felt it wouldn’t be possible to fuse those concepts, which seem at first sight to be contradictory, by simply linking them with a slash “/”. Difficult requirements like these are not unusual in mature cities. In these times, we have to search seriously for ways to manage the conflicts.

Noguchi Room and Ex-Noguchi Room The former Noguchi Room (left) and the current Ex-Noguchi Room (right). White cloth is hanging even in places where there were no walls. The new and the old are completely different spaces (Left photo: Takeshi Taira, source: Keio University Art Center, right photo: Ryota Atarashi ©Keio University Art Center)

Architecture Preservation and Loss of Context

A scrap and build approach to buildings is unavoidable in oversaturated cities, and cultural properties will sometimes be demolished for reasons like deterioration. The situation hasn’t really improved in the roughly 20 years since the Noguchi Room incident. As Kuma pointed out, and indicated in the title of his article “Preservation/Creation,” approaches involving some kind of creative process, such as relocation or partial preservation, are likely to be increasingly common when maintaining buildings regarded as cultural properties.

This recalls paintings or sculptures kept in museums, stripped of their meaningful context, but since the loss of the works themselves is avoided, perhaps we should simply look at the pros and cons. On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget that severing meaningful connections strips a work of its identity, and the complete work created by the artist is sacrificed. As a result, important aspects of the cultural property are lost.

This does not apply to all cultural properties and works of art, but in light of the importance of harmony and siting of each piece of art in the Noguchi Room, it should be evident how lethal relocation was for this cultural property. Mu is still present in front of the Noguchi Room, but the positional relationships between the building and sculpture are different, and the direction of the sculpture has changed.

Mu

These points show how relocation destroyed the spatial design, based on interrelations between each type of art, that was Noguchi’s intention. In terms of both horizontal distance and height, the Ex-Noguchi Room is widely separated from the Enzetsu-kan, with which it is supposed to resonate, and thus the university itself undermined a concept which should be important for the school—passing down the ideals of Keio and Fukuzawa as envisioned by Taniguchi.

These tragic circumstances arose due to poor awareness of the value of the room, as mentioned at the beginning. Even if the value of a property is recognized in the beginning and use is limited for the purpose of preservation, that value will likely be forgotten if awareness is not maintained and the work is left idle. The debates surrounding relocation of the Noguchi Room brought this point into sharp relief. For this reason, we must learn an important lesson: Even if people regard something as an outstanding cultural property, preservation will be difficult if that status is not made apparent. In preserving and passing down cultural properties, it is crucial to raise awareness of their value, and, as part of that, to promote moderate usage taking into account preservation.

Kengo Kuma (1954- )

Architect and designer from Kanagawa Prefecture. His designs moved away from simple, modern architecture emphasizing functionality, and instead embraced postmodern architecture in reviving the ornamentation modern architecture shies away from. Later, he shifted to architecture using natural materials like wood. The buildings he has designed include the Nezu Museum, and the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center.

© Keio University
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Invitation to Ex-Noguchi Room: Preservation and Utilization of Cultural Properties in Universities

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