Inspired by a fictitious tale titled, “The Tale of Peach Blossom Spring”, a very popular Chinese folktale, legendary architect I M Pei designed the Miho Museum to the South-east of Kyoto, near the town of Shigaraki in Shika prefecture. In one of the rare cases of architecture seeking inspiration from a literary piece, the museum architect as Pei is popularly referred to crafted the much beloved Louvre and was appointed by the rich-business woman Mihoko Koyama to make real her dream museum. The Shiga mountains, which is the site of the Miho Museum is ecologically very diverse, boasting of a landscape surreal of rural Japan. Pei then envisioned a building that would tie in to the existing surrounds as effortlessly as possible. The excavated site area was then refilled and replaced after the construction of the museum that is 70% topped by the landscape. Through levels and the natural slope of the terrain natural light and ventilation is assured within the spaces.
The Japanese are renowned for their love of wood, light-weight roofs and lighter palates that are lively and soothing in equal measure. Pei crafts a complicated triangular roof structure using metal framework and wooden slats laid out in clear proportions across the entire roof. The interspersed slats let in ample sunlight dressing up the Italian marble splurged across the floor in a delightful wonder. The colours of beige and a playful brown are stark against the green landscape but the cherry on this taupe cake is the grand entry way to the museum, a large play on the senses and derived from the literary inspiration wherein the subject is drawn into a certain way of thinking before experiencing the space.
Though the drive itself into Miho museum is equipped with suspension bridges and dotted with cherry blossoms, the drama only just begins from the drop-off to the museum where one is greeted by a radially laid cobblestone expanse a directional pathway flanked by the drooping cherry blossoms, a phenomenon in April. The fluttering cherry blossoms in pretty pinks make for a grand welcome towards a cave cutting through the mountain. Inside the tunnel the copper sheets deflect light while their perforations absorb sound silencing the myriad of chatter before presenting the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and the Miho Museum at the far end.
At the museum the exhibits are curated from all over the world, the documentaries and the seating pods are enthralling as are the outside views. The love for art or the love for beauty are touted as the main inspiration for the museum and its endearing to hear the young Ms Koyoma declare the Miho museum as the most beautiful place on the planet.
As Pei says, “Design is something you have to put your hand to!”
P.S the literary inspiration
“Once upon a time there was a fisherman in Buryo, East China, who was fishing by a stream in the mountains and accidentally found a wonderful orchard full of peach trees in bloom. Impressed by the beauty of this springtime scene, he continued paddling to the end of the grove, where he noticed a ray of light coming from a small cave at the foot of a mountain. He jumped out of his boat and entered the cave that, through a narrow road, led him into a splendid town with a beautiful countryside and hospitable people who welcomed him for several days.”