The Best Architecture
among the pine-covered hills of the Japanese countryside, about
an hour's drive from Kyoto, is Asia's finest new building. The
Miho Art Museum was completed in 1997 and is the best work yet
from the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. He is known for
the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris
and the towering Bank of China building in Hong Kong. There is
nothing towering about this building. All that is visible among
the hills are the glass skylights designed to look like the roofs
of traditional Japanese temples. About 80% of the structure is
The building is remarkable for the way it blends in with the surrounding
nature preserve and how it harmonizes with the collection it houses.
"The museum skillfully integrates building position, scale and
shape to enhance the visitor's contemplation," says Gunawan Tjahjono,
professor of architecture at the University of Indonesia. The
task of integrating the collection may have been made easier since
much of it was acquired during the building's design and construction.
Pei himself persuaded the owners to add fine works of Greek, Roman
and Egyptian art to the assemblage of Japanese art.
The museum is owned by the Shinji Shumeikai, one of Japan's "new
religions," which seems to have unlimited resources. The building
was twice as expensive to build as Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum
in Bilbao, Spain, for example. That doesn't count the cost of
the collection which includes a unique 3,200-year-old cult statue
of a falcon-headed deity, said to be the most expensive Egyptian
artifact ever sold. The Miho (after the founder, Koyama Mihoko)
is difficult to reach, but few who make the pilgrimage feel it
wasn't worth the experience.
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