Framing the sun: Enoura Observatory merges art and architecture

Odawara, Japan CNN  — 

For the past decade, Hiroshi Sugimoto has been working on arguably the biggest project of his career: the Enoura Observatory in Odawara, Japan.

“It is a combination of all my training and experience gathered here – everything,” the Japanese artist says. “(It brings together) my photography experience and the landscape design. (Plus there’s) the conceptual side: the sense of my time and personal history, and human history. Then maybe the history of the universe.”

It’s a broad vision – and an appropriately large venue to host it. Set across 60,000 square meters of land, the Enoura Observatory is a performance space, gallery and art installation in its own right.

Sugimoto’s “Seascapes” photographs hang in a long, glass hallway that leads visitors to a balcony overlooking the Bay of Sagami. On cloudy days, the water outside looks just like the artist’s famed black-and-white pictures, which are now found in the complex’s Summer Solstice Observation Gallery.

“It is a combination of art and architecture,” Sugimoto says of the space. “(It was) purposefully placed to face directly south. So, on midsummer (day), the sun comes up from the ocean… and then light goes (straight down into) this 100-meter gallery.”

Sugimoto used the same precision to design other areas of the Observatory. During winter solstice, the rising sun can be seen centered at the end of a long metal tunnel. And the path to a stone stage is perfectly lit by the spring and autumn equinoxes.

Winter Solstice Observation Tunnel

But some exertion is required on the part of visitors, too – the complex is more than an hour’s drive from Tokyo. That journey can be seen as part of Enoura experience, however. Visitors leave Japan’s busy capital, following a scenic coastal highway that culminates in a winding mountain road and, finally, the observatory’s steep entrance.

“The land is jumping into the water,” observes Sugimoto. He adds: “I want people to be relaxed and feel the nature – touch the nature – here.”

After years of preparation by Sugimoto and his Odawara Art Foundation, the Enoura Observatory is finally open to the public this month. Visitors are only allowed to enter at certain times of day, and only for a limited amount of time.

“When the building is open – that is usually the freshest and best-looking moment,” says Sugimoto. “But my target is probably 5,000 years from now. Maybe civilization is gone … and, most likely, this building will remain as a ruin. I want my building to look best when it’s turned into a ruin, so let’s wait 5,000 years.”

In the video above, Hiroshi Sugimoto takes CNN Style inside the Enoura Observatory.