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Tsuruoka Cultural Hall Project by SANAA Studio Essay

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Updated: Jul 7th, 2021


Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are famous Japanese architects who have completed a few significant projects. At first, they had worked independently from each other until 1995 when the two founded the SANAA studio. This architecture firm has become noted in the whole world due to various extraordinary and successful projects, including the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall. In general, the company creates projects to “discard outmoded stereotypes” (El Croquis, “Sejima 1996” 8) The given cultural building is worth considering since it represents a specific theory found in the architects’ work. It refers to the fact that the two try to combine both conventional Japanese architectural features and a modern approach to their implementation. When it comes to the Cultural Hall, its internal structure refers to the traditional architecture, while extraordinary volumes and specific materials stand for a modern characteristic feature.

Background of the Project

The Tsuruoka Cultural Hall did not emerge spontaneously, and many events preceded it. Thus, it relates to “Diagram Architecture,” a work by Toyo Ito, another Japanese architect (Covatta 68). The given work had a significant impact on Sejima and SANAA’s projects. Ito’s publication states that any architectural project should combine “the rational system of architectural elements with the sensations and stimuli of the external world” (Covatta 68).

Consequently, it also refers to the mixture of modern and traditional, which is preserved in the project under consideration. In addition to that, some of the architects’ previous works influenced the Cultural Hall construction process. For example, Sejima and Nishizawa are famous for creating the O Museum in Nagano, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion, and others. Those projects mean that the architects are well familiar with designing cultural buildings, which made them interested in building the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall.

The Construction Process

Thus, one can note that the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall is a project in which the architects have managed to achieve the concept of combining traditional and modern architecture step by step. One can say that “light, transparency, and the ability to see the organization” are central themes of the given project (El Croquis, “Sejima 2007” 7). It is reflected in many aspects, including the materials that the architects used and the structures that they created. It is necessary to note that each of the features that will be described further has its own impact on the project and its meaning. However, the general image only becomes apparent when all these features are analyzed and considered together.

This “architecture is easy to judge according to its aesthetic method and dimension, transparency, and lightness” (El Croquis, “Sejima 1996” 14). According to the architects, the use of glass produces an atmospheric effect, and they apply “many layers of glass” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2007” 7).

This material is traditional for SANAA’s projects, and it was added to let the light penetrate the building to brighten the internal spaces. Furthermore, “the lightness of screens” is traditional for Japanese architecture (El Croquis, “Sejima 2007” 4). That is why the architects created large windows to offer continuity between the project’s interior and exterior. Then, a column is another traditional feature of Japanese architecture because it results in the fact that “nothing is hidden” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2007” 7). These structures play an essential role in the given project because they emphasize the lightness of the building (Covatta 70). As for their material, steel is used because it is elegant and robust.

Secondly, it is necessary to comment on the internal space, and it is represented by “a common corridor of traditional Japanese housing” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2000” 11). The architects’ task was “to create a place through which people could pass quite freely” (El Croquis, “Sejima 1996” 10). Furthermore, it was necessary for the architects “to create various movements within a given architectural space” (El Croquis, “Sejima 1996” 7). The Cultural Hall consists of an auditorium and a corridor that surrounds it. It refers to the fact that the passage that goes through the whole Cultural Hall contributes to increased circulation within the building and open access to its numerous parts.

Then, one should mention that SANAA’s numerous projects are famous for approaching the concept of volume differently. For example, the Learning Rolex Center is peculiar because its curved roof creates internal fluid space with almost no traditional partitioning. Consequently, the building features large volumes where functional areas are separated with the help of floor valleys. At the same time, the Toledo Museum of Art demonstrates a different approach to shaping the concept under consideration.

Curved glass walls serve as a traditional partitioning element, but they only limit the volume physically, not visually. However, the low ceiling also contributes to the limited volume. In addition to that, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa is worth mentioning because its exterior reflects some impact on size. It refers to the circular shape of the building, which was established to keep the appearance of the building volume low. Furthermore, the architects used many transparent elements to eliminate the feeling that the building is quite large and provide this museum with daylight, which is a traditional feature of Japanese architecture.

Taking into consideration the information above, one should note that Sejima and Nishizawa utilized a peculiar approach to volume in the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall. The architects like playing with “floors at different heights” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2004” 11). Furthermore, the concept of volume is intensified by the fact that the architects considered “opening the building to the public” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2004” 13). As for the given project, the concept under consideration is represented by various heights that are seen both from the outside and inside of the Cultural Hall. The architects used this structure to create different spaces within the building, and it was possible thanks to the roof system that will be described further.

Thus, it is necessary to comment on the peculiar roof system of the project since it is one of the main aspects that reveal the mixture of traditional and innovative architectural attitudes. One should mention that geometrically diverse roofs are not typical for SANAA’s projects; the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa is another example of this architectural decision. At first sight, the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall seems to resemble conventional Japanese palaces with curved roofs, and this comparison is suitable for the given project. However, it features highly technological solutions and creative ideas that convey the primary significance.

Thus, the building under consideration does not have a single roof since separate rooms of the Cultural Hall are covered independently (Covatta 68). In addition to that, the roofs are multi-material creations; they include concrete and curved steel framing from the outside and wooden elements from the inside of the building. The entire meaning of this roof system becomes evident when it comes to reviewing the surrounding of the project, which is the next step of the given analysis.

Project Surrounding

Numerous SANAA’s projects demonstrate a close relationship between the inside and the outside “to make continuous space” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2004” 13). It is obligatory to pay attention to the relationship of the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall with its environment.

As has been mentioned above, the Cultural Hall is in an essential area of the city. This precinct holds many historic buildings, cultural centers, universities, and other relevant establishments. In addition to that, this district is famous for its abundant nature. Consequently, the architects faced an essential issue while they were designing the project since it both should have been an integral part of that surrounding and should not have melted into the environment.

Sejima and Nishizawa have managed to achieve the goal above with the help of two phenomena. On the one hand, it refers to the exterior of the Cultural Hall. White color serves as a useful and attractive feature that helps the project stand out against the background of green leaves and darker roofs of other buildings. Furthermore, the Cultural Hall is much taller in comparison with other architectural structures that surround it. Thus, the color and size are said to be the most significant elements that are used to bring more individuality to the project under consideration.

On the other hand, even though the roof system seems to be the element that makes the Cultural Hall different from the surrounding buildings, it actually serves for the transition. It refers to the fact that each small roof becomes lower close to its edge to reach the level of a one-store building (Minaya). One can say that these curved roofs have made it possible for the architects to create a project that is in harmony with the surrounding world. Thus, there is no doubt that Sejima and Nishizawa have chosen this model to connect their project to the environment, both natural and architectural.

Challenges during the Construction

It is not a surprise that this significant project implies a few challenges that the architects should have overcome. Apart from those that referred to choosing the materials, structuring the space, and abiding by the environment, a few more aspects were of crucial importance for the Cultural Hall. On the one hand, it relates to ventilation because such a large building should have an effective air conditioning system to either cool or heat air when necessary. In the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall, a machine ventilation model processes groundwater that is stored and recycled on-site in subterranean reservoirs.

Consequently, this water is used to control the temperature within the building. On the other hand, a crucial challenge appeared when it came to locating the electrical, mechanical, and generator rooms that were to provide the building with the necessary resources. The architects decided to locate these rooms in a satellite structure to make maintenance easier and eliminate all the unnecessary elements from the cultural establishment.

How do People Use this Building?

It is not a surprise that numerous people highly appreciate the given project. When it comes to cultural performances and exhibitions in this Cultural Hall, they are suitable for both spectators and actors due to the peculiar construction of the auditorium, including the tiered seating and reduced depth. In addition to that, the internal partitioning separates public and private spaces. As a result, the whole complex also includes rehearsal and practice rooms, changing facilities, a café, and others.

The Influence of the Project

Sejima and Nishizawa mention that architecture is a complex phenomenon that should involve various specialists, including engineers and artists, and “each brings something to the final space” (El Croquis, “Sejima 2010” 7). That is why their projects feature all the peculiarities mentioned above. There is no doubt that the given project could not but go unnoticed for the architects and their future activity. On the one hand, Sejima and Nishizawa have seen that it is possible to achieve the feeling of lightness and elegance, even using heavy materials and covering large spaces. On the other hand, the successful experience with the roof and its shape have allowed the architects to develop this skill in further projects.


The present information demonstrates that Sejima and Nishizawa have managed to implement their theory in the Tsuruoka Cultural Hall by combining conventional Japanese architecture with its modern elements. Thus, the architects have chosen a traditional structure that includes the corridor and the auditorium, which contributes to higher circulation within the building. Large windows are another Japanese feature in the project because they serve as screens that create continuity between the building’s exterior and interior. Then, steel columns that are highly used in Japanese architecture contribute to the feeling of lightness and elegance, which is supported by the curved roof. Consequently, the given building is an exciting project that reflects Sejima and Nishizawa’s architectural theory.

Works Cited

Covatta, Alice. “Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA Tsuruoka Cultural Hall.” Domus, 2018, pp. 62-73.

El Croquis, Sejima 1996.

—, Sejima 2000.

—, Sejima 2004.

—, Sejima 2007.

—, Sejima 2010.

Frearson, Amy. “Dezeen, 2015. Web.

Minaya, Joaquin. “Metalocus, 2018. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Tsuruoka Cultural Hall Project by SANAA Studio'. 7 July.

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