AD Classics: Museum of Modern Art, Gunma / Arata Isozaki

© Wiiii / Wikimedia Commons

Considered one of Arata Isozaki’s greatest masterpieces, the Museum of Modern Art, Gunma stands as a testimony to Isozaki’s architectural ideology and represents a summary of his achievements. The form is a conceptual statement about the museum as void and frame. Utilizing a 12-meter cube as a metaphorical form to express a frame, Isozaki turned the museum into a stage and a container for displaying and isolating artwork. More about the Museum of Modern Art, Gunma after the break.

© Arata Isozaki

Isozaki’s use of a pure cube makes the building weightless and dematerializes the architecture. No dimensions have hierarchy within the cube, and therefore stillness and repose is manifested within the structure. The equality of every member deteriorates the notion that any forces are acting upon the cubic forms, and the aluminum squares that mask the façade hide the structure to further allude to a weightless figure.

Photo by panda sensei -

The cubic structure of the museum creates a three dimensional framework around every space, metaphorically isolating the art from the surrounding Gunma-no-mori Park. Just as a frame isolates a picture from its context, the spatial frame of the museum detaches the interior spaces from the landscape and devotes them only to the art. The minimalist design was also meant to restrain the architecture from competing with the exhibits and to create emptiness for the mind to reflect upon itself. Rather than neutralizing itself however, the museum inevitably became its own work of art.

Photo by panda sensei -

On axis with the main entrance, a monumental stair climbs between to rows of 12m cubes to the second floor auditorium and gallery spaces. Two reflective marble walls encase the steps and extrude them into infinity. Within the row of cubes to the east of the main stair lies the main hall. At the far end of the hall lies a marble sculpture resembling a series of steps; however they are too large to climb. As the wall to one’s right converges into the distance, the skewed edge and disproportioned size of the sculpture grabs the perspective and throws it back on the viewer. This single dynamic experience of the museum’s spatial grid portrays the dramatic concept that each space is a stage for the artwork.

Photo by panda sensei -

The first stage of the Museum of Modern Art, Gunma was completed in 1974. At this point the museum suggested a bilateral symmetry with it’s A:B:C:C divisions in the cubic form. The pattern across the façade creates the symmetry that is then implied in the form, but is not literally completed. Designing an additional B:A division to the form would have fulfilled the symmetry, however stage two in 1994 broke that symmetry. Isozaki could not add two more sections to the west side of the museum due to site restrictions, and instead added only one 12m cube to the equation. This cube holds a rotated theatre on the second floor that breaks through the glass façade and counteracts the symmetry produced by the patterned façade.

Architect: Arata Isozaki
Location: Takasaki, ,
Project Year: 1971-1974
References: Phillip Drew
Photographs: Flickrpanda sensei, Wikimedia CommonsWiiii, Archive of Affinities

Cite: Metcalf, Taylor. "AD Classics: Museum of Modern Art, Gunma / Arata Isozaki" 04 Aug 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • Gpally

    This is very cool. I like all the textures and patterns.