Heian Kento 1200: the Kyoto Concert Hall, Another Example

There were several monumental buildings were built for memorial of the 1200th anniversary of Kyoto’s ascension as Japanese capital. The New Kyoto Station was one of them; another example to be noted here was the Kyoto Concert Hall. Same as the New Kyoto Station, the Kyoto Concert Hall (open in 1995) also had modernized design; nevertheless, it had received much less criticisms and faced less controversies compared to the New Kyoto Station. Such comparison may give us a deeper insight of the problem of the New and the Old in the context of this ancient city.

The Kyoto Concert Hall was located next to Kyoto Botanical Garden, which is built by the Kamogawa River. It located in the north of Kyoto, an area with distinctive Kyoto significance. As one of the significant projects celebrating this 1200 anniversary, it was designed by Arata Isozaki, another internationally renowned Japanese architect. Isozaki was a disciple of Kenzo Tange, and had been visiting professor in many universities. He was famous for his combination of Japanese sensibility and modernism in his design (My Architectural Moleskine, 2010).

The building volume of the Kyoto Concert Hall was much smaller than the New Kyoto Station. It is a 5-storey tall building, whose building volume looks like combination of two rectangular boxes and a cylinder, which are referred to the three main components of the concert hall: The Foyer, the Ensemble Hall Murata, and the Main Hall (My Architectural Moleskine, 2010). Such form is extremely simple, but rows of windows and their stretched-out shadings in the shape of waves add a soft and gentle touch to it.


The color range for this concert hall is limited to subdued silver and black (Arcspace, 2012). Isozaki believed this choice of color suited Kyoto, possibly because it gave a similar aura with the ancient temples spotted around Kyoto, an atmosphere of Zen. This intention is frequently expressed in many design details in this piece of architecture.

The surface of the building is covered with terracotta panels, which resembles roof tiles. Simple material together with simple colors creates a feeling of aged, a feeling that fits the context and the common impression of Kyoto. “Because of glazing ceramics never have perfectly flat surfaces or edges. This tolerance for slight imperfections might be said to be the architectural equivalent of that quality people in Kyoto refer to by the word hannari, which is the highest compliment one can pay to a woman in the prime of life.” Isozaki explained his choice of material (Arcspace, 2012).

Surrounding the cylinder volume is a pool of clear water, a common tactic often used in Japanese gardens (Arcspace, 2012). The pool reflects the terracotta surface of the cylinder, gives the building a feeling of serenity.

The entrance of the concert hall is not at the front but at the site. Once enter, visitors would need to walk a long and winding way to approach the Hall. This resembles the approaching way in the Japanese temples: visitors have to walk past several rooms to reach the main hall. Isozaki adopted this technic in this concert hall three-dimensionally to make a small space more extensive (Arcspace, 2012), and, probably to give this building a feeling of the solemnity of temples.

The above design details reflect that it seems Isozaki intended to introduce an aura of dignity and solemnity, which is often seen in Japanese temples, into this concert hall. This somehow coincide with the classical theme of a concert hall. Even though the concert hall has a modernized look, it was not as controversial as the New Kyoto Station, and it was praised as a successful epitome of “finding common ground between past and present” (Goldberger, 1995). Compared to Hiroshi Hara, Isozaki devoted more to introduce traditional Japanese elements into this modern building, which may be the reason for its high acceptance. But we should also realize that the concert hall has a smaller scale compared to the New Kyoto Station, which freed it from any possibilities to break the height limit, and its interior environment is also largely controlled by the architect, unlike the Station, where most programs were controlled by the users of the space.




Arcspace, 2012. “Kyoto Concert Hall”. Assessed December 22, 2017. https://arcspace.com/feature/kyoto-concert-hall/.


Goldberger, Paul, 1995. “A Dash of the Modern Amid Mediocrities”. New York Times, July 02, 1995, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/02/arts/architecture-view-a-dash-of-the-modern-amid-mediocrities.html.


My Architectural Moleskine, 2010. ”ARATA ISOZAKI: KYOTO CONCERT HALL”. Assessed December 22, 2017. http://architecturalmoleskine.blogspot.hk/2010/01/arata-isozaki-kyoto-concert-hall.html.




1 Comment on “Heian Kento 1200: the Kyoto Concert Hall, Another Example

  1. It is interesting to see how the Kyoto Concert Hall is designed to resemble some of the traditional characteristics in Japanese building like shrine and houses. Although this Concert Hall received less criticisms, I personally think it is still very challenging in translating some traditional building aesthetic and represent in a modern sense. One notable example is the design of Suzhou Museum designed by IM Pei, it tried to imitate the Jiangnan style of housing using simple geometry in the design of the museum, it received great criticism on his move of translation. Thus, I believe that its almost impossible to replicate or transform a sense of place from traditional architecture to modernist architecture. Although I have not been to the Kyoto Concert Hall, this is just my personal feeling.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.