Odunpazarı Modern Museum designed by Kengo Kuma
In the realm of design, sometimes style is substance. As proof of this assertion look no further than the new Odunpazarı Modern Museum (OMM) in Turkey that was designed by the Japanese firm Kengo Kuma and Associates.
Intended to invoke the streetscapes and timber town history of Eskisehir, a city in Turkey’s northwest, the façade and interior use stacked wood to striking effect.
In a statement, Kengo Kuma, principle of Kengo Kuma and Associates, and Yuki Ikeguchi, the partner leading the project, said: "The idea for OMM was to use architecture to create a link between people and art. We were deeply inspired by the history, culture, people and streetscape of Odunpazarı, and we wanted the building to resonate on many levels.”
Looking at the OMM from outside and seeing how the different buildings connect the different exhibition spaces, visitors also get a visual metaphor of an interlinked world that also suggests some profound links between people and nature.
Indeed, at the opening last September, the UK-based digital art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast two tech-heavy installations with green themes. “Treehugger” is an award-winning, immersive, storytelling experience that also does double duty as an archive of rare and endangered trees, whereas “In the Eyes of the Animal” allows viewers to see and experience the world from the perspective of different beasts.
Another integral part of the opening ceremony was a new addition to OMM’s permanent collection: the largest installation to date by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, who works with that most sustainable of woods: bamboo. For his latest masterpiece, Tanabe mixed the four primal elements of air, fire, earth and water into strands of bamboo, which seem to grow out of the wall and into the floor. Woven into this enormous tapestry is another strand that represents the local denizens.
Tanabe’s work with bamboo, an age-old craft in Japan, is in line with the down-to-earth philosophy of Kengo Kuma and Associates, which favors more natural materials like timber, stone and paper in its designs. For the OMM design, the stacking techniques and geometric lines suggest both a Zen-like simplicity and a minimalist approach to art that complements many of the installations and artworks on display here.
There are more practical concerns at work too. The stacked and interlocked boxes have been built like this to create a variety of diverse, different-sized exhibition spaces inside. On the ground level, the large-scale boxes allow room for bigger works, but on the upper levels the boxes are smaller to accommodate less grandiose artworks that seek to create a more personal dialogue with visitors.
As a connecting and unifying device, the central atrium, constructed out of timber blocks, links all the different levels and allows the natural light to flow through the skylight to let the artists creativity shine.
But there’s also something playful about the design. The way that the different pieces fit together might make one think of a child letting his or her own imagination run wild with Lego blocks. Others may see the design like a series of puzzle boxes that invite the visitor to come closer and unravel the artistic mysteries that they contain.
Whichever you see it, the museum exerts a powerful and gravitational pull on viewers; it’s a work of architectural art.
The OMM houses the owner’s collection of modern Turkish art, which comprises 1,000 pieces. Part of his mission is to raise the city’s cultural capital and make a lasting contribution to his hometown of Eskisehir. In this lively college town, the museum has been causing a stir and also become something of an architectural landmark in its own right. The design, realized through the use of materials, such as laminated timber pine, limestone, plaster and oak flooring, seems both of its time and redolent of a past age.
For Idil Tabanca, chairperson and creative director of OMM, the museum is also going to become something of a community center for the city’s young artists. “We are opening up the doors of the iconic new building to create an institution that will be a stepping stone for young artists. I don’t see OMM as a museum – it’s a platform, a bridge, for young creatives to have their voices heard.”