Chichu Art Museum: From Industrial Waste Land to Japan’s Art Island

Regarded as one of the top contemporary art institutions, Chichu Art Museum was built in 2004 on Japan’s Naoshima Island. While designing this brutalist museum, Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s first priority was to create a site-specific design engaging with nature. Paintings displayed in the museum were also in harmony with the natural environment such as the paintings of Claude Monet.

Chichu Art Museum by Tadao Ando

The construction of the Chichu Art Museum turned Naoshima into “Japan’s Art Island” from an industrial place. Today the island contains five separate art galleries.


Due to its industrial past, the island was heavily contaminated with metal waste. In order to purge the island, Benesse Holdings invested in the island’s art center in 1989. Thus, the museum was also an instrument for transforming the island.

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The Japanese word Chichu literally means underground which creates a dim concept for the museum. The underground museum isolates the visitors from the outer world, thus enabling them to focus on the artworks. Tadao Ando also brought together geometric shapes and organic forms of the hill while designing the museum. Therefore he emphasized the duality of humans and nature, namely the search for order and instinctual.

Chichu Art Museum by Tadao Ando

The minimalistic corridors of the museum guide the visitors through the galleries and courtrooms. There is no exterior wall in the structure except for the entrance. The openings allow natural lighting in some sections. The Chichu Art Museum consists of three stories including an entrance area, two courtyards, and three underground art halls. There are two courtrooms: one is square with jagged rocks, while the other is a triangular one with a natural grass floor.

Chichu Art Museum by Tadao Ando
Chichu Art Museum by Tadao Ando