after more than a decade of planning, the enoura observatory by hiroshi sugimoto for the odawara art foundation opened in 2017. set into japan’s hakone mountains, the complex comprises a number of carefully positioned structures — including an art gallery, two stages, a tea house, several gates, and a reception building — that overlook sagami bay. to learn more about the project, and the vision of the artist and photographer, designboom visited the observatory to experience its immersive architectural experience firsthand.

sugimoto enoura
hiroshi sugimto on the tip of the summer solstice observation gallery
image © odawara art foundation
all images, if not otherwise specified, are © designboom

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

the summer solstice observatory gallery, which also culminates in a dramatic 12 meters cantilever overlooking the sea, doubling as a viewing platform

 

 

believing that the heavens could provide some insight into our future, sugimoto oriented the observatory around the annual movement of the sun: the winter solstice, when new life begins; the summer solstice, when the pendulum of the seasons swings back again; and the spring and autumn equinoxes, milestones at the midpoint between the two extremes. ‘I believe that if we turn once more to our ancient observation of the heavens, we will find glimmers that point the way to our future,’ sugimoto continues.

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

the summer solstice observatory gallery is covered in oya stone

 

 

‘the mission of the complex is to revive traditional building methods which are in danger of being lost, and to pass them on to future generations,’ says sugimoto, who is the founder of the odawara art foundation. each of the structures that make up the enoura observatory incorporates traditional japanese building styles and methods in order to provide an overview of japan’s architectural history. however, upon visiting the site it is clear that the complex is more than just a compilation of vernacular typologies and after experiencing these architectural wonders, that many more will be drawn to this remote part of japan.

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

inside the gallery visitors can enjoy photography work by hiroshi sugimoto

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

one hundred meters above sea level and hundred meters in length, the opposing wall is made of glass windows – 37 large panes, side by side with no support – for a completely column-free space

 

 

it is evident upon visiting, that each aspect of the observatory responds to the location of the rising sun throughout the calendar year. for example, on the morning of the winter solstice, the sun rises from sagami bay and sends light through a 70 meter-long tunnel — illuminating a large stone at its opposing end. in this way, the scheme observes the year’s shortest day and marks a significant turning point in the cycle of death and rebirth.

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

cantilever winter solstice light-worship tunnel, next to the optical glass stage

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

winter solstice light-worship tunnel

 

 

parallel to the tunnel, a stage paved with optical glass sits on a framework of hinoki cypress. on the morning of the winter solstice, the platform glows as it catches the light on its cut edges. directly adjacent to the stage, a full-size recreation of a ruined roman auditorium has been constructed. as we took a moment to reflect, sitting in the amphitheater, the glass stage appears to float perfectly on the surface of the sea.

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

winter solstice light-worship tunnel, next to the glass stage, built with a ‘kakezukuri’ framework of hinoki cypress, paved with optical glass

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

close-up on the ‘kakezukuri’ framework

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom
inside the tunnel, ‘tome-ishi’, this stone means ‘no entry’ / ‘no passing’

 

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom
kameishi‘ tortoise stone overlooking sagami bay

 

 

hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

‘as if guided by an unseen hand, I was drawn to this place of memories,’ says sugimoto

 

 

‘what should art today express?’ asks hiroshi sugimoto — a straightforward question that apparently cannot be answered in such a simple manner. instead, the artist sees the enoura observatory as a place for contemplation. ‘at the dawn of history, when the ancients first gained self-awareness, their first step was to search for and identify the place they occupied within the vastness of the starry firmament,’ says sugimoto. ‘this search for meaning and identity was also the primal force behind art.’ hiroshi sugimoto enoura observatory japan designboom

the stone stage

 

the origins of performing arts in japan go back to the ancient legend of ‘ama-no-iwato. according to this legend, the dawn goddess danced in order to lure forth the sun goddess, who was hiding in a cave. the design of the stone stage is based on the dimensions of a noh stage. at each of the stage’s four corners are large stones, originally destined for the walls of an edo castle. the axis of the stone bridgeway (seen behind) aligns with the axis of the sun as it rises from sagami bay at the spring and autumn equinoxes.

 

my conception was for the noh plays to start just before dawn as the murk of night is giving away to daylight and for the principal actors of the second part of the play to return to the underworld as the sun rises directly behind the stage‘, says hiroshi sugimoto to designboom.

 

 

 

see a video where hiroshi sugimoto explains the project (designboom’s previous coverage) here.

 

elsewhere, the meigetsu gate — originally constructed in the muromachi period style (1336 – 1573) — preserves the original materials and zen style found in structures of the period. other buildings include the uchōten (‘listen-to-the-rain’) teahouse… see more images in the gallery below.