Tadao Ando Comes to the Clark

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Stone HIll Center, Ando, 2008/ All Photos: RICHARD LACAYO

I was up in Williamstown, Ma. last week to catch an early look at the Stone Hill Center, another splendid little exercise in High Modernism, 21st-century Japanese style, by Tadao Ando, this one on the campus of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. It uses gestures and elements that Ando recombines all the time, but we have very few examples of what he does in the U.S. This is Ando’s first completed building here since the opening six years ago of his majestic and even mysterious Fort Worth Modern Art Museum. Set on a hillside a short walk (or drive) up from the main Clark campus, the Stone Hill Center holds galleries and restoration labs, plus some classroom and office space. A second Ando building — galleries, a visitor center and conference facilities set on a reflecting pool across from the main Clark buildings — is planned for the future.

I wrote about the building in this week’s Time. But here on “Looking Around” let’s make this picture day.

On this project Ando worked with the landscape designers Reed Hilderbrand Associates to produce a Japanese-style meandering pathway approach up the hill.

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It defers your arrival at the main entrance by first bringing you around the gallery side of the building.

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After turning the corner…

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…the main entrance comes into view, though still deferred behind a wall that to my eye recalled the “moat walls” that Louis Kahn, always a great Ando inspiration, used around his Yale University Art Gallery, but there are many other potential sources. (And Kahn of course got the idea partly from the “moat walls” at the base of many Yale campus buildings.)

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You arrive past the ticket booth at right — that’s an outdoor patio on the other side of the glass — and pass through the glass doors…

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…to enter a long corridor. Go through those glass doors an turn right…

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…and you enter a gallery that terminates in one of the quadrant window-walls that Ando has been using since the ’80s. It opens to a view of woodlands framed by a covered patio that extends from the gallery, a view very much conditioned by a human framework.

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If you had turned left you would have entered a gallery that puts the window wall on one side that looks over to the first gallery, to create a different kind of indoor/outdoor play.

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Meanwhile, from that upper level patio, which will serve as an outdoor cafe in good weather…

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…one of Ando’s spare, floating stairways descends beside one of the free standing walls that he often uses to transect his main volumes at a diagonal. The wall encloses a square archway cut that frames and in a way abstracts the view within a proscenium.

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The restoration labs have been up and running for a while…

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One of their projects is the repair of two abused and abraded wall paintings that Arshile Gorky did in the mid-1930s as a WPA project for Newark Airport.

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