Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum first opened on May 1, 1926 under the name “Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum.” The original building was designed by OKADA Shinichiro, an architect who taught at Waseda University and Tokyo School of Fine Arts and fostered numerous young architects. Okada’s museum was a European classicist building with entrances on all four sides. A row of columns fronted each entrance.
Visitors climbed the main entrance steps, looking up at the columns, and advanced straight into the entry hall. There, they encountered stairs leading down to the sculpture hall—a large void space with a high ceiling, filled with natural light. Around this void, the other spaces were arranged: the crafts showroom, offices and cafeteria, on the ground floor; and the painting galleries, on the main floor.
This “temple of art,” designed by OKADA Shinichiro, was one of three buildings—forerunners of the Western art facility in Japan—that Okada designed and completed in Ueno Park in the late 1920s, along with KURODA Memorial Hall and the Tokyo School of Fine Arts Museum. Okada received acclaim as a master designer in the Western style.
In designing Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum, Okada ambitiously tackled the issues of creating the first large-scale art museum in Japan. One was lighting. On the ground floor, he established windows in the walls for the crafts showroom, with its many display cases, and the cafeteria. On the main floor, however, he employed skylights, in order to secure sufficient wall space for hanging paintings, and created painting galleries illuminated by soft natural light.
In the building’s central sculpture hall, meanwhile, he originally planned to establish rows of decorative columns along its four walls. He was nevertheless asked to eliminate the columns, as they would interfere with the sculptural works of Fumio Asakura and other sculptors. Okada revised his plan accordingly, and construction began.
When the new art museum building opened in May 1926, its completion was warmly celebrated by the art community, which rated it highly as a museum grasping artists’ intentions and placing weight on practical use.
Outline of the original building (after its first building extension).
1883-1942. Born in Tokyo.
Graduated from the School of Architecture, Tokyo Imperial University. Taught at Tokyo School of Fine Arts (currently Tokyo University of the Arts) and Waseda University and fostered numerous young architects. Won the first prize in a design competition for the Osaka Central Civic Hall. Came to be considered a master of Western architectural design.
His major design works include Osaka Central Public Hall (1917: an important cultural property), Kabuki-za (1924), and Meiji Seimei Kan (1934; an important cultural property).