Light tunnel / MAD Architects
Text description of the architects. Traditional agriculture is still practiced in Echigo-Tsumari in the mountainous snow country of Japan. The region suffers from an aging and declining population as many young people move to cities for work or training. In 2000, Fram Kitagawa founded the Echigo-Tsumari Triennial to revive the region’s cultural energy.
On an area of more than 760 square kilometers, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field houses around 160 works of art in 200 villages, which were realized in collaboration between internationally renowned artists and locals. Works from previous editions are an integral part of the local environment and culturally enrich the area. The Echigo-Tsumari Triennale connects people with places and presents a new model for how people deal with nature. It also promotes collaboration between different generations and neighboring regions.
As part of the 2018 program, MAD Architects were invited to revitalize the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel – a historic 750 meter long passage that cuts through rock formations and offers a panoramic view over one of Japan’s three great chasms. Based on the “five elements of nature (wood, earth, metal, fire, water), MAD transformed points along the historic tunnel by realizing several architectural spaces and artistic atmospheres. The designs re-represent the relationship between man and nature and connect locals and visitors alike with their surroundings.
As you approach the tunnel, there is a “periscope”, a wooden hut where visitors can enjoy the natural landscape from the warm wooden interior. The “Expression of Color” tunnel entrance is illuminated with colored lights at every vantage point. The first renovation of the lookout point is the “Invisible Bubble”. The otherworldly capsule-like structure reflects the silhouette of the tunnel and at the same time reflects the landscape. “Drops”, convex mirrors that are backlit by red light, line the curve of the second vantage point.
The highlight of the tunnel is the “light cave”, which brings both lightness and silence into the once dark, dewy tunnel. Semi-polished stainless steel lines the tunnel, drawing the area’s rock formations, lush greenery, and turquoise water into the enclosed space.
In contrast to individual works of art, this project was about architectural and civil engineering elements, so that many boundary conditions were taken into account in the design process in order to realize the project without compromises, because for us the tunnel was not just a passage, but a journey through the Art and nature. We had to take into account the budget, the weather, the materials and the opinions of the local people.
In the periscope, for example, the angle of each mirror had to be adjusted with the help of our design team to reflect certain aspects of the environment. The roof had to be designed to withstand heavy snowfall, so we fused a lot of small elements in the pipes to assemble them on site later.