An Art Space, Underground – and Under Water

Ulf Meyer
9. September 2021
Visualization © Sambuichi Architects

Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi will expand the Cisternerne in Copenhagen, adding a fourth underground chamber for art. The Fourth Chamber displays the architect's interest in traditional Japanese ways of building and his ability to merge art, architecture, and nature.

When Copenhagen boomed in the 1800s, access to flowing water became restricted and people had to drink murky well water. In 1853, a cholera epidemic hit the Danish capital, so the underground Cisternerne in Søndermarken (Southern Field) was constructed. Now, 170 years later, Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi will expand the Cisternerne, now an exhibition space, and recreate the historic reflecting pool above, a basin placed on axis with the Frederiksberg Castle, today a military academy.

The reflecting pool on axis with Frederiksberg Castle (Visualization © Sambuichi Architects)

Sambuichi sees his designs as "streams of light, air, water, heat and humans," and his architecture as "an outer frame, which controls these streams in and out of nature." His earlier designs for the Naoshima Hall and the Inujima Art Museum, both situated on islands in the Japanese Inland Sea, have proven his great sensitivity toward "a balance between these streams of materials and energy." But it was his 2017 exhibition The Water that got the Danish public and museum curators excited — visitor numbers peaked when Sambuichi's visions were on display in the Cisternerne, a part of Frederiksbergmuseerne (the Frederiksberg Museums).

Entrance to the tunnel (Visualization © Sambuichi Architects)

The architect from Hiroshima has been chosen to extend the Cisternerne, which consists of a trio of underground cisterns that are popular settings for art exhibitions. Sambuichi will add a fourth underground chamber that will feature a permanent art installation, The Fourth Chamber, and above it a historical mirrored basin in front of Frederiksberg Castle. He will also add a welcome area, shop, cafe, toilets, and classrooms that will enhance the experience of visitors in both under and above ground realms. Cisternerne will function as a water reservoir again, but with "flows of daylight" streaming in through the water and glass — at least on sunny summer days.

Inside the tunnel (Visualization © Sambuichi Architects)

The new, fourth chamber will measure 40 by 40 meters in size. It will have glass roof with water on top; this reestablished pool will be used as a paddle basin in summer and for ice-skating in winter. In the chamber visitors will walk across wooden footbridges elevated above a flooded rock and moss garden. The room will be illuminated by natural light seeping through the basin. Seeing art where "light and water meet" could become a sensuous experience for connoisseurs not only observing art, but immersing themselves within it. Sambuichi’s vision is to let the movements of wind, water, and light become elements of his architecture. His proposal for The Fourth Chamber merges art, architecture, and nature into a Gesamtkunstwerk.

Covered walkways in The Fourth Chamber (Visualization © Sambuichi Architects)

Visitors will be led underground through two tunnels that emerge from the old pathways and are aligned with the axis of the castle. The tunnels lead air from the new chamber into the three existing ones. Air will be pulled from the back end of the last chamber to each side, running up through two new air towers in the park.

The fourth chamber will let visitors experience wind, water, and light. Footbridges and platforms offer movement and rest, a bright contrast to the trio of darker chambers. The cafe will be a Japanese-inspired eatery, offering meals on one of the wooden platforms and picnic baskets for take-out.

Ventilation tower in the park (Visualization © Sambuichi Architects)

Japanese architecture is in high demand in Scandinavia. In Odense, for instance, Kengo Kuma has designed a similar small room for the new Hans Christian Andersen museum that also has a glass roof capped by water. Sambuichi’s ambitious, poetic architectural statement will have to prove that it can be built and maintained. If so, the Frederiksberg Museums hope, The Fourth Chamber will become a gathering place where "art melts with architecture, history and climate."

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