Inujima Art Project

DATE: 2008
LOCATION: Inujima Island, JP
OLD USE: Copper refinery
NEW USE: Art museum


Opened in 1909 using local funding, the copper refinery was one of many that were built on islands in the Seto Island Sea. The island locations were chosen both for their resources as well as a way to minimize pollution and provide convenient transport of the raw materials. Due to a massive plunge in the value of copper, the refinery shut down after only 10 years of operation. Because of its groundbreaking role in Japan’s industrial development, the Inujima refinery site was designated in 2007 as “Story 30” in the “33 Heritage Constellations of Industrial Modernization” by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.[1]


Soichiro Fukutake, primary project benefactor, is President of Benesse Corporation. Ranked among the top ten richest people in Japan, Fukutake took over the company his father founded which focuses on distance learning and test preparation for schools and universities. He has transformed Naoshima into an art mecca and serves as director of the Chichu Art Museum.[2]

Hiroshi Sambuichi founded Sambuichi Architects in Hiroshima. Sambuichi is well known and recognized for his sustainable designs and focus.[3]


The Inujima Art Project was undertaken as a way to revitalize the area while at the same time raise awareness about the issues surrounding industrialization. The site was slated for use as a medical waste dump, but thanks to Fukutake’s efforts was saved. While much of the actual gallery space is new construction, it was been made using recycled elements from the site. Much of the old refinery, smokestacks, and grounds have been preserved as historic ruins to encapsulate the gallery.

The museum was designed to use solar, geothermal, and other natural energies as a way to minimize its burden on the environment. Sambuichi designed the gallery to use the natural cooling effects of the earth for the buried portion of the building and the existing smokestacks to pull fresh air in from the bottom and release old air out through the top.[4]

Electricity is only necessary to power emergency lighting; all other lighting, heating, and cooling needs are met through passive measures.[5] Lighting for the Earth Gallery (steel-encased corridor embedded in the ground) is provided by a single skylight that is extended by nine mirrors strategically located throughout. The sun-lit Chimney Hall at the base of the smokestack filters light into the vaulted Energy Hall.[6] Waste water at the gallery is filtered on site with a plant-based water purifying system and then used to irrigate orange and olive trees.[7]

Designed to harmonize with the earth’s natural cycles, Seirensho is just the beginning of what Fukutake has in store for Inujima; among other things, plans are afoot to restore and transform several of the island’s old houses into art installations in collaboration with architect Kazuyo Sejima. But even as the scope of Fukutake’s interventions expands, the visionary art patron remains true to his basic mantra: “utilize existing elements and create elements that do not exist.”[8]

Due to the island’s size (.21 square miles) and the desire to preserve the site, only 50 visitors are allowed a day.[9]

[1]Benesse Art Site Naoshima
[2]Wallpaper* Magazine
[3]Benesse Art Site Naoshima
[4]Wallpaper* Magazine
[6]Wallpaper* Magazine
[8]Wallpaper* Magazine

Images courtesy of Inhabitat.