Arata Isozaki's design for the Nara Centennial Hall was the winning entry in an international competition in 1992. The program required three principal spaces, respectively accommodating 100, 500, and 2,000 people, and all flexible enough to serve multiple purposes, from concerts to conventions. The hall was to be the centerpiece of a series of structures planned for the city and prefecture of Nara, the master plan for which was drawn up by Kisho Kurokawa.
Isozaki's main structure takes the form of a gigantic ellipse that extends the length of the site. In the sketch plan the ellipse is first set along the axis of the city's preexisting grid, then is rotated twenty-three degrees, forming an entrance hall parallel to an adjacent railway station. The sculptural form tapers gently toward the roof (a vast field of glass-tube solar collectors). Though the form of the building is abstract, its curving profile and ponderous presence relate to the monumental roof forms of Nara's most notable monument, the Todaiji Temple, constructed in 734 A.D. Its exterior skin, sheathed in zinc and gray-ceramic tile, also recalls the dull luster of the traditional gray ibushi-style roofs of Todaiji and other important temple structures.
The sketch and the computer-generated drawing, both of which appeared in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in 1992–93, together show the full range of graphic techniques available to Isozaki at the time. The sketch portrays the signature dimension of architectural design in its most generative form; the computer drawing is less personal, depicting not the act of generation but the end result of a long design process. Its cool tones and even surface render the qualities of the ceramic-tile skin, and provided a visual understanding of the total design well before construction was to begin. (Essay also meant to accompany 147.1993)
Publication excerpt from an essay by Terence Riley, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 244.