Dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu, Japan's highest Shinto deity, the country's two most sacred sites are the Naiku and the Geku sanctuaries within the Grand Shrine complex at Ise, in the Mie prefecture. Every 20 years, the simple wooden structures supported by wood columns and topped by thatched roofs, undergo a ritual reconstruction. Each of the two buildings is dismantled and erected anew on an adjacent site by highly specialized carpenters. Though this cycle has been going on for centuries, the individual shrines are so revered that they are kept under wraps, leaving most people unaware about what actually takes place. To shed light on the secretive ceremony, known as Sengu, shrine officials commissioned the Tokyo architect Akira Kuryu to design an Ise Shrine Sengu museum where, for the first time, visitors are able to view large-scale models of and artifacts salvaged from the buildings. Because he needed good lighting to accentuate the displays, Kuryu turned to the Tokyo-based Lighting Planners Associates (LPA).

Kuryu's L-shaped building is located near the entrance to the Geku (or outer) precinct and hugs an iris-studded pond. One leg contains a glazed rest pavilion, the other the museum, a single-story sequence of symmetrically organized spaces crowned by a massive pitched roof made of cast iron.

LPA developed an illumination plan that creates a series of contrasting light and dark spaces. “Merging natural and artificial light was the most important consideration,” says lighting designer Kaoru Mende. Blending the two enabled the museum to rely on daylight during its hours of operation (it closes at 4 p.m., except on special holidays), so visitors are able to view the displays as if in the shrine's natural setting.
Mende and his team lined the museum's approach with LED uplights, controlled to respond to outdoor conditions. These are embedded in the paving and continue into the reception area, guiding visitors inside, and helping the eye shift from exterior to interior light levels. Here, ceiling-mounted fixtures with 3,000-Kelvin, 32-watt fluorescent lamps and daylight-sensing dimmers provide ambient light. Task lights brighten the admissions desk, and halogen spots illuminate ornate tobira doors that once belonged to the Geku shrine but now greet gallery visitors.
Enclosed by large glass panes along one wall, the building's south corridor opens to expansive pond views and a flood of sunshine, while the shadowy north corridor is lined with a low window yielding limited views of the pebbly ground outside and a band of daylight at the wall's base. Concealed LED tapes extend the length of the glass, while recessed LED spots in the ceiling highlight wall-mounted displays. “We always try to integrate fixtures with the architecture,” remarks Mende.
By contrast, the main gallery has no external exposure. Instead, its carefully calibrated luminous ceiling mimics the aura of a cloudy day. “Unlike [the way it is] in a [Christian] church, the lighting should be diffuse, to convey the spirit of Japanese space,” explains Mende. The lighting team achieved this effect using metal halide spotlights and a ceiling of glass cloth. “It looks like wool but is made of glass fibers,” explains Kuryu. Evenly spaced behind and along the base of a ceiling pitched at 45 degrees, the lamps are covered by oval spread lenses that distribute the light upward to the ridge. Minute adjustments to the lamps and their lenses help limit hot spots of higher lux levels near the ridge. “It was our challenge to make it even,” says Mende.
By paying close attention to the sun's daily cycle, keeping the installed lighting elements to a minimum building-wide and fine-tuning the intensity of each one, LPA makes it seem as if there are barely any lights at all.


Formal name of building:

Sengukan Museum



Ise City, Mie Prefecture


Completion date:



Gross square footage:

16,062sqm (site area) 1,969sqm (building area) 2,622sqm (floor area)


Total project cost:



Total construction cost:




Jingu Shikinen Zoueicho



Jingu Shikinen Zoueicho


Architect's firm name:

A. Kuryu Architect & Associates


Architect of record:

Tatsuo Iwasa



Katsuo Nakata Engineering



Landscape: Placemedia Landscape Architects Collaborative, Shunsaku Miyagi

Lighting: Lighting Planners Associates, Kaoru Mende, Mari Kubota, Tsutomo Nagatsu(*former staff)


General contractor:

Taisei Corporation



Toshio Kaneko


Lighting designer:

Lighting Planners Associates — Kaoru Mende, Mari Kubota, Tsutomo Nagatsu



21,200 square feet





Completion date:




Structural system

List type, e.g. concrete or steel frame, wood, etc.: reinforced concrete, steel frame



Interior ambient lighting: Yamagiwa, DN Lighting, TOKI
Downlights: Yamagiwa
Task lighting: Spotlight: Modulex, Daiko, Yamagiwa, Erco
Exterior: Yamagiwa
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Panasonic


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