On the outskirts of Sapporo in northern Japan, a singular sculptural work twinkles and gleans under an iridescent, dome-like sky.
But there’s no museum or gallery in sight. Here, plinths take the form of sloping green ridges, the manicured paths a self guided tour and the changing seasons curate its annual program of events, from cross country skiing in winter to a sea of cherry blossoms in spring.
Built on a former sewage wasteland, Moerenuma Park is a 400 hectare maze of geometric installations and landscaped gardens, giving meaning to the phrase ‘one man’s trash, is another’ man’s treasure.’
Designed by the late Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, among the park’s cornucopia of attractions are a glass Louvre-like pyramid, a sculptural playground of more than 126 gem coloured installations and a sandy beach for the warmer months.
As Margery Weidman at the City of Sapporo explains,“Moerenuma Park is one of the most unique parks in the world. Its dynamic design of geometric shapes resembles Peru’s Nazca Lines when viewed from above.”
“Unlike other sculpture parks where works from various artists are featured, every part of Moerenuma Park is based on a single artist’s concept. The park itself is essentially one giant sculpture.”
An artful legacy
Born to an American mother and a Japanese father, Isamu Noguchi was a pioneer of the land-art movement and one of the 21stcentury’s most critically acclaimed sculptors. He dedicated his career to shaping public spaces, integrating Japanese aesthetics with Western modernism.
Moerenuma Park is widely considered to be his most important work, and sadly, one he never saw realised. After drawing up the masterplan in November 1988, Noguchi passed away just one month later, aged 84. It then took 17 years to complete his final project.
Noguchi was brought onto the Moerenuma Park project at the request of local tech entrepreneur Hiroyuki Hattori, who had long admired his work.
According to Margery Weidman “At 83 years old, Noguchi still had not been able to bring the plan for a park and recreational space he had been developing since his 20’s to life. It was then that he accepted an invitation from an entrepreneur in Sapporo to visit.”
“The area had previously been used as a landfill, and Noguchi expressed a strong desire to use art to restore the land that humans had damaged. In response to his enthusiasm, Sapporo decided to re-do all previous plans they had created for a park there two months after Noguchi’s visit in March 1988.”
The project architects took his plans as gospel, bringing Noguchi’s designs to life as he had envisioned over the next 17 years. Moerenuma Park was officially unveiled to the public in 2005.
Curves in all the right places
Emblematic of Noguchi’s desire to integrate art, space and recreation, Moerenuma Park is purpose built for visitors to savour the outdoors, to enjoy time with their family and rediscover the art of play.
The circuitous paths attract many dog walkers, runners and two wheeled travellers, meandering through this sprawling outdoor artwork in the warmer months.
Nowhere is Noguchi’s preoccupation with play more evident than The Forrest of Cherry Trees, a green zone featuring seven large play equipment areas.
“All 126 pieces of play equipment in the park were created based on Noguchi’s design, making for a collection of colourful, unique sculptures that are equally enjoyable to look at from a distance,” said Margery Weidman.
The sixty two metre tall Mt. Moere constitutes the only mountain landmark in the north eastern area of the city of Sapporo. Its summit can be climbed from three directions, revealing sweeping views of both Sapporo’s cityscape and the entire park itself.
A large forty eight metre fountain aptly named the Sea Fountain is a spectacle in its own right, erupts into a triumphant twenty five metre stream in the centre of the park.
Serving as the symbol of Moerenuma Park, the Glass Pyramid is a both a striking architectural feature and an expansive space for rest and relaxation. It features a gallery where visitors can learn about the park’s enigmatic creator, plus an impressive sustainable cooling system using snow collected from Mt. Moere.
A park for the people
The further you delve intoNoguchi’s garden of eden, the more you appreciate his passion for functional, multi purpose design.Moerenuma Park is certainly not an opportunity to flex his artistic chops, but a genuine effort in building a space that brings people together.
“A concept that Noguchi held onto throughout his life was the idea of art being useful to people in their daily lives. He wanted to create a world in which art is integrated into people’s lives, with beautiful places functioning as areas for relaxation,” Margery Weidman explained.
“Moerenuma Park is an entrance to that world, where you can experience the form and function of art, and the mysterious feelings it evokes.”
You only have to witness the changing of the season to see this in action. In winter, the park is buried under deep Hokkaido snow, where skiers hurtle down Mt Moere or ski cross country throughout the grounds. Springtime fills the air with fragrant cherry blossoms, and the rising mercury tempts picnic goers and joggers outdoors.
In summer, the park is an expanse of rich, green grass. The white washed concrete Music Shell provides a stage for concerts and events, and children frolic and splash through the waters of Moere Beach.
Before designing Moerenuma Park,Noguchi commented “my best work is yet to be built.” One can only hope he is looking down over Sapporo and seeing that the opposite is true.