In 1989 Tadao Ando, a self-taught architect known for marrying Western modernist materials with traditional Japanese aesthetics, was given his first U.S. commission: to design a gallery for the display of Japanese screens at the Art Institute of Chicago. The room, 1,689 square feet tucked into the corner of the Asian galleries, subverts many of the cues that would typically announce a space displaying priceless works of art. Instead of a heavily ornamented archway, there’s a standard set of two-way push doors, which open on to an array of 16 one-foot-square columns made of the same dark-stained oak as the floor. These take up half the gallery space, filtering out light and noise from outside and nudging visitors toward the other half, which Ando left empty but for a few low-slung benches against a wall. The solid/void dichotomy repeats in the space’s lighting: jars, screens, and other Japanese art pieces are housed in lighted floor-level glass cases arranged along two walls, illuminating the room as if by night-light. The acoustics encourage visitors to enjoy the art for as long as they’d like in silence—or to simply enjoy the sense of being off the clock and out of sight in an undemanding pocket of carefully designed space. 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600. —Tamara Faulkner
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