Tours: University of Melbourne Architecture Students Visit the Art Islands

Graduate students from the University of Melbourne's Japan Studio architecture course learning about community spaces on Ogijima.

By Andrew McCormick
Photos by Nancy Ji

How can architecture promote social and ecological revitalization on rural islands? In January, graduate architecture students from the University of Melbourne visited Naoshima, Teshima, and Ogijima as part of the university's Japan Studio course, led by Nancy Ji, Mitchell Eaton and Jillian Walliss. The course, which culminates in a series of student projects based in nearby Kamijima, brought students to the art islands to draw inspiration from the area's nascent revival.

Art Island Center helped create an itinerary for the group. After exploring Naoshima's museums independently, the group gathered for a short tour of Naoshima Hall, a mixed-used community space with a stage for the island's bunraku puppet theater performances.

Onstage at Naoshima Hall.

Afterwards, the group prepared a meal together in the Naoshima Hall community kitchen. The meal, a healthy mix of comfort-food favorites, featured lots of local ingredients.

We ate together in the adjoining tatami room, joined by several Naoshima locals. Facilitating exchange between visitors and locals always an important theme when we do academic tours on Naoshima.

During the meal, I gave a short talk, recounting the story of Naoshima's rise as an international tourist destination, and also the Setouchi Triennale's effect on neighboring islands. The students asked many interesting questions, turning the dinner into a lively conversation.

The Japan Studio course, which emphasizes "human-scale design that draws on local and available resources, knowledge, and materials," encourages students to engage with the particular characteristics of the Seto Inland Sea islands, which can be wildly different from island to island. With this in mind, the next day we visited Teshima (larger and more rural than Naoshima) as well as Ogijima (tiny, with a close-knit, progressive community).

At the Teshima Art Museum

On Teshima, students hopped on e-bikes and rode to Teshima Art Museum, a stunning work of architecture by Ryue Nishizawa, containing the region's most sublimely minimalist artwork by Rei Naito. Students also visited smaller sites on the island and learned about the decline of the agriculture industry on the island, now represented most strikingly by terraced rice paddies, mostly fallow but maintained by the museum for their visual appeal.

Above the terraced rice paddies in the Karato area of Teshima, which are now mostly fallow but maintained by the museum.

At Shima Kitchen on Teshima.

After spending the morning on Teshima, the group hopped on the water taxi and went straight to Ogijima. Normally, going from Teshima to Ogijima requires at least three boats and multiple port layovers, so a water taxi was essential on this tour.

Climbing to the shrine on Ogijima.

On Ogijima, we met up with local resident Elizabeth Schroeder, who talked with the students about the role of architecture in the village, and how the new community center reflected the needs of the islanders. She also discussed how the Setouchi Triennale had sparked an uptick of in-migrants to the island, including herself, which had brought new vibrancy to the community.

Talking about Setouchi Triennale artwork on Ogijima.

After Ogijima, we took the water taxi back to Naoshima. The next day the students were off to Hiroshima Prefecture, where their adventure continued. We're grateful to have been a part of their Japan trip, and look forward to seeing their projects!

If you are planning a visit to the art islands as part of your university course, Art Island Center would be happy to work with you! Please get in touch at

Thanks very much to Nancy Ji for the photographs. To learn more about Japan Studio, follow the course on Instagram: @japan_studio_msd