Posts Tagged ‘Toyo Ito’

Architecture | Japan’s Unmodern Architects

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Sou Fujimoto, House NA, Tokyo, 2007 > 11
Image © Iwan Baan

A Japanese Constellation:
Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond
Museum of Modern Art
13 March > 04 July 2016

Toyo Ito, Tod’s Omotesando Building, Tokyo, 2002 > 04
Image © Nacása & Partners Inc

Perhaps the Museum of Modern Art should consider temporarily altering its title. For the duration of this forthcoming contemporary Japanese architecture exhibition, Museum of Unmodern Art – or even Unmodern Architecture – might be more appropriate.

If modernity is about simplification, clarity and the stripping away of ambiguity, the work of Toyo Ito, SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates), and the younger generation of Japanese architects who all share a similar philosophy doesn’t conform to this ideal. While at first glance the overall whiteness of their architecture might provide a reminder of rationalist perfection, it is soon apparent that here, humanism has been playfully nudged aside for the sake of humanity.

When Toyo Ito (b 1941) was still at school in the 1950s, the world had been boiling over with all manner of individuals and movements, not only in art, design and architecture, but also in the performing arts and in literature, all seeking a new way forward. By now the spatialist ideas formulated by Lucio Fontana in Milan during the previous decade, had been mixed in and melded with those of the Zero artists, who took light and space as their palette and exerted a global influence. At around about the same time, Gutai, the first radical, post-war artistic group in Japan became established. Emphasising the relationships between body, matter, time, and space, through conceptual, performance and painting, stressing freedom of expression, Gutai challenged the prevailing notions of art itself. Published in 1963, Niikuni Seiichi’s Zero-on, long considered the best individual collection of Japanese concrete poetry – in which the meaning or effect is conveyed partly or wholly by visual means – focussed avant garde ideas that had been around since the 1930s. It’s not surprising then that Ito and his peers, graduating from Tokyo University’s Department of Architecture in 1965, would draw upon this heady mix of influences to create a new kind of architecture.

Ito, established his first office in Tokyo, Urban Robot (Urbot), in 1971 – renamed Toyo Ito & Associates in 1979 – and won his first architecture award for his Silver Hut in 1986. Designed to function as his own home it was nevertheless an expression of his desire to create architecture that ‘felt like air and wind’. Ito has become one of the world’s leading architects and has received dozens of prestigious awards, including the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Attacking strict adhesion to rationalism, he has described how the system of the grid was established in the twentieth century, but that while its global popularity allowed a huge amount of architecture to be built in a short period of time, it made the world’s cities homogenous, making the people living and working in them homogenous too. By modifying the grid, as in such projects as his critically-acclaimed Sendai Mediatheque, one of the most identifiable characteristics of which is its structural columns, comparable in shape to large trees in a forest, rising up through the layers of the almost transparent building, Ito says that he attempts to find ways of bringing buildings closer to their surroundings and the natural environment.

SANAA, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art,
Kanazawa, Japan, 1999 > 2004
Image © SANAA

Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones described the 2009 reflective aluminium Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London by SANAA, as ’strange and gorgeous’. Representing a later generation of Japanese architectural practices, SANAA was founded in 1995 by Kazuyo Sejima (b 1956) – who had served an apprenticeship under Ito – and Ryue Nishizawa (b 1966), and won the Pritzker Prize – two years before Toyo Ito was awarded his – in 2010.

Echoing Ito’s unmodern sentiments, the architects themselves have referred to their Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne (2010), where the building’s library, restaurant, exhibition areas, offices, etc are differentiated by undulations of a continuous floor, which rises and falls to accommodate the different uses, while allowing vistas across this internal spaces as a ‘landscape for people.’ In line with their belief that buildings should never lose the natural and meaningful connection with their surroundings, SANAA have recently completed a sinuous concrete, steel, wood and glass walkway that winds across the landscape of a nature reserve in Connecticut.

Akihisa Hirata, Showroom H Masuya,
Niigata, Japan, 2006 > 07

Image © Nacása & Partners Inc

Akihisa Hirata, Foam Form (Project),
Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2011

Image © Akihisa Hirata Architecture Office
and Kuramochi + Oguma

Junya Ishigami, Kanagawa Institute of Technology
Workshop, Kanagawa, Japan, 2005 > 08

Image © Junya.Ishigami + Associates

Currently ranked among the hottest architectural practices in the world, with a string of much talked about projects behind them, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in Sydney, and the Louvre Lens, and many more – such as the new national gallery in Budapest’s City Park, won against fierce competition from Norway’s Snøhetta architects – in the pipeline, the company is enjoying exponential success.

A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond at the Museum of Modern Art offers a retrospective of recent works by three generations of internationally acclaimed designers, including Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, and Junya Ishigami.

All images courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

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Design | Made in Japan

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Made in Japan: 100 New Products
By Naomi Pollock
Foreword by  Reiko Sudo
Merrell Publishers
September, 2012

It’s not surprising that in a world that gets smaller every day in terms of communications, and where cross-cultural influences ebb and flow like never before, that modern product design, increasingly aimed at global markets, has taken on homogenous characteristics. There are of course exceptions but while, for instance, many contemporary Scandinavian products from furniture to glassware remain recognisably Scandinavian, the majority of people would be hard pushed to say whether an item in London’s Skandium shop, which stocks exclusively Scandinavian products, is of Swedish, Danish, Finnish or even Norwegian origin. One wonders whether the inhabitants of these countries themselves can tell the difference. Reiko Sudo, artistic director of Japan’s award-winning Nuno Corporation, in her thoughtful foreword to Japan-based American architect Naomi Pollock’s Made in Japan, thanks her for for identifying the common threads that link Japanese traditional culture and the country’s present day products and recognises that they are perhaps more easily identified through an outsider’s eyes.

The one hundred 21st century products selected for inclusion by Pollock are carefully chosen for their ingenuity, shape and fabrication and tell a story of Japan’s unique design heritage, which has survived partly due to the country’s self-inflicted 200 year isolation, spanning the 1630s to the 1850s, a period in which its borders were closed to foreigners and foreign trade severely restricted, and despite the rapid industrialisation that followed – accomplished with much British help – and major wars it was involved in, in the twentieth century. Still fiercely proud of their rich culture and handicraft tradition, combining cutting-edge technology and precision with stylish design, Japan’s contemporary product creators elevate everyday functional items – paper products, kitchen utensils, flooring, furniture – into works of art that are frequently but indefinably Japanese.

Pollock describes how observations and contributions from outsiders have often been of importance to Japan’s designers. One product in particular, the Ripples bench, above, by Toyo Ito of Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, designed in 2003, was originally produced in steel and concrete until Luciano Marson, founder of Italy’s Horm, asked: ‘Why don’t we bring it to life?’ His question led to the bench being redeveloped using layers of different laminated wood into which circular, bottom-sizes depressions are bored before hand-sanding and oiling meld the layers into a single flowing, continuous surface. It’s anecdotal details like this that demonstrate the depth of Pollock’s knowledge and painstaking research and make this book special and well worth spending time reading.

As an object itself, Made in Japan, is interesting. The attractive and unusual binding – cloth spine with hard covers – is reminiscent of one of my favourite books in my collection: How to Wrap Five More Eggs by Hideyuki Oka (originally published by Wetherill in 1975, recently republished version available from Amazon) the definitive guide to Japanese traditional packaging. Looking at the two books side by side, the content is different but the sense of continuity is unmistakeable. Unfortunately, designwise however, between the covers it’s another story. Whereas How to Wrap… is laid out with sensitivity – pictures played off against one another or against white or black space – and with an eye to creating rhythm and drama, Made in Japan , aside from the introductory pages is strictly regimented and dully repetitious – product pictures on the right facing equal lengths of text and almost identical display type on the left – and suggestive of a trade catalogue.

Images from top
Plugo extension leads by Masayuki Kurakata/Monos, 2007
©Isuo Sato/Masayuki Kurakata
Standing rice scoops by Marna
Ripples bench by Toyo Ito/Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects
©Giani Antoniali/Ikon

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