Junya Ishigami designs a giant slate bird for Serpentine Pavilion 2019

‘Public sculpture attempts to fill the gap between art and public to make art public and artists citizens again,’ so wrote artist Siah Armajani. And this is (almost) always the case with the Serpentine Galleries’ annual Pavilion commission in Hyde Park. 

This season’s contribution is by Junya Ishigami. The Japanese architect is continuing his conversation with free space philosophy here; his organic architecture is seeking to find harmony between the manmade and elements created by nature. The Pavilion design is informed by the humble roof, here constructed through arranging slates to create a single unit that appears to emerge from the grass of the surrounding Kensington Gardens. 

Ishigami’s Serpentine Pavilion is at once delicate and brutal, comical and visceral. This flowing structure, a feathered-friend bird-like canopy with its rough and irregular overlapping slabs of slate, sits on slender columns seemingly too delicate to hold the hefty 60-ton weight. You just want to touch the cold slates and, happy with the knowledge that it hopefully won’t collapse, take refuge underneath the flowing roof, sip coffee, write a few words, watch park life and the world go by.

In the architect’s words, ‘a stone creates a landscape, and a landscape usually sits outside of a building. I wanted to create the landscape inside the building, as a theory of the landscape that the stone creates outside… I tried to create this landscape that exists outside, inside the building.’  

Ishigami’s is a long-term study of the relationship between structures and landscape. So, the Serpentine commission, now in its two-decade search to create site-specific public structures that live, breathe and contribute to the life of Kensington Garden and Hyde Park for the duration of the summer seems, is a perfect canvas for the architect.  

Read about last year’s Serpentine Pavilion by Friday Escobedo here.

Sou Fujimoto speculates future architecture at Japan House London

‘Creating architecture is like planting seeds of the future,’ according to Sou Fujimoto. The architect’s ideas for the future are speculative. He does not believe in offering a concrete vision, but rather open a conversation on the potentials of buildings, civic, commercial or residential, in shaping our future. This philosophy forms the basis of a fascinating show and the inaugural exhibition at Japan House London. Curated in collaboration with Tokyo’s Toto Gallery, ‘Future of the Futures’ presents the work of Fujimoto, the influential contemporary architects who is a leading figure amongst Japan’s new generation of creatives.

Opened last month in a gloriously restored deco building on Kensington High Street – the former home of soulless US brand Gap – the basement gallery at Japan House feels the perfect space to contemplate the world of Fujimoto. This is a quiet space of pristine white walls where Fujimoto’s intricately-crafted models, so delicate you worry your breath may topple them over, are surrounded by large-scale photographs of his finished buildings. There is little text to accompany ‘Future of the Futures’, for the curators want us to delve into the imagination of the architect, and for this to be more of an open dialogue than a fixed set of answers.

On the day I visit, the crowd are a mixed group. There are well-healed Kensington residents returning from grocery shopping at the nearby Whole Foods. Children on their summer break marvel at the architectural models made of everyday objects – foam, clay, paper. There is the odd tourist who must have happened here by chance.

Born in Hokkaido in 1971, a graduate of the University of Tokyo department of architecture, Fujimoto established Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000 before creating his most celebrated works – the Final Wooden House and House N, Musashino Art University Museum & Library and the brilliant House NA here on show with what I’m told are the actual residents of this modular Tokyo private residents, and in the UK, the 2013 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

Fujimoto’s work is completely site-specific. ‘When we design, we pay close attention to the context of the site, the requests of our clients, and the cultural and historical backgrounds of each local community,’ he explains, adding it inspires him to create ‘actual places’ where people want to occupy. There is a definite blurring of inside and out in his work. He says, ‘a residence is the integration of interior and exterior, nature and architecture.’

Working within a context allows his work to open ideas that may be hidden in societies. Fujimoto explains: ‘If what we call future is defined as a series of manifestation of possibilities, I would say that small architectural proposals that stimulate them are seeds of the future.’ His philosophy is to use these so-called seeds, cast them into the hypothetical future and witness the possibilities.

‘Futures of the Future’ runs for one last week at Japan House London.

Nargess Banks

All images featured here are for editorial use only and © Adrian Brooks/Imagewise for Japan House London

Read about The Japan House, Architecture and Life after 1945 at the Barbican Gallery here

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Minimalist, utopian, playful: The Japanese House

‘Life can’t be contained within a single slot. People’s sense of living expands beyond it, effectively erasing all borders,’ says Ryue Nishizawa. I’m thinking of this as I roam around the life-size model of the Pritzker-prize winning SANAA architect’s Moriyama House. Built in Tokyo twelve years ago, it is a kind of living organism, working on the concept of the house as a small city, of urbanity nestled inside a building.

The Japanese House, Barbican, Moriyama House Installation Miles Willis, Image ©Getty Images

Moriyama House, The Japanese House, Barbican, installation by Miles Willis, image © Getty Images

Moriyama offers a set of compact living quarters where cuboids of varying sizes are scattered seemingly randomly on a small stretch of land intersected with landscape and nature – a little like delicate water streams. The large windows give a sense of lightness and weightlessness to the complex. Here landscape, city and house become indistinguishable. The curators have imagined the environment around this house – the traffic, the peace, the sounds, the light. Each room offers an element of the unexpected, a strange plant, a music library of free jazz. There is a sense of timelessness here.

The Japanese House at Barbican Art Gallery. Teahouse y Terunobu Fujimori, Photo © Nargess Banks

Teahouse by Terunobu Fujimori. Installation at The Japanese House, Barbican

Alongside the giant teahouse in the second room, Moriyama makes up the centrepiece for The Japanese House: Architecture and Life After 1945 at the Barbican Art Gallery in London – a comprehensive and fascinating look at post-war Japanese domestic architecture. Nishizawa’s Moriyama is minimalist, whilst architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori’s teahouse is a bit of a fairytale construction with a hand-charred timber exterior and a white plaster interior. What it does is to reveal another side to Japanese architectural language, one that celebrates craft, the handmade; gives centre stage to materials, is at one with nature and loves an element of fantasy.

Toyo Ito, White U, 1976 – Photo © Tomio Ohashi

Toyo Ito’s White U, 1976 – image © Tomio Ohashi

In 1945 Japan had to deal with many of the issues we face today. Tokyo and the main cities were devastated by war. There was mass urbanisation and a shortage of housing. And environmental issues, caused mainly by earthquakes, had to be addressed. Added to this, designers were eager to forge a new language (or languages) that spoke of this new Japan. Some architects explored ways to fuse a traditional vernacular with modernism, whilst others used architecture and design to express their fast-evolving society.

The Japanese House, Architecture and Life after 1945, Installation

Exploring minimalism, installation at The Japanese House

In the 1970s, enclosed housing became a bit of a thing and it spoke of a way of protecting habitants from the polluted and overpopulated city. A decade later the economic excesses of the ‘bubble era’ saw architects embrace the arrival of information technologies and produce houses that were exceptionally lightweight and open to the outside world. Today, new voices in design are creating habitats that will work in Tokyo, a metropolis, amongst the world’s largest – ideas that could also be applied to any other megacity in the world.

Keisuke Oka Concept drawing for Arimaston Building, 2000 © Keizo Kioku

Keisuke Oka Concept drawing for Arimaston Building, 2000 – image © Keizo Kioku

The two floors at the Barbican speak of an on-going dialogue that involves realistic solutions to housing, to more abstract ideas, utopian visions and grand manifestos. What’s exciting is the canvas they paint of a society that is complex and evolving, but also willing to explore living away from the traditional single-family house. Some of the ideas such as the giant treehouse speaks of imaginative and unexpected dialogues.

Hideyuki Nakayama O House, 2009 © Mitsutaka Kitamura

Hideyuki Nakayama O House, 2009 © Mitsutaka Kitamura

The Japanese house feels transient. The life expectancy of a domestic building is short so they tend to be lighter and less formal, and they can take on the persona of artwork or become manifestos for the creatives. Some proposals, such as Sou Fujimoto’s 2011 House NA, question our European concepts of comfort and privacy. These 74-metre living spaces in Tokyo are stacked like LEGO one on top of another and are completely exposed.

Sou Fujimoto Architects House NA, Tokyo, Japan, 2011 - Photo © Iwan Baan

Sou Fujimoto Architects House NA, Tokyo, Japan, 2011 – image © Iwan Baan

The Japanese House offers a narrative between history and modernity. Much like Japanese culture, the architecture is extreme too, from the NA’s complete nakedness to Concrete U by one of Japan’s best known architects Toyo Ito which was designed to shelter his widowed sister from the outside world. The exhibits here can be refined and rigid, then suddenly playful, kitsch even; some are like paintings, others like poetry.

Moriyama House still, 2017, image c Be?ka & Lemoine

Moriyama House still from film – image © Be?ka and Lemoine

The spirit of the show can perhaps be summed up by the brilliant documentary from Italian filmmakers Ila Be?ka and Louise Lemoine, commissioned for this exhibition. We watch Yasuo Moriyama, a 79-year-old ‘urban hermit’, a reclusive who has never left the city, at The Moriyama House where he lives. We spend time with him in his daily life, as he roams around the complex attending to his garden, chats to the beautiful actress neighbour, listens to the avant-garde jazz, ‘noise music’ as he calls it, and sleeps on the bare floor exposed to nature and the outside world. It is playful, funny and unexpectedly endearing. Domestic architecture is placed in context at the Barbican, with the life of the house is at its centre.

Nargess Banks

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life After 1945 is at the Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, London until 25 June 2017


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Book: Project Japan, Metabolism Talks

Japanese minimalist architecture has had a profound impact on European building design, particularly private housing. Yet there is a complex ideology coming out of a more contemporary Japan that has been one of the most influential, yet elusive, movements in modern architecture. Japanese Metabolism is considered to be the first non-western avant-garde.

This spirited movement was pioneered by a small group of young architects in the late 1950s whose utopian visions for cities of the future were characterised by mega flexible structures that symbolised organic growth and relied on modern technology. This is the last moment when architecture was a public rather than a private affair.

Rem Koolhaas is a big advocate of Metabolism. ‘Every architect carries the utopian gene,’ wrote the avant-garde Dutch architect and founder of Office of Metropolitan Architecture.

In ‘Project Japan, Metabolism Talks’, co-written with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Koolhaas sets out to explore this movement through a series of nine interviews conducted between 2005 and 2011 with the surviving members of the movement and those who had a crucial impact on the movement. The result is an oral and visual journey through nine chronological chapters that tells the story of Metabolism in the context of the history 20th century Japan.

Project Japan begins almost like a suspense thriller as the authors Koolhaas and Obrist in turn describe how they came to write such a concise history and analysis of Japanese Metabolism and the journey in which they entered to do so. It makes for quite an exciting opening few chapters teasing the reader to enter what promises to be an exciting journey of discovery.

‘Once there was a nation that went to war, but after they conquered a continent their own country was destroyed by atom bombs. For a group of apprentice architects, artists, and designers, led by a visionary, the dire situation of their country was not an obstacle but an inspiration to plan and think… after 15 years of incubation, they surprised the world with a new architecture – Metabolism – that proposed a radical makeover of the entire land,’ write Koolhaas and Obrist in the book.

Project Japan features some fascinating never-before-seen images including master plans from Manchuria to Tokyo, astonishing sci-fi urban visions and intimate snapshots of the Metabolists group.

This is an intelligently designed book by Dutch designer Irma Boom too, where black-and-white images are interspersed with splashes of orange and hot pink – pages marked by pink bands on the edges represent the nine interviews.

This is an absolutely fascinating read that tells the story of 20th century Japan through its architecture, from its post-war devastation to the establishment of Metabolism, the rise of Kisho Kurokawa as the first celebrity architect, to Expo ’70 at Osaka, the tech wonderland that cemented Japan’s image as a technological utopia and marked the end of Metabolism.

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