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‘Dominique Perrault: Urban Landscape’

by Julian Worrall

Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery

Closes Dec. 26

The work of French architect Dominique Perrault is currently on show at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. Today numbered among the top tier of French architects alongside Jean Nouvel and Christian de Portzamparc, Perrault shot to international fame early by scooping a major competition for the new Bibliotheque Nationale de France in 1989, at the relatively tender age of 36.

His winning scheme was audacious yet remarkably calm — four L-shaped glass towers filled with books framing a sunken forest. In conception, the project combined architectural and landscape elements to create an oasis in the midst of a dense city; in expression, it heralded a return to the cool transparent grids of Miesian modernism after the decorative abandon of postmodernism.

This exhibition, subtitled “Urban Landscape,” presents both these dimensions of Perrault’s work: his concern for landscape and site; and his affection for the sleek industrial materials that routinely skin his buildings. Metal mesh is a perennial Perrault favorite, and great gleaming swathes of it are employed to subtly divide up the space of the entry hall until it positively fizzes with moire patterns.

In the main hall, a mirrored wall cleverly doubles the length of the space, so that the square display plinths stocked with project models and videos appear to march off into the distance. Here Perrault’s understanding of the city as a landscape is elaborated through the meticulous documentation of 20 projects, using drawings, videos and a profusion of models, some of them very fine. Ideas about reshaping skylines, ground surfaces and elements of nature to create coherent urban places are embodied in these projects —although they may be hard to discern clearly among the profusion of elegant detritus from Perrault’s design process.

A wall of sketches from throughout Perrault’s career concludes the show. It is through these diagrams, dashed off with calligraphic gusto, that these urban ideas are communicated most vividly. The rest is a suave and sophisticated form of dressing.

Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (Fri., Sat. till 8 p.m.); admission ¥1,000, includes entry to “From the Collection 035 Feasts on Paper” and “Project N 43 KAWAI Misaki.” For more information, visit www.operacity.jp/en