|

Japanese architecture on show in Venice, and the loss of a legend

by Julian Worrall

Architects often claim to be deeply concerned about protecting the distinctive soul of places and regions, which would seem to imply that architects should stay close to their roots. Yet the export of architectural services and the global circulation of architects has never been higher. This paradox provides the backdrop to today’s column.

The world’s most significant exhibition of architectural thought, the Venice Architecture Biennale, opens June 7. This year the general curator is Rem Koolhaas, one of the most influential living architects. The show at Venice is widely read as a barometer of the contemporary climate, and Koolhaas is among the most peripatetic of architects. This conjunction of moment and velocity implies an ever-diminishing attention with an ever-increasing remove, and it is perhaps as a corrective to these tendencies that this year the curatorial agenda is oriented toward the past, the local and the foundational.

Titled “Fundamentals,” the exhibition is composed of three parts. The diverse national pavilions in the Giardini, built during a time in which the idea of a national architectural identity still carried meaning, have essentially been asked to document their own demise as a relevant category for architectural content, as local traditions have absorbed modernity and distances have been erased. The immense length of the Arsenale building, normally the stage for the curator’s trawl across the world, is here given to narrate the regional cultures of the Italian Peninsula in the manner of an immense makimono-style map. Finally, the Central Pavilion will present extensive research into the basic building blocks of architecture — the floors, walls, doors, corridors, windows, balconies, ramps, stairs and roofs that make up our everyday surroundings.

June 7-Nov. 23; www.labiennale.org

Japan Pavilion: “In the Real World”


| JAPAN PAVILION CG IMAGE © KEIGO KOBAYASHI

The Japan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, titled “In the Real World,” focuses its historical excavation on the 1970s. This was a period in which the optimistic growth-fueled, state-oriented visions of the modernist architects of the ’60s were abandoned after the oil crisis of 1973 and a more independent, experimental spirit emerged. The pavilion’s commissioner, Kayoko Ota, sees this as a moment “in which individuals embarked on radical experiments in an attempt to reconnect to the world,” aiming to heal the split between architecture and society that had widened under the contradictions of the postwar era.

Held at the Giardini, the pavilion will gather artifacts, documents and oral testimony from key architects, writers and artists of the period, including Hiroshi Hara, Osamu Ishiyama, Kazuo Shinohara, Terunobu Fujimori and Genpei Akasegawa, retrieving an era — however brief in retrospect — in which architecture sought inspiration in the vernacular, the everyday and the real.

June 7-Nov. 23; www.labiennale.org

Spirit of the ‘spirit of place’ passes away

Hiroyuki Suzuki
Hiroyuki Suzuki | KYODO

Professor Hiroyuki Suzuki, the esteemed architectural historian who presided over the discipline from his position at the University of Tokyo, passed away on Feb. 3 at 68. Unlike many historians who plow narrow academic fields, Suzuki was acclaimed by both practitioners and scholars, who turned out in force at his remembrance ceremony on March 24. Suzuki was among the first Japanese historians to focus on the architecture of the modern period, showing the parallels and interchanges between developments in Japan and the West.

Suzuki was also the leading torchbearer of the nascent movement aiming to preserve the built heritage of modern Japan, which achieved its most celebrated if pyrrhic victory with the preservation and restoration of Tokyo Station by facilitating the vertical redevelopment of its neighbors. Although always perspicacious, in his later years Suzuki’s writings bore an elegiac, wistful atmosphere, with titles such as “The Sadness of the City” and “Japan’s Genius Loci.” Although bearing a very different sense of the past than that of Rem Koolhaas, he too was keenly aware of the threats that modernity posed to the “spirit of place,” even those of its own making.