Toyo Ito literally connects architecture to the people

by Sachiko Tamashige

Special To The Japan Times

“For the past nine years, it’s been a struggling journey — groping toward an unseen goal. Nobody could tell how and when this building would settle into the right shape within the budget,” architect Toyo Ito said at the Oct. 16 opening of “Toyo Ito: The Making of the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House 2005-2014” at Toto Gallery Ma.

Ito’s most recent project, The Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, officially named the National Taichung Theater — a complex that houses three theaters, rehearsal rooms, shops, restaurant and a roof garden — is at last close to completion.

With the final form of the complex now taking shape, this exhibition focuses on the creative process that brought about the opera house’s complex design, featuring architectural models, including a life-size mockup of section of a wall, drawings, film footage and a display that charts its development since it won the commission in 2005.

Throughout his career, Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Toyo Ito has always pushed the boundaries of architecture with cutting-edge works. His Sendai Mediatheque (2001) in Miyagi Prefecture, a transparent multistory media center of steel-slab floors supported by 13 different-sized tree-trunk-like latticed tubes, was designed to open up architecture to society, while his Great East Japan Earthquake Home-for-All project presents human-oriented temporary housing to aid reconstruction activities in disaster stricken areas.

This exhibition invites visitors to share Ito’s vision and observe the creative process of his team’s latest project, which is no exception when it comes to unique design.

Though the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House’s basic form is a square box, its interior is made largely of contrasting curved surfaces that blur the distinction between floor, wall and ceiling. Similar to the way the human body holds its tubular organs, Ito explained that the interior of the building is filled with horizontal and vertical tubular spaces.

“The architecture of this opera house is created in such a way that its inside and outside are one continuous (surface), in a similar manner to how bodies are connected to nature (outside) via orifices such as the mouth, nose and ears,” he said.

Ito created spaces based on his concept of an “emerging grid,” a complex system of interconnecting catenoid surfaces, which look like hollow spool shapes.

“I want to pursue a dream that transcends the regulations of (architecture) today, something that is arguably the true essence of architecture, a vision of it as something free,” says Ito in the book “Toyo Ito 2 2002-2014.” (Toto Publishing) “I think doing that is encouraging to people.”

As the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House nears its completion, he is one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

“The Making of the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House 2005-2014” at Toto Gallery Ma runs till Dec. 20; open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free admission. Closed Mon. and Sun. www.toto.co.jp/gallerma