Toyo Ito helps displaced feel at home

With Toyo Ito winning this year’s Pritzker Prize last month — “architecture’s Nobel” — Japan’s architects continue to bestride the international architectural world as colossi. You might expect that such celebrated figures would find major roles to play in the post-disaster reconstruction of the tsunami-ravaged Tohoku region, but you would be disappointed.

However, with characteristic modesty and acuity, Ito has been advancing a small, potent project called Minna-no-ie (Homes-for-all) in the disaster areas. The project brings design architects together with the displaced residents of temporary housing facilities to develop small shared spaces, from which a new sense of community can be nurtured. Part public space, part domestic hearth, six Homes-for-all have been completed; more are under way. Toyo Ito will receive the Pritzker prize at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston on May 29.


Sou Fujimoto wins London commission

Toyo Ito’s influence can be seen in the success of his proteges. One such “Itoite,” Kazuyo Sejima, who directs SANAA with her practice partner Ryue Nishizawa, even won the Pritzker three years before her mentor. Sou Fujimoto is another young architect enjoying Ito’s patronage who has had a meteoric international ascent.

Fujimoto has recently been awarded the task of building this year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Hyde Park, London. At just 41, he is the youngest architect to have been awarded this highly prestigious commission. Formed from a cloud-like lattice of delicate steel tubes, Fujimoto describes his design as an “architectural landscape … where the natural and the man-made merge.” The Serpentine Pavilion opens to the public on June 8.


Setouchi gets environmental artworks

March 20 marked the opening of the second cycle of the Setouchi Triennale, the international art festival that grew out of the success of Naoshima as an “art island,” now encompassing a dozen small islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

The community on Inujima, the smallest island, has an average age over 75 and will likely disappear in a decade or so. In a remarkable long-term project, the island is gradually being transformed into an open-air environmental artwork, under the joint curation of architect Kazuyo Sejima and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, curator Yuko Hasegawa. Sejima has designed a number of subtle interventions, variously transparent, reflective, or traditional in appearance, within which artists such as Kohei Nawa and Haruka Kojin have installed works. While the artworks will last only until November, the containers will endure in the landscape, awaiting the next cycle of the festival.


OMA’s huge wall of handbags

Peripatetic Dutchman and self-described “aspiring Asian” Rem Koolhaas, another international colossus of architecture, has long maintained a deep interest in Japan for its “non-Western modernity.” Since completing an early housing project in Fukuoka two decades ago, his firm, OMA, has been angling for another opportunity to build here. That ambition has been realized, if modestly, with the opening of the Coach flagship store on Omotesando on April 3.

Designed by OMA’s New York office, directed by accomplished Fukuoka native Shohei Shigematsu, the store uses a motif of stacked transparent display boxes to create a geometric glass skin arranged in a herringbone pattern. Consistent with OMA’s artistic strategy of “surfing the waves of capitalism,” the street facade is intended to be a two-story luminous display wall for Coach’s products — an appealing idea that remains, as yet, unfulfilled.


OMA’s real Asian giant

Meanwhile, while Japan may be cautious in its embrace of international “starchitects” outside the limited canvas of the luxury flagship store, the rest of Asia is enthusiastically feting them.

The finishing touches are being put on another far more prominent OMA project in Asia, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, due to for completion next month. The huge project, seven years in the making, suspends a three-storey podium the size of three football fields 10 stories up a 46-story skyscraper. Audacious, aggressive, uncompromisingly rectilinear, the building is a pitch-perfect symbol for contemporary China, combining the unsentimental efficiency and speculative fantasy of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” The locals have already given it a racy nickname: “the miniskirt.”


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