003: Cities between artificial and natural - Three architecture exhibitions
Ikeda Kosuke
Date: November 22, 2010
Sou Fujimoto Architects: Forest, Cloud, Mountain – Future Visions | REALTOKYO
Sou Fujimoto Architects: Forest, Cloud, Mountain – Future Visions

When talking about architecture exhibitions, many will think of plain white polystyrene board maquettes, and design concepts and other general explanations illustrated on panels and monitors. Proposing "clouds" as dwelling places, the introduction to the "Sou Fujimoto Architects: Forest, Cloud, Mountain – Future Visions" exhibition at the Watari-um near Gaienmae makes it quite clear that at this event such preconceived ideas are largely out of place. Floating in midair while constantly changing shapes, bringing rain, and from time to time, heavy thunder and lightning – looking at it thins way, clouds seem by nature like the polar opposite of architecture.


Countless differently sized push-out pieces of transparent polycarbonate are linked together like pieces of a puzzle. Although they fill out almost the entire space from the floor up to the ceiling, they don't cause an oppressive feeling, which is probably due to the material’s thinness and transparency that rather lend these structures the light and fluid appearance of clouds. Proceeding further into the space and the organic shapes it generates, the visitor walks up a creamy white colored gentle slope that gets steeper by degrees, and ends up in a bright, wide open space.


It is not a space that was designed according to a previously determined function, but that rather inspires those who have entered it to take notes while finding convenient steps to walk on, rest in a niche somewhere in the back, or crawl through a hollow space just big enough for children or small animals to fit through. This is how the organically shaped clouds inspire people to move, and thus generate interaction between things and people that ultimately reveals each place’s potential function.


On the upper floor is a rather narrow space that is filled with variously sized maquettes, sticking out from the floor, or hanging down from the ceiling. While pushing through these, the visitor recognizes models for major projects that already materialized, as well as prototypes and drawings of new ideas that are distributed across the room. Around the "Tokyo Apartment", an accumulation of house-shaped constructions, a number of transparent cubes are piled up like building blocks around miniature trees. The way ideas like these are realized in actual works communicate a strong interest in such combinations as artificial and natural, or the interior and exterior of architectural structures. Displayed not too far away from this is a model of the recently completed Musashino Art University Library. Issues related to interior and exterior are tackled by arranging shelves in a loosely spiral-shaped pattern, illustrating a vision of a gradual transition between the interior and exterior of a building.


In contrast to the hybrid space between inside and outside defined by the "cloud house" downstairs through the relationship of "things and people", what is highlighted here is a resonance of ideas and maquettes, or "things and things" for that matter. A visit to this exhibition feels like watching various ideas constitute the architect’s network of thoughts before being embodied in architectural structures, just like countless particles of water gather to form a cloud.


Junya Ishigami: How small? How vast? How architecture grows | REALTOKYO
Junya Ishigami: How small? How vast? How architecture grows
Photo by Ichikawa Yasushi

Now let’s leave the museum and make a short trip from Aoyama to the Ginza district, where young architect and recent Gold Lion winner at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Ishigami Junya’s "How small? How vast? How architecture grows" exhibition is currently showing at Shiseido Gallery. This event ubiquitously reflects an interest in natural phenomena, which marks a thematic connection to the Fujimoto show.


"Big House" suggests a residence not as a shelter to protect humans from changing natural environmental conditions, but rather as something that produces natural environments in itself. Clouds form, rivers run and forests grow in a wide architectural space that is at once interior and exterior. "Ame no furu ie (Raining house)", where even rain clouds form and permanently produce rain inside the house, showcases an idea informed by a unique type of fantasy, based on the thought experiment of creating a natural environment in an interior space, and thus redefining the relationship between architecture and nature, by stretching the size and length of an architectural structure to the utmost limit.


While these plans are seemingly rather far from feasible, they represent ideas that are not at all unrelated to Ishigami’s architectural design. The Kanagawa Institute of Technology Workshop, Ishigami’s most well-known construction, was built entirely without walls, but with a total of 305 extremely slim pillars instead that carry the ceiling. The underlying elaborate, original CAD-based design made it possible to distribute pillars in a seemingly random fashion. The model for this project is titled "Mori no you na kobo (Factory like a forest)", which suggests a strong orientation toward natural environments in which openness and change intermingle.


CITY 2.0 - Web Generation's Urban Theory of Evolution | REALTOKYO
CITY 2.0 - Web Generation’s Urban Theory of Evolution

Back in the Aoyama area, Eye Of Gyre, located in a busy Harajuku neighborhood, is hosting an exhibition titled "CITY 2.0 - Web Generation’s Urban Theory of Evolution", curated by the Team Roundabout around Fujimura Ryuji.


While Fujimoto and Ishigami share an attention to landscapes, what is exhibited here is an interest in some sort of cloud/cluster-shaped network environment – or, as I would like to call it, an informational netscape. It is an ambitious project exploring in hindsight of the development of informational environments in recent years the transformations that architecture and cities will probably be undergoing. The question of interior and exterior takes a step backward to make way for a slightly brutal vision according to which there exists neither interior nor exterior in capitalism, but everything is generated and scrapped again on the plane surface of informational architecture. On display are "Fuka Katei (Incubation Process)" (1962) and "The Mirage City"(1997) by Isozaki Arata, who has been discussing the dynamic, self-generating force of cities in various forms, counterposed with works by several creators that project the state of today’s informational environments.


The opening reception included a re-staging of Isozaki’s performance "Fuka Katei". Participating visitors hammered nails into aerial photographs of Tokyo mounted onto a table, around which they were free to wrap colorful wires as they liked. Cities can no longer be planned from an overall perspective, but letting human desires run free and without a plan results in chaos. This must be the kind of dilemma in which an architect today faces an unavoidable mutilation (decision). The performance – interrupting the creation process by pouring plaster onto the chaos of wire produced by visitors – was like an expression of Isozaki’s attitude as an architect toward the city. This time that act of interruption was not done by the hand of one individual architect, but by encouraging surrounding people to help with the plaster, Isozaki multiplied the disruption, and by directing to remove nails around Meiji Shrine before the act, he created a void in the middle of the chaos.


In the project of pingpong, apparently the most immediate pursuers of Isozaki’s approach among today’s young creators, text data posted to Twitter along with the respective sender’s position data enable participants to intervene in a map of the area around the venue, displayed on a monitor. The actions of multiple agents setting up a network over the city can certainly be considered as an updated version of "Fuka Katei".


Sou Fujimoto Architects: Forest, Cloud, Mountain – Future Visions | REALTOKYO
Sou Fujimoto Architects: Forest, Cloud, Mountain – Future Visions

From Harajuku back to Gaienmae, to the final section of the Fujimoto show. Installed in the exhibition hall is a 1:150 scale diorama of Tokyo. The city is a huge jumble of all kinds of things, including countless buildings, billboards, highways and electric wires all mixed randomly. While Isozaki Arata’s take on the city explicitly reflects an intensely cynical attitude toward such state of chaos, Fujimoto seems to be detached from cynicism altogether. From within the cluttered city, he illustrates another city that is cluttered in a different way. It is a portrait of the "city" of the future – a giant, floating conglomerate of house-like polyhedral objects that stretch in all directions, with the occasional tree popping up between them.


Architecture is neither constructed vertically like high-rise buildings, nor horizontally, like accumulation of one-storied houses. Architectural structures are arranged "diagonally", which results in variously sized gaps here and there that allow trees to grow inhomogeneously in height. Different from solid nature as opposed to art, such randomly growing trees in the city represent an "impure" type of nature that triggers mutual interaction – or better, erosion – of our daily life activities and architecture. It is this "impure nature" that probably directs the city toward "impure artificialness", again as opposed to the pure artificialness of the chaos. This exhibition does not offer concrete pictures of what exactly this mutual erosion of artificial and natural looks like. It is, however, an event that holds the potential to intrepidly redefine the relationship between artificial and natural in urban spaces.


Nature, "impure" as an effect of the self-generating city, can no longer be the nature we used to know as an oasis of temporary peacefulness amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life. It is a different kind of nature – a rhizome network rooted deeper in the city, while sometimes blocking off data networks, or even causing their malfunction. The "entanglement" of the net inevitably unfurls within multiple different networks. The city that continues to wind up from there is not an order based on a master plan, and it is not an artificial chaos either. Being at once a city and a forest, it is an impure hybrid that may provide an image of a possible new type of inhabiting place for humans.


Event info

Sou Fujimoto Architects: Forest, Cloud, Mountain – Future Visions

Time: August 14, 2010 – January 16, 2011

Place: Watari-um


Junya Ishigami: How small? How vast? How architecture grows

Time: August 24 – October 17, 2010

Place: Shiseido Gallery


CITY 2.0 - Web Generation’s Urban Theory of Evolution

Time: September 18 – October 24, 2010

Place: Eye Of Gyre