Japan Pavilion at the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, the Venice Biennale in 2008: Outline of the Japanese Participation

Outline of the Japanese Participation

Theme: EXTREME NATURE: Landscape of Ambiguous Spaces
Commissioner: Taro Igarashi
Exhibitors: Junya Ishigami, Hideaki Ohba

Junya Ishigami has designed a group of small greenhouses around the Japanese Pavilion.

Ishigami, born in 1974, worked for the renowned architectural firm SANAA and is one of the most controversial young architects in Japan today. He continues to amaze the worlds of art and design as well as that of architecture with structures that are extreme but somehow appear natural, such as table of 2005, which was 9.5 meters long but only 3 mm thick, balloon of 2007, 14 meters high and weighing a ton, and the KAIT Studio of 2008 designed for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology, which has 305 columns arranged randomly like the stars in the sky. He has gone beyond the design style of SANAA to establish his own position on the cutting edge of contemporary Japanese architecture.

Ordinarily, it is impossible to show actual buildings in an exhibition of architecture. Models, images, or drawings are used as substitutes. The installation format, an alternative method of showing architectural forms, has a parasitical relationship to the existing structure. In the Japanese Pavilion, Ishigami takes a completely different approach in order to present new possibilities of architecture by constructing “buildings” at a scale of 1:1. These buildings, which are designed with precise structural calculations so they are just barely able to stand, suggest the future possibilities of architecture and therefore pose the basic question: What is architecture? They are extremely delicate greenhouses with an ephemeral physical presence that blend into the environment. Structural plans were prepared by Jun Sato.

In the previous International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, several countries have tended to focus on the architecture of the past, but this sort of international exhibition should not function like a museum. It should be an arena for presenting the architecture of the next generation. The great international expositions have always been stages for challenging experiments that have revolutionized the history of architecture since the first Great Exhibition of London in 1851, as exemplified by the Eiffel Tower and the Barcelona Pavilion.

The exhibitions at the Japanese Pavilion have attracted attention for their fin-de-siècle atmosphere and declarations of the end of architecture. These exhibitions have dealt with the effects of earthquakes, city of girls, and otaku culture. Now that we have entered a new century, however, it is time for the Japanese Pavilion to consider the beginnings of architecture rather than its end. The Crystal Palace, which housed the first great international exposition, adopted the structural technology of a greenhouse, so the exhibition in the Japanese Pavilion looks back to the origin of international expositions while suggesting possible beginnings for a new architecture.

Ishigami’s greenhouses are not equipped with air control systems and are not sealed off from the outside by a strong barrier, so they do not create a perfect artificial environment. The weakness of the barrier results in an ambiguous mixing of elements from the internal and external environment. With the help of botanist Hideaki Ohba, Ishigami aims at presenting a variety of plant life that creates a slight disturbance in the landscape of the park. At first glance, the resulting landscape seems to be ordinary, but we believe this is an extremely progressive approach to the natural environment.

The inside of the Japanese Pavilion is nearly empty, revealing the beauty of its original space. The greenhouses scattered around it give the outside space the atmosphere of an interior landscape. The architecture is not given the definite qualities of a physical object and there is no dualistic relationship between inside and outside. Nor is perceived the outside space as a void. The architecture does not have an imposing façade that determines our view of the outside landscape. It is the interior space of the greenhouses, with their transparent volume, seemingly filled with ether, that makes us think of external space. Furniture is also placed on the grounds along with the greenhouses, suggesting the interior of a room. The Japanese Pavilion itself is made to appear as an artificial environment or an element of topography. The original outdoor space overlaps with the space that emerges between the ephemeral steel structures covered with glass, causing the appearance of a doubled, ambiguous space. The condition of space produced here makes us aware that everything in it – the plants inside and outside, the furniture, the architecture, the topography, and the environment – exists simultaneously.

Taro Igarashi

Image sketch of EXTREME NATURE: Landscape of Ambiguous Spaces
Junya Ishigami(Architect)/Hideaki Ohba(Botanist), Extreme Nature: Landscape of Ambiguous Spaces (installation image), 2008, variable size and dimention, courtesy Gallery Koyanagi.

Organizer: The Japan Foundation
Supported by: The Obayashi Foundation, Shiseido Co., Ltd.
Cooperated by: Union Foundation for Ergodesign Culture, Gallery Koyanagi

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