Thursday Feature: Hiroshi Sambuichi [a new generation of japanese architects]


The Hiroshima-based architect Hiroshi Sambuichi – like his Tokyo contemporaries Fujimoto and Ishigami – contemplates the confluence between nature and architecture. However, the actual articulation of his architecture is markedly different. Born in 1968, Sambuichi conceives of architecture like the “details of the earth”. His rigorous design process entails extensive (read: approximately a year-long) climate and topographical surveys of each site before embarking on the design proper. This culminates in buildings that meld into the landscape and draw on natural energy sources. His is essentially an indigenous and sustainable architecture, where the beauty of its poetics and performance are derived from the “circulating system of nature and local landscape”.

A selection of his best works:

Rokko Shidare Observatory | Kobe, Japan | 2010

Perched on the top of Mount Rokko, the observatory is constructed almost entirely from hinoki wood and is powered by solar and wind energy. The structure is composed of hexagonal frames that are imprinted with images of leaves. The frames are designed to attract frost in winter. In summer, air is drawn in and goes into an ice room that cools the air down.

                                                                                                                                                          Images: akix626 @ Flickr
                                                                                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/14301763@N03/sets/72157625731833172/

Base Valley House | Japan | 2009

The spectacular site of the house – perched at the edge of an expansive river valley plain – brought with it a harsh climate of strong winds. Instead of trying to fight or hide from the less-than-ideal conditions, Sambuichi sought to actually harness the winds while protecting the inhabitants.

He created a “wind street” through the building volume along the north-south axis, thus funnelling the air into the interior spaces. The bedrooms and a sunroom are placed beneath ground, where the natural warmth of the earth regulates the temperature. The living and dining spaces are on ground level, covered with a sloped glazed roof.

The architecture addresses as well as takes advantage of the seasonal climate changes to result in a naturally ventilated environment. In summer, the underground sun room collects the valley wind to cool the bedrooms; in winter, the glazed roof stores solar heat for warmth. But Sambuichi’s masterstroke is in showing how such an energy efficient architectural “machine” can be expressed so naturally and poetically.

                                                                                                                                                  Images: http://www.wallpaper.com

Inujima Art Project | Inujima, Japan | 2008

Inujima is a small, isolated island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Characterised by the raw imagery of the smokestacks and ruins of a copper refinery abandoned since 1919, it was purchased by the tycoon Soichiro Fukutake. His intention was to rehabilitate the site into a museum that would have minimal environmental impact. Sambuichi was commissioned to design the building; the artist Yukinori Yanagi was tasked to create its permanent installations.

Sambuichi perceived the new museum to be part of the natural environment and understanding the earth’s natural cycles. To him, the locally available materials and existing structures were the regenerative resources with which to create the museum. Thus he built within the refinery’s ruins, between the tallest smokestack and the remains of the brick wall structure that spread outwards to the sea. Visually, the striking smokestack became the marker of the partially-subterranean building.

Environmentally, the old structure could nevertheless still generate a chimney effect – drawing air in through an opening at the bottom and releasing it at the top – and thus forms part of the natural mechanism that modulates the interior temperature. The cool of the earth chills the 80m long steel-encased subterranean Earth Gallery; the sun heats up the glazed Sun Gallery. This is gradually filtered in the Energy Hall that serves as a semi-permeable buffer space between the two “climates” and thus controls the airflow.

Essentially this first phase of the project is a prolific exploration into regenerating places through a sensitive interpretation of site, heritage, architecture, art and ecology. We look forward to future phases of this Inujima project, where apparently there are plans to work with the Pritzer laureate Kazuyo Sejima.


                                                                                                                                                 Images: http://www.wallpaper.com

References: Japan Architect, Wallpaper, Spoon and Tamago, Architecture of Consequence.

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Thursday Feature: Junya Ishigami [a new generation of Japanese architects]


The works of Junya Ishigami are arguably the most provocative and transcendental (both conceptually and visually) of this intriguing current generation of Japanese architects. Or more precisely, of his contemporaries anywhere in the world today. Born in 1974, he delves into and straddles the ambiguous boundaries between art and architecture.

He takes apart conventional notions of the materiality, scale, structure of architecture. But it is not for the mere vanity of doing so, but rather to create a new scale of architecture that returns to the natural and elemental. For him, “in nature structure and space are not divided. Air is space but it also has a structure. But architecture divides these things.” Thus, Ishigami’s works push the norms of structure and material to the extreme, resulting in almost invisible structures that blur the distinctions between architecture and nature.

Although his built repertoire is currently small with the majority being architectural/art installations and, the depth of experimentation and imagination that his works entail separates him from the rest. Here’s a sampling of his genius:

“Architecture as Air” | The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery | London, UK | 28 June 2011 – 16 October 2011

                                                                                                                               Image: aestheticamagazine.blogspot.com

In this very recent work he presents an oxymoron – a nearly invisible structure. On first glance one merely sees the curved gallery space. Closer scrutiny reveals a sequence of extremely fine vertical “columns” along the length of the gallery. 4 metres in height, these 53 “columns” are a slender 0.9mm thick and hand-rolled from carbon fibre sheet. They stand braced by a series of 2756 diagonal members, and beams run between the columns as well. The entire structure weighs in at a shocking 300g, a piece of virtuoso engineering accomplished with the help of Jun Sato Structural Engineers. Beyond the engineering, it takes architectural possibilities and understanding of scale, structure and material into a new dimension.

It is an extension of his earlier installation “Architecture as air: study for château la coste” which was first shown at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010 where it won the highest prize – the Golden Lion.

“Another Scale of Architecture” | Toyota Municipal Museum of Art | Nagoya, Japan | 2010

The title of the exhibition is self-explanatory.

                                                                                                                                                     Images: Fomal Haut @ Flickr
http://www.flickr.com/photos/fomalhaut/sets/72157625119007922/

“Balloon” | Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art | Tokyo, Japan | 2008

                                                                                                                                              Images: http://www.architonic.com

This installation takes the form of an aluminium parallelotope that weighs about a tonne. Filled with helium, it floats freely and randomly within the atrium space, constantly changing the quality and nature of the interstitial space. Ishigami makes allusions to nature again in this installation, essentially juxtaposing the weight of a mountain and the lightness of a cloud. An intriguing interplay of perception, scale and material.

Yohji Yamamoto Gansevoort Street Store | New York, USA | 2008

                                                                                                                                              Images: http://www.architonic.com

Located in the transient Meat Packing district of New York, the angular geometry of the building was informed by the footprint of the brick building that previously sat on the site. Ishigami spliced the architecture into two parts – the tip of the wedge as a product display space; the other part as the shop proper – to create street of activity through the spaces.

                                                                                                                                              Image: http://www.architonic.com

In terms of crafting perception, the starkly acute angles give the impression of a depthless building as if it was a stage set. This is fortified by the break in the facade, which lend views of the urban landscape beyond. Unfortunately, the store has since closed.

Japanese Pavilion | Venice Biennale 2008 | Venice, Italy | 2008

                                                                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                Image: http://www.guardian.co.uk

Essentially a series of ephemeral greenhouses infused with plants, it challenges structural norms and dissolves the stark divisions of architecture and landscape into an environment where the two are nearly miscible. The interiors are filled with Ishigami’s intriguing drawings.

                                                                                                                                                 Image: http://www.architonic.com

Kanagawa Institute of Technology Workshop | Kanagawa, Japan | 2007

His most important architecture work to date, this design workshop presents an open plan sprinkled with random groupings of slender tree-like columns that provide support to a flat floor. Filled with plants and coupled with an overall sense of lightness and transparency, the whole spatial atmosphere is like a “boundless landscape” as Ishigami has described it.

                                                                                                                                                          Images: http://www.iwan.com

                                                                                                                                                 Image: http://www.architonic.com

Thursday Feature: Sou Fujimoto [a new generation of japanese architects]


Sou Fujimoto is amongst the frontrunners of the emerging new generation of Japanese architects. Born in 1971, his works have come to international attention in recent years. The intrigue of his works stem from their questioning of the fundamental essence and meaning of architecture – what is architecture? what is the relation between architecture and nature? He delves into the primordial condition of architecture, one that is raw and unconstrained – exemplified by the notion of the cave – where people have the freedom to explore and use the spaces creatively.

Fujimoto’s approach is an optimistic one, where he sees architecture’s role as to “continuously re-imagine enriching places for people”. While his works appear highly minimalistic and abstracted on the surface, they are far removed from merely seeking the reductive beauty of the 20th century Miesian aesthetic. Rather, his architectural experiments seek to create spatial experiences that prompt various degrees of human interactions and also restore the primitive relationship between people and nature. Thus both his conceptual models and actual projects implode spatial conventions, piquing one’s imagination and senses to pursue the possibilities of the architecture.

A selection of Fujimoto’s works for your exploration…

House N | Oita, Japan | 2006 – 2008 

                                                                                                                                                   Images: http://www.archdaily.com

Group Home in Noboribetsu | Hokkaido, Japan | 2006

                                                                                                                                                   Images: http://www.archdaily.com

Tokyo Apartment | Tokyo, Japan | 2006 – 2010 

                                                                                                                                                       Image: http://www.dezeen.com

Final Wooden House | Kumamoto, Japan | 2006 – 2010

                                                                                                                                                   Images: http://www.archdaily.com

Musashino Art University – Museum and Library | Tokyo, Japan | 2007 – 2010

                                                                                                                                                   Image: http://www.archdaily.com

                                                                                                                                                   Image: http://www.archdaily.com

                                                                                                                                                   Image: http://www.andifitsreal.com

                                                                                                                                                   Image: http://www.archdaily.com

Thursday Feature: The Poetics of Social Architecture


Architecture tends to be typecast as a glamorous vocation, staffed by creative types seeking to push the boundaries of form and aesthetics. Social architecture then, seems to be almost an uncool oxymoron. It conjures up images of no-frills pre-fab emergency housing, and rudimentary buildings built from scratch by volunteers. Their main priority is to serve people in need, so it is understandable that poetics will be of lowest priority. But as architects, we can surely do better.

It is certainly heartening and exciting then, to witness a shift in the making of social architecture in Asia, in recent years. A new segment of architects have begun to design poetic architecture, reinterpreting vernacular traditions that ingeniously contextualise the projects, as well as engaging the community through the process. Their works are no longer utilitarian, they are beautifully crafted yet relevant, bringing not just shelter but delight to the people served. Moreover, the locally available materials used are cheap, so poetic social architecture does not have to be expensive.

The renowned Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban, is a pioneer in this field. He is famed for his revolutionary paper tube structures, which characterise his architecture. In the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, he started his first disaster relief project. Paper log houses were built to house community whose houses were destroyed.

                                                                                                  Image: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com

It was a cheap, easy-and-quick-to-build, and recyclable solution. And it was ingenious. The foundation comprised of donated beer crates loaded with sandbags. The walls were made from thick paper tubes, with tenting material for the roof. A waterproof sponge tape backed with adhesive between the paper tubes of the walls provided insulation.

He followed up by designing the Kobe Paper Church for the church community there, which is one of his most well known works. It was assembled by church workers in only five weeks by 160 workers, and despite being intended as a temporary building, it served the congregation for ten years before being disassembled.

                                                                                                    Images: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com

Since then, Ban-san has been the foremost architect designing practical (cheap, fast and easy to assemble) yet ingeniously aesthetic disaster relief architecture. Amongst these projects are the paper log house built in Bhuj, India in 2001, and the Hualien Temporary Elementary School in Chengdu, China in 2008.

                                                                                               Images: http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com

Besides disaster relief architecture, there are a growing number of architects that work on projects for the rural and urban poor in Asia.

Dr Li Xiaodong is an architecture professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. But it is his private practice Li Xiaodong that is gaining recognition in its execution of social architecture that are beautifully relevant to their site. His most famous work is the Yuhu Elementary School and Community Centre in Lijiang, China, which was a community service project. It is a response to the local vernacular traditions, creating an architecture that is appropriate to site and social context. Local materiality (stone, timber, tiles), construction technology, environment, and space were translated into a contemporary architectural expression.

                                                                                                                                                     Image: http://www.lixiaodong.net

Besides designing the architecture, he raised the funds and saw the project through materialisation. He also roped in his students to help in the research, design and building of the project. The local villagers participated in the construction too. Thus, the act of architecturing went beyond design into engaging the social process of making architecture firsthand.

                                                                                                                                                     Image: http://www.lixiaodong.net

Anna Heringer is a young German architect and visiting professor at the University of Art and Design Linz in Austria, with a passion for sustainable development through architecture. To quote her: “For me, sustainability is a synonym for beauty: a building that is harmonious in its design, structure, technique and use of materials, as well as with the location, the environment, the user, the socio-cultural context. This, for me, is what defines its sustainable and aesthetic value.” This ethos is articulated beautifully through the poetics of her architecture.

                                                                                                                                       Image: openarchitecturenetwork.org

Handmade School in Rudrapur, in a poor rural part of Bangladesh, is a physical extension of her dissertation. The co-architect was Eike Roswag. Its architecture encapsulates an intimate understanding of the local materials, as well as the heartfelt spirit of engaging the local community in its creation. The traditional materials of bamboo and earth are innovatively interpreted to create a durable and sustainable construction. A brick masonry foundation anchors the double-storey building, with loam-straw mixture as the ingredients for the earthen walls. The addition of a damp-proof course was the most significant technical advance.

                                                                                                                                       Image: openarchitecturenetwork.org

The ceiling of the ground floor is created by a layering of bamboo beams, boards and earth – expressing the imagination of bamboo creation. The upper storey and roof is a quadruple-layer bamboo frame construction.

                                                                                                                                      Image: openarchitecturenetwork.org

The result is a powerful exposition on materiality, as well as a composition of delightful light-filled learning spaces that bring joy and meaning to the children’s lives. Furthermore, it opened the opportunity for a transfer of skills to the local community – European architects and tradesmen helped to develop the building techniques on site, serving to train the local craftsmen essentially upgrading their skills and thus employability.

                                                                                                                                      Image: openarchitecturenetwork.org

TYIN Tegnestue Architects was established in 2008, and has its headquarters in Trondheim, Norway. They are essentially a group of architects-students that hail from the Norwegian Univeristy of Science and Technology (NTNU), with a desire to meet fundamental challenges through architecture. They work in poor, undeveloped areas, involving the locals actively in the design and construction of the projects. The aim is similar to Anna Heringer’s Handmade School – to facilitate a “mutual exchange of knowledge and skills”. Materials used are locally purchased or collected near the site.

They completed three projects in Noh Bo, Thailand, where the majority of the people are minority Karen refugees. The Soe Ker Tie House, completed in 2009, provided an orphanage expanded dormitory space and delightful play spaces for the children.

                                                                                                                                     Images: openarchitecturenetwork.org

The next projects were the Safe Haven Bathhouse and Library for another orphanage. TYIN Tegnestue worked on the bathhouse together with Karen workers, while a workshop for NTNU students worked on the library.

                                                                                                                                     Images: openarchitecturenetwork.org

After their work in the rural areas, they moved on to the urban situation in Bangkok. Collaborating with the local group CASE (Community Architects for Shelter and Environment) which is run by the “people’s” architect Patama Roonrakwit, the Old Market Library was conceived.

                                                                                                                                       Image: openarchitecturenetwork.org

It is remarkable that a young design organisation managed to realise four sensitively and meaningfully crafted pieces of architecture in such a quick span of time, that empower and bring joy to the communities. The spatial, light and material nuances of the architecture is certainly not curtailed by the social imperative, but has rather been enhanced by the deep understanding of how to create context-appropriate and sustainable buildings.

Beautiful architecture is not confined to sleek, sensual and iconic towers. Rather this trajectory of projects has shown that architecture can have both inner and outer beauty, literally and metaphorically.

Thursday Feature: The World’s Smallest Memorial


Hu Huishan Memorial, front view

  Image: blog.sina.com / zhutaoarchitect

  Hu Huishan, female, from Sichuan province, China.                                                                   Born on 11 October 1992.                                                                                               Perished on May 12 2008 at 14:42 during the Wenchuan earthquake.                                                 Cremated on 2008 May 15.                                                                                                           She dreamt of being a writer, and loved literature.      

Hu Huishan Memorial, aerial view

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Tucked away quietly in a corner of the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Sichuan, China, is a humble grey structure. Measuring 5 meters long and 3 meters wide, the Hu Huishan Memorial by architect Liu Jiakun is touted as the world’s smallest memorial.

Path leading towards memorial

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Surrounded by a dense cluster of trees, the memorial is nearly hidden from public view. With no visible signage guiding visitors to the site, its existence is solely indicated by the presence of a narrow, winding, pebbled path. It is almost like a secret hideaway. Not the dangerous, dark setting of violent faceoffs, but the enchanting site of happy endings in fairytales.

The small, gabled building surrounded by lush greenery looks all rosy and delightful, except that it is constructed in memory of Hu Huishan, a schoolgirl who had lived only a mere 15 years of life when she perished in the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.

Wenchuan Earthquake Museum

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Situated a mere 20 meters away from the memorial is the Wenchuan Earthquake Museum, a massive, 5,000 square meter structure with over 30 exhibition halls. Compared to the memorial, the museum is a monstrosity in its scale and form. However, the Wenchuan Earthquake Museum is typical of the 15 large-scale history museums in the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, which makes the nondescript simplicity of the memorial seem shabby in contrast.

View of memorial's interior from entrance

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Commemorated in one section of the Wenchuan Earthquake Museum were the notable persons who perished in the quake. Differing from them, Hu was the most ordinary and negligible civilian of the nearly 80,000 people who perished in the disaster. She did not come from an exceptional family, and had no significant accomplishments at the time of her death.

Interior of memorial

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

While the museum contained 50,000 remaining objects from the quake, the memorial exhibited the personal, everyday items used by Hu, all of which can be taken in at a single glance from the entrance.

Hu Huishan's personal belongings on display

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

These included her photographs, schoolbag and notebook, some of which were dug up from the rubble by her parents.

Hu Huishan's identity card

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

The memorial also included the most common and trivial items, such as Hu’s identity card, and her letters to friends.

Photographs of Hu Huishan

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Looking at the items, narratives of her life begin to construct themselves in our minds. Narratives of a life that was, and could have been.

Hu Huishan's music player

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

In a way, the exhibition of these personal and intimate items from Hu’s life is similar to the curatorial approach undertaken at the Auschwitz Museum in Poland. In the Auschwitz Museum, belongings of war victims, such as glasses, suitcases, and even their artificial limbs, are put on display. It is through the piles upon piles of these personal belongings that the immensity of the war crimes committed against the Jewish race is driven across.

While not as disturbing or gut-wrenching as the display at Auschwitz, the exhibition of Hu’s belongings also focuses on the human dimension of the tragedy. It makes her death more personal and drives it closer to home for the viewer.

Exterior view of memorial

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

If the design of the memorial looks rather unexceptional, this is due to the derivation of its form from the emergency tents that were erected in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Disaster emergency tents

Image: http://www.dedecms.com

Recalling the scene of the disaster zone three days after the quake occurred, the architect Liu said: “I saw emergency tents and red bricks everywhere. The design of the memorial is directly derived from the form and size of the emergency tents. Recycled red bricks from the disaster were also used to construct the memorial, and to pave the path leading to the memorial. All these elements were employed to evoke people’s memories of the earthquake.”

Round skylight of memorial

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Only one detail in the design of the memorial differed from the form of the emergency tents. Due to the space needed for the exhibition articles, the wall openings of the emergency tents were not adopted. Instead, a small, round skylight was installed.

Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., U.S.A.

Image: culturedart.blogspot.com

By designing a memorial for an ordinary girl, the Hu Huishan Memorial functions like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., while surpassing it in certain aspects. The power of the Vietnam War Memorial derives from its acknowledgement of each and every soldier who perished in the war. By engraving their names on its surface, the war casualty is no longer a mere statistic. S/he is an individual with a name.

Portrait of Hu Huishan

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

However, the Hu Huishan Memorial surpasses this, by attaching a face and a personality to the name. By endowing the casualty with a personal narrative through the display of her belongings, the tragedy is made even more impactful.

As Liu has said, the memorial transcends Hu and is dedicated to all the ordinary civilians who perished in the earthquake.

Model of Hu Huishan Memorial

Image: http://www.zhulong.com

Like the Vietnam War Memorial, the simplicity of the Hu Huishan Memorial is anti-monumental. Yet, it has acquired a monumental status with little publicity. Photographs of the Memorial were quickly disseminated online by netizens with its completion in 2009, endowing it with a visibility and presence that far exceeds its size.

Liu Jiakun is the principal architect of Jiakun Architects, a Chengdu-based architectural firm. 

References: Zhulong, Nanfang Weekend, Sina News, Sina Travel, Sohu News, Jianchuan Museum Cluster, U.S. News