Reinforcing Elements of Design
Sou Fujimoto, a renowned Japanese architect, in an exclusive interaction with Shubhra Saini, in Delhi, talks about his unique architectural style of mixing aesthetics of nature with science of design.
Born in Hokkaido in 1971, Sou initial years were spent surrounded by nature and playing in the forest. He loved drawing and nature inspired him. In high school, he got interested in Physics but later when he moved to Tokyo, he realized architecture was his calling. “Tokyo was stark different from Hokkaido. The former is a concrete jungle in contrast to the natural & open environment of Hokkaido. The amalgamation of the two has given birth to my design philosophy i.e. marrying laws of Physics with laws of nature. In a nutshell I can say that Integration between science, nature and design has been my approach,” he said.
Sou Fujimoto graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at Tokyo University with a degree in architecture and founded Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000. His initial work was characterised by projects in small spaces in Japan. Sou enjoys working outside of Japan in different countries and with different programmes.
In 2012 Fujimoto was awarded the Golden Lion for his participation at the Japan Pavilion at the International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. His project London’s Serpentine Gallery also got him critical acclaim not only I UK but across the world. Sou Fujimoto Architects has several projects in China also, including a museum in Shanghai and an art gallery in Guangzhou. Talking about his experiences, Sou said, “Working in various countries gives a chance to experience varied cultures and way of life. As a designer it is very important for us to encounter different thinking. My architecture is always trying to balance my own design sensibility and conversation that I have with other people; I imbibe to the different needs, socio-cultural and climatic conditions of different places. So, I learn a lot from my projects in different parts of the world. It helps me to re-understand my own self in a better way and broadens my horizon.”
Building with nature
“I like to think about architecture as a wider integration of landscape and to provide a variety of fields for people to behave as they like. It is like breaking the boundaries between order and disorder, between nature and the artificial. When we reinterpret these divided pieces together to go beyond traditional definitions, then I believe we can create something new, and something fundamental.
For instance, in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London the geometry is quite clear, but the experience is made by trees. In Japanese gardens geometry is more subtle – it looks not too designed, but it is designed. So there’s a clear coexistence of natural orders and artificial phenomena together. My attitude is more from Japanese culture, creating order that vanishes into natural things.”
Affordable can be aesthetic too
The urban cities globally are expanding horizontally with people moving towards peripheries of the city. Sou believes, this tendency increases the liveability factor as it decongests the city centres like in Paris which has a height restriction for buildings, leading the city to expand its boundaries creating breathable, greener corridors and skyscrapers in the suburbs. “My first project was a low cost housing project. The whole design treatment to deal with materials and construction technology required out of the box thinking. Every segment needed to be treated differently.
The small pathway in Varanasi was an interesting experience. Small spaces, sizes and shapes also have lot of potential if well-thought and planned.
Architecture and art
Sou Fujimoto created an art installation on everyday objects titled ‘Architecture is everywhere’ as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial last year. The exhibition showcased mundane objects displayed on small wooden boards, such as potato chips and ping pong balls, which Fujimoto referred to as “found architecture”. He explained, “Architecture is the interaction between the spaces and people, insides and outsides, while art is taking inspiration from everything and anything. Art & architecture too are merging and boundaries are blurring. Art is like an experience but architecture stays with you, so marrying that experience in your physical buildings creates a new dimension.”
When we understand the limits then only we can think of going beyond them. Limitations like structural challenges of earthquake zones in Japan make the designer work along with that to produce interesting structures.
House NA- Designed for a young couple in Tokyo, the 914 square-foot transparent house contrasts the typical concrete houses of Japan. It is an inhabitable climbing frame of 21 individual floor plates made of spindly steel, enclosed by barely there glass with curtains to be drawn when privacy is wanted. It is like living in a tree where you can choose branches to do different things. People can gather together or they can stay on different branches and chat.
House N- Built for a “couple in their 60s and their dog” in the town of Oita, it is “a box within a box with a box”. Each of its layers are perforated with rectangular openings, such that inside and outside overlap, and the actual line between house and garden become indistinct. Sou created gradations between the different areas, and create a covering for the garden and the house at the same time. House N is like a “cloud” with high-ceilinged series of voids hovering about the ground-based living area.
Musashino Art University Museum & Library – Sou’s first large scale commercial project is a new library for an art university in Japan. It is a library made from bookshelves. It is imagined as a place encircled by a single bookshelf in the form of a spiral. An infinite forest of books is created from the layering of 9m high walls, punctuated by large apertures. This spiral eventually wrapping the periphery of the site as the external wall integrates the exteriors of the building with the interior composition of the bookshelf as the library.
Serpentine Pavilion – The summer pavilion for London’s Serpentine Gallery melts into the green of Kensington Garden’s lush landscape. Sou created a delicate latticework cloud of white-painted 20mm-thick steel bars. The grid – a recurring theme in his work – varies in density and has circles of transparent polycarbonate to protect it from rain. The ethereal structure perfectly captured Fujimoto’s philosophy of creating something “between architecture and nature”.