Junya Ishigami, Cultivate

A major solo exhibition held at the Fondation Cartier in Paris recently celebrated the creative genius of the young Japanese architect Junya Ishigami and his complete originality within the international context. Each of his works always seems to be taken to the extreme limit of the possible combined with seemingly minimal effort.
The Paris exhibition and catalog, along with his works in progress across Europe, China and Japan, demonstrate a poetic and conceptual dimension as a point of comparison for ourselves today and a source of vitality for what lies ahead.

LM | In the recent show at the Fondation Cartier and the beautiful book on your work you insisted on the idea of openness and freedom as necessary tools for contemporary creativity and architecture. Could you specify more on this point of view?
JI | I think it is necessary to think about the ideas of openness and freedom, but at the same time, it is also important to think about the strong character of each site including the request of the client and the program, so for me, it is natural to come up with a different answer for different sites and conditions of use.

LM | I completely agree with you, I like very much what you said, because today we need to give more strong character to architecture, not in the sense that it has to be aggressive, but rather able to bring things together and to create the soul of the place, to give a very strong yet sensitive character to the things that we do for the future. Your projects always give architecture a strong character and at the same time bring nature inside.
JI | Yes, to mix architecture with nature, I think it is important to think about what transparency is. For me, transparency is not just material or the character of the building, it is the key to think about the coexistence between Architecture and nature.

LM | We are in an age where some architects hide architectures with trees and this is not the solution, the solution is when nature and artificial architecture can work together, in a very strong coexistence. It’s a dialogue, where every part has a clear character. What do you think?
JI | Yes, I agree. it is important for my work to design architecture on the same scale as nature, and it is also key for me to design the space where very small scale architecture coexists with extremely large scale architecture. The coexistence of different scales determines what the character of the natural environment is, a natural landscape with artificial landscape. I think, as an observation, architecture is normally designed for a human scale, but I would like to take it differently, I want to design architecture for a nature scale. The human scale is within this measurement, but it also includes all the other environments.

LM | The nature scale is very interesting because I was looking at the work of the Botanical Garden Art Biotop that you are doing in Tochigi in which you moved existing trees from a forest to an adjacent meadow.
JI | Yes, we are nearly done with the Botanical Garden project, and now we have been asked to use the site where trees were taken for the Botanical Garden, and where we are now developing a new restaurant there with the surrounding landscape!

LM | Also in the Park Vijversburg in Holland, the one you just finished recently, it’s very interesting how the spaces melt into nature, it’s a kind of dialogue. How did you start working on this project?
JI | The site is located at Park Vijversburg in northern Friesland, The Netherlands. A summerhouse built in the 19th century stands alone in the beautiful park, over 200,000m2 in size. The project was to renovate the old summerhouse and to design an extension building attached to it.
As an important condition of the design, we were not allowed to modify any elements of the park. This beautiful park itself is designated as a historical heritage site and all the park elements need to be kept in their present condition. We could hardly touch any elements, move any trees, and of course we couldn’t damage the existing villa. With all those strict requirements, we looked at the boundaries of several park aspects where the elements of the environment change. Within the bounds of this space, what could we possibly build without changing any important park elements? Like tracing the boundary line or planting a transparent fence, we designed a glass screen and placed the steel beams in top of this glass. That was it. There was our building—no columns, no walls, only clear glass and a roof above. We minimized the artificial architectural elements and made the existing environment itself become the architectural space. Ordinary buildings usually consist of columns as structures and the columns continue within a certain span. In that case, the feeling of a vast and frameless landscape will be split into the architectural scale. By taking out the columns, the presence of the architecture fades away. Like the peaceful pond develops its reflective surface into the site, like the diverse green space that absorbs numerous pathways, the long curved glass screen continues eternally.

LM | It’s like in a different scale as 8 Villas in Dali where you use the stones to create the Architectural space. It’s incredible how you use natural material to create an artificial/natural environment in which people live.
JI | The Project in Dali, actually the design solution is a completely opposite from the Vijversburg project. In China, they are currently in a period of high economic growth. There are new buildings everyday and so fast, and over all the scenery of the site changes in every few years. Therefore, I strongly felt that it is important to conserve the existing beautiful scenery in the building so even if the surrounding environment changed and was completely destroyed, we could preserve the existing atmosphere of the site.

LM | In a way, you always play with nature as a partner in design, also in the House & Restaurant in Yamaguchi, you did this artificial/ natural building by just using the geological element, simply seeing the results of positive and negative, black and white… This creates a landscape of a very primitive, very provocative, very strong experience. What do you think about the way your clients experience the space?
JI | Every project has a different case and solution. The client for the House & Restaurant project was the same person for the thin table project, and years later he came to ask me to design his new restaurant and house together. For the previous project, he told me to make a very contemporary space with a table and now he wants to have a heavy and massive space but also with a sense of oldness… Kind of the same atmosphere of an old wood structure building.
I didn’t want to make this old atmosphere with ornaments or finishing decorations, but the sense of oldness itself became the structure. I wanted to build the atmosphere itself with architecture.

LM | You always work with space, I mean you don’t make distinction between decoration and architecture and I think everything is space, everything is architecture, so than what you put inside is very precise and very fragile because in a way the space is very strong, if the space is strong allowed people to be free to do anything.
JI | Because I think that one of the problem of the architecture is consistency. I do understand the importance of keeping a same spacial quality, however, I think inconsistency is equally or more important for current generation. We would like to think more about the spaces that could changed and architecture also could be changed.

LM | Yes, sometimes yes! This is what you did in Moscow, you did not touch the structure but you just dig around the existing building. By taking off the existing ground around the building, the basement will become a new first floor for the museum. This is simple, yet new discovery of an renovation project.
JI | Yeah I think so! The Moscow project was a renovation of an old historical museum – It was important to keep the existing atmosphere, structure and ornamentation of the building. I wanted to emphasize the existing atmosphere of the museum, but as the same time, define the new atmosphere this is the existing environment/ condition was the challenge but also the solution of our proposal.

LM | The project in Moscow is going on?
JI | Yes, it is under construction now, and the ground around the museum was dug and the basement facade was exposed as new entrance level.

LM | It’s a very challenging and a very complex project. Russian are very good in working on existing building and I’m always very much impressed by the fact that you are always working with an infinite line no? Like your breathing table or your floating cube. You are always working with lightness and infinity as a kind of a space which in a way is waiting for changes. I was very impressed by the fact that the university plaza in – a building very thin and long all those building always plays with the horizontal and thin lines, it’s a way to create new landscape and at the same time how do you feel that the people will use them? We are in a world where every meter is so precious the consuming of soil is one of the issues today and you are working with architecture which in a way occupy a lot of space, how do you deal with that?
JI | My intention for this project is not just creating extreme architectural structure. The main challenges of this project is to define the new architectural proportions. Sometimes, I find that a thin proportion space but at the sometime, they are extremely heavy. The important thing is to think about the proportions confronting to the existing spaces or structure. so I think even if sometimes space becomes thin, I would like to find the same proportion inside the spaces. In China we have several projects that currently under construction, and here, we are also experimenting the new proportions with architecture. Proportion of the building is usually determined by the structure of the building, but I wanted to test if the architectural proportion can simply made the material, and if possible how the material responses to the proportion o the space, and how it can differ from the ordinary building.

LM | Yes I agree, is an attention for the future, where materials will be more and more precious so we need to use them properly, but you have a natural attitude to use the materials in a good way. The last two question : What about the house of peace, will be built?
JI | This project is bit special compare from the other project. The client want the building to be more than the beautiful architecture. They strongly believes that the part of founds for this building should also be raised with their will and hope… They wants to the building that is made out of people will…

LM | Is such a crazy, beautiful project. Let’s hope to see it built! Your architecture seems to emerge for nature and from nothing, is very difficult for me to find references in your architecture, I can see Japanese contemporary architecture, I can see the dialogue with Kazuyo Seijima work but I mean, it seems that your references are not in the modern architecture but somewhere else, so when you work on architecture, yourself in the process of creativity, what are your references, what do you look at?
JI | I don’t know, I think I was always looking forward to find different perspectives from them. For me, feeling nature is very import for design. Modern architecture is very near and also very radical – so now my focus is to define the nature in architecture and resolve as new landscape/ Scenery. Sometimes this natural sense could be found in the old building, and this is also one of my way of defining nature in Architecture.

LM | This is the feeling we need to use to face architecture in this new time, this is the main difference with the last century.
JI | Yes, now technologies are growing so fast, and taking over many things… In this sense, it is important define some kind of natural sense in the architectural space. However, in the meanwhile, it is not my intention to divide old and new architecture. The two different spacial ideas should coexisted…

Interview . Luca Molinari
Images and drawings . ©JUNYA.ISHIGAMI + ASSOCIATES, unless otherwise noted