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How architecture grows - Junya Ishigami

The Japanese architect seeks out the limits of the possible, both human and technical, in search of a new reality.


Junya Ishigami is one of the most controversial architects, for his artistic approach to his practice has helped to redefine the ever closer boundaries between art and architecture. He draws inspiration from the way nature appears to man and aspires to an architecture that floats, is infinite, transparent and has hardly any substance. It is not the logic of the design of a building that should stand out. Ishigami wants his buildings to appeal through their new spatiality and environmental richness. His work is a quest for the pure and essential in architecture.


Ishigami is widely regarded as one of Japan's most promising young architects, a status that was reinforced after he won the Golden Lion for Best Project at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale. Starting his career with the firm Sanaa, Ishigami established his own practice in 2004. He is best known for his ‘Cuboid Balloon’ project, a floating steel space the size of a five-storey building set afloat within the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and ‘Table’, a gigantic, 3mm thick piece of pre-stressed steel, topped with a still life scene that tremors at the lightest touch. Ishigami completed his first building in 2007, the Kanagawa Institute of Technology's KAIT Workshop, a glass-enclosed rectangular structure in which the interior space is divided only by a forest of pillars, and the Yohji Yamamoto New York flagship boutique, for which he conceived a radical renovation of a triangular single-story building in lower Manhattan.

We’re in love with the man’s imagination and entering his architecture is like entering a magical world, filled with poetry and esthetics. To him architecture is one great experiment, with nature as an ultimate source of inspiration. What can be sensed in his work is the fragility of nature and mankind itself. Ishigami also makes new space and he’s able to turn every project into a spatial rich experience.


 We met Ishigami at the opening of his first retrospective in Europe ‘How small? How vast? How architecture grows?’ at deSingel in Antwerp. In the white exhibition space Ishigami shows 58 built and unbuilt projects, from small-scale interventions the size of glass bottles with flowers in, to utopian plans with cities as landscapes.


Could you tell us a bit more about the exhibition?

I wanted to show as much as possible, because in this exhibition I want to show other possibilities of architecture. In our era we don’t have a specific purpose to make a building, for we understand that there should be a variation of purposes for each person, for each user. In this exhibition we tried to show many ways on how to make a building. When I say variation, I mean variation of visual and technical aspects. In each project imagination is very important. Architecture is lifestyle and there are so many possibilities to make a building. There’s no such thing as one specific way to create it.


Which project has been the most challenging so far?

Every project is a challenge, especially creating this retrospective. The exhibition is not just an exhibition. I consider it to be an architectural activity. Architecture is not about creating buildings. It’s a philosophy. Physical architecture is very important to show a new space, but an exhibition is also very important to display a variety of possibilities to to see the future world and to show new possibilities in architecture.

How do you work?

I make big models and drawings and for every project my studio seeks for different approaches. We don’t work in one specific way.


What is your favorite plant?

Clover. Basically I like every plant, but clover is a very calm, green, natural and usual plant. 

Do you own a pet?

Yes I do actually. I have a Singapore cat. It’s name is Boo.


Can you translate the concept of transparency?

Transparency is a fundamental part of architecture, but it’s also just one possibility in architecture I am interested in. Transparency is some kind of feeling of freedom, it’s not a physical thing. Another important aspect of transparency is the variation of the space and the style. Those two elements are important when I think about architecture and I intend to make them very rich for every person.


How different is building in Europe, from building in Japan?

In Tokyo there are no historical buildings, so you can’t find a connection with the history of architecture. But in Europe there’s so much history mixed with modern buildings, which is very interesting.


Why is white a dominant color in your design?

The color white is not that important to me. With every project we try to work with another color, but at the end we can’t decide which one. And that’s why we always end up with the color white. 


What do you enjoy the most? Making architecture or making furniture?

Making the world.



Text: Magali Elali
Photos: Bart Kiggen

The expo ‘How small? How vast? How architecture grows?’
at deSingel in Antwerp, from the 8 of February till the 16th of June


Junya Ishigami. Balloon, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2007, Courtesy Gallery Koyanagi
© junya.ishigami+associates, Photograph by: Yasushi Ichikawa©junya.ishigami+associates.jpg?1360410341


Junya Ishigami, “Kanagawa Institute of Technology KAIT Workshop,” 2010
© junya.ishigami+associatesjunya.ishigami+associates.jpg?1360410322
Junya Ishigami, yohji yamamoto New York gansevoort street store, 2008
© junya.ishigami+associates

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