He loves Radiohead, while his black, close-fitting jacket with flamboyant lapels makes him vaguely reminiscent of the King of Pop, and with white models he creates abstract intellectual constructs. Junya Ishigami is one of those who will never grow up – and yet he'll probably make architectural history. In his on-going search for a new reality, the Japanese architect operates beyond the limits of the possible: he makes systems without hierarchy, delicate structures that almost disappear, and buildings that have no inside and no outside. For him a table is as much architecture as a building or a bridge. Fundamental to his work is the relationship between architecture and nature. “For me, as a Japanese person, natural elements are also always artificial.” explains the 39-year-old, who was honored with the Golden Lion at the 2010 Biennale in Venice. “There is no authentic nature – even forests and landscapes are artificially created.”
At Antwerp’s deSingel art center, the exhibition “How small? How vast? How architecture grows” is currently on view through mid-June, showing Ishigami’s full range of work in Europe for the first time. Fifty-eight projects adorn narrow wooden boards that are neither tables nor benches. Models, miniatures, drawings, and watercolors – Ishigami has lined up all his ideas and designs in orderly rows, cunningly presenting them as if in a sterile laboratory. The exhibition itself is a work of art: paper forests and landscapes strewn with handcrafted plants, cloud studies, dollhouses, and residential buildings that are built like models for stage sets, with black paper figures enacting scenes and bringing a little action into the beautiful models. On the eight floating, very long tables, everything seems so light and fragile that you want to hold your breath for fear of coughing or sneezing.
“I want to design the inside of a building in such a way that it feels like an outside space,” says Ishigami who worked with SANAA until 2004, and who develops the extremely thin walls, columns, and floors together with the engineer Jun Sato. With his debut work, the KAIT Workshop at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology near Tokyo, he attracted attention with 63x90 millimeter-thin columns arranged in an irregular grid-based pattern. A forest of columns five meters high allows all the walls to virtually disappear – what emerges is an outdoor space inside the building, a floating classroom. With a cross section of just 3 millimeters, the tabletop that Ishigami installed in the Venice Arsenale in 2008 was nearly invisible – a game of illusion and reality.
Visitors tiptoe carefully through the exhibition. At the end of the retrospective a conclusion awaits visitors in a second room: the installation “Little Gardens” displays a collection of tiny miniature flowers that look like candies. Like everything else in the exhibition, the round white table upon which they’re displayed with three thin legs also seems to be floating – for Junya Ishigami, the influence of gravity is especially weak.
“Everything is always changing every time,” says the Japanese Architect in response to the question of what sustainability means for him. “We always want to try to change situations before they change.” We can learn a lot from Junya Ishigami. (Jeanette Kunsmann)
Junya Ishigami: How small? How vast? How architecture grows
Through June 16, 2013, at deSingel International Arts Campus, Desguinlei 25, B-2018 Antwerp