The Toyo Ito Museum. All photos: Iwan Baan
General wisdom holds that canonization is an honor best conferred upon by third parties, who, through their objectivity and credentials, may initiate the process unhampered by the subject's personal prejudices. Clearly, general wisdom does not apply to great artists and architects--and, it might be added, tyrants--who have, at least since the Renaissance, singlehandedly forged their owned myths of genius. From Alberti to Le Corbusier, El Greco to Picasso, each has elevated their own image with every work they produced; so that to ask, for example, what monument Frank Lloyd Wright would have built for himself is, perhaps, misguided, considering the fact that everything Wright ever built was first and foremost an act of narcissistic self-aggrandizement, fuel for the Wright-the-greatest-architect-ever fire. Which makes it all the more surprising (and, in this case, excusable) that the decidedly self-effacing Toyo Ito has built a new museum solely dedicated to his architectural work.
The recently-opened Toyo Ito Architecture Museum on Omishima, a small island that dots Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, is comprised of two structures: the Steel Hut, a trapezoidal configuration of black steel that rises from a hillcrest overlooking the ocean, and the nearby Silver Hut, a humble vaulted pavilion that recalls the elegance of the lightwight and prefabricated structures of Japan and Europe's post-war period. The formal language of the Steel Hut, which has its roots in the geometric cosmology of Buckminster Fuller's space frames and dymaxion maps, Louis Kahn's City Tower proposal, Moshe Safdie's post-collegiate megastructural projects, not to mention Ito's own early work, rebukes the flowing abstract fields that characterize the current Japanese architectural scene.
That isn't to say that Ito's museum is out of place in Japan's architectural culture--it's decidely Japanese, with its polyhedral massing channeling the country's technofuturist eccentricities, its illustrious Metabolist past, and even, its former shipbuilding dominance. Ito himself described the museum as a "sea-worthy vessel. Like a ship embarking from the port city of Imabari with a cargo of dreams of architecture for the future, the museum is setting sail on a new voyage into the unknown."
The museum is a poignant affirmation of Ito's celebrated career. His most famous buildings, including the perforated Mikimoto Ginza tower and the fluid-like Taichung Opera House, now under construction, are all present--represented in miniature and in other forms--collected together in the architectural equivalent of a warm embrace.