Opening to the public at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this Sunday, “A Japanese Constellation” brings together the works of many of Japan’s foremost architecture firms. The exhibition is a veritable supernova of Modernism and Minimalism, with a stunning selection of models, drawings and photographs displayed by an illustrious lineup including Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima, Ryue Nishizawa, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata and Junya Ishigami.
Sendai Mediatheque, Sendai, Japan; scale model 1:150
Minna no Mori Gifu Media Cosmos, Gifu, Japan; scale model 1:150
Each architect is granted their own dedicated space within the exhibition, beginning with the influential works of Toyo Ito. Beautifully detailed models illustrate the architect’s contrasting explorations of structure, form and material: the elegant lattice columns of the Sendai Mediatheque are followed by the undulating concrete canopy of his extraordinary Crematorium in Kakamigahara, while the lid is lifted on the Minna no Mori Gifu Media Cosmos to reveal its complex interiors.
Bloomberg Pavilion at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan; scale model 1:30
Tree-ness House, Tokyo, Japan; scale model 1:30
Up next, Akihisa Hirata’s experimental works span a multitude of urban scales. Arguably one of the lesser-known architects to exhibit here, Hirata’s work is invigorating in its originality while channeling the spirit of renowned practices throughout the rest of the show. The joyous concertinaed folds of the Bloomberg Pavilion at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo are juxtaposed brilliantly with the cascading blocks of the innovative Tree-ness House, each model weaving a rich visual narrative that tells the story behind the architect’s theoretical evolution.
House NA, Tokyo, Japan; scale model 1:20
Beton Hala Waterfront Center, Belgrade, Serbia; scale model 1:100
Separated by ephemeral partitions, Sou Fujimoto’s section sees more instantly recognizable projects modeled with a remarkable level of craftsmanship. Focused on the architect’s explorations of “indeterminate conceptions of space,” the slender framework of House NA is echoed by the awe-inspiring exoskeleton of London’s 2013 Serpentine Pavilion. These classic iterations of Fujimoto’s ethereal style are complemented by conceptual projects on an epic scale, including the graceful spirals of the Beton Hala Waterfront Center in Belgrade, Serbia.
Kanagawa Institute of Technology Multipurpose Plaza, Kanagawa, Japan; scale model 1:50
Junya Ishigami’s contributions also exemplify the visual theater of Minimalism on a grand scale. His model for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology Multipurpose Plaza stretches out before visitors like a bed sheet in the breeze, punctuated by a pixelated field of perfectly square skylights — a “scenery between ground and cloud,” according to Ishigami. On the wall, a seemingly abstract composition of lines actually is a careful study for the orientation of columns and sight-lines in the Institute’s Workshop in Atsugi. The youngest architect in the show, Ishigami’s array of projects stacks up well against his preeminent counterparts.
The final three sections of the exhibition highlights the works of 2010 Pritzker Laureates Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. Two areas present projects the two have delivered as individuals, while the third showcases the output from their partnership as SANAA. Here, we see the influences of Toyo Ito — whom the two architects worked with before setting off on their own — combined with a unique brand of poetic pragmatism that has earned them global recognition.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan; scale model 1:100
Grace Farms, New Canaan, Connecticut; scale model 1:200
The models here range from works on an intimate, domestic scale — Nishizawa’s Garden and House in Tokyo is packed with delicate details — to those that have become the defining landmarks of cities. SANAA’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa is a highlight, its roof removed to reveal an intricate patchwork of gallery spaces, while the serpentine form of the firm’s recently completed Grace Farms winds down perfectly modeled topography. Speaking in New York this week, Sejima said the aim of the project in Connecticut was “to think of architecture as part of the landscape, or hopefully as part of the environment.”
Given the spotlight in one of New York City’s most visited galleries, “A Japanese Constellation” sets the bar high for major architectural exhibitions in 2016. This high bar is primarily due to its dual appeal: it should satisfy architects, theorists and critics looking for a deeper understanding of these firms’ philosophies and their places within the wider historical context of Modernism, but it will also enrapture the general public with a combination of distilled architectural discourse and sheer aesthetic delight.
All images from the exhibition taken by Paul Keskeys.