Art and Contemporary Architecture in Japan


Japan Society Lecture The Japan Society Proceeds No.131 Summer 1998

I was recently able to explore the relationship between art and architecture in a new generation of buildings in Japan with the help of an artist fellowship from the Japan Foundation. How is art related to new architecture in Japan and to what extent is there collaboration between artists and architects? 1 interviewed over twenty architects and thirty artists and curators. The architects included Arata lsozaki , Kazuo Shinahara, Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, Itsuko Hasegawa and Toyo 1to. Among the artists and curators were Tatsuo Miyajima, Shigeo Anzai, Shingu Susumu and Fumio Nanjo. Working from the Tokyo office of my adviser Kisho Kurokawa,

1 organised roundtable seminars in Osaka and Tokyo to improve communication between artists and architects. Topos 1, a touring exhibition of collaboration between artists and architects co-organised by the architect Norihiko Dan, was a particularly rich source of information. Topos 2 is currently underway. A number of projects in Japan involve a British contribution. The 1,700 metre long passenger terminal at Kansai airport by Renzo Piano is the longest room in the world and features the elegant kite mobiles of Susumu Shingu. The complex formwork designed by Peter Rice and fabricated in Bolton made the curvilinear leading edge facade possible.

In the streets of the former American Airforce base in Tachikawa City, Art Front Gallery director Fram Kitagawa has placed site specific work by 109 artists including Tony Cragg, Anash Kapor and Richard Wiison. A colossal cultural and conference centre, the Tokyo International Forum, is located next to the main Shinkansen station. It exhibits a monumental sculpture from the Caro exhibition held at the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, a stone circle by Richard Long and a stairway by Richard Deacon. The design competition for the Forum was won by Raphael Vinoly, a New York based Argentinian architect who included a substantial art programme. An extensive trawl of world-class artists was carried out which left the curator Tatsumi Shinoda impressed by British sculpture of the eighties. The Forum is developing an interesting collection of art but it is currently the last of the metropolitan government's 'Grand Projects' due to the bursting of the economic bubble. Art contributions are most common in prestigious large budget projects, either important government offices or the headquarters of major commercial enterprises. In the public realm a project of note has been Tokyo City Hall and in the private sector Yokohama Business Center. Outstanding large commercial developments include the Shinjuku 'I-Land' Tower and JT Tobacco building at Shimbashi. Masaharu Rokushika, from Nihon Sekkei, the largest architectural practice in Japan and curator Fumio Nanjo have made I-Land famous for its international collection. More modest art contributions have been made to the landmark Tower in Yokohama, Japan's tallest building, and the Umeda Sky Bridge Tower in Osaka. These and most other large projects represent a lost opportunity. In a few high status projects art is applied or purchased but not in normal construction practice which accounts for the chaotic mess of the urban landscape sadly lacking the hand of the artist. Tokyo City Hall spent £10.25 million in 1991 on 36 artists; Tachikawa £7.5 million in 1995 with 109 artists; the I-Land building £7.5 million in 1995 with 10 artists and the Forum £3.9 million on 50 artists.

Architects on smaller budgets have largely failed to involve artists. Emerging architects appear to be more artistic than their European counterparts. The high quality of craftsmanship in the construction industry (which accounts for a high percentage of the Japanese economy) assists their creative sensitivities. A number of atelier' architects are artists in their own right and can be divided into conspicuous romantics such as Shin Takamatsu, Atsushi Kitagawara and Hiroshi Wakabayashi, and the more classical Fumihiko Maki and Toyo Ito. They eloquently lead the new generation of light weight structures. More adventurous urban encounters are created by interventionists such as Kazuo Shinahara and Atsuko Hasegaw, Shinahara, a mentor for the younger generation seeks neither efficiency nor beauty but the spirit of urban chaos. He claims there are two types of architects, those who work with artists and those who are artists themselves.

One of the few atelier architects who have worked with artists is lsozaki Arata, on his radical installation gallery at the Nagi Museum of Modern Art. It includes a number of bespoke and permanent works. The museum is designed with sun, moon and earth connections. 'The Sun' is a giant tilted canister designed with artist Shusaku Arakawa and 'The Earth' with sculptor Aiko Miyawaki, the architect's wife. Tadao Ando, now at the peak of his career has worked with such artists as lsamu Noguchi and Antony Caro. He believes in collaboration as a match of equal status.


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