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The City Is A Ruin

Janet Yu 2016-08-26 15:39

Arata Isozaki is considered to be one of the three most illustrious architects in Japan alongside Kisho Kurokawa and Tadao Ando. But despite his acclaim and influence, the 85-year-old Isozaki remains something of a mystery.

This talented maverick got his degree in architecture from the prestigious University of Tokyo before going on to work as a junior with Pritzer Prize winning architect Kenzo Tange at the latter’s lab for ten years. While undeniably picking up valuable experience from his mentor, Isozaki’s work nonetheless stayed uniquely different from Tange, he describes it as: “I have a reverse mind going backwards.”


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Like many other outstanding Japanese architects, Isozaki sought to truly touch one’s heart with his creations that combines space, culture, and environment. However, this does not affect his rebellious style of work. Isozaki’s brand of rebelliousness is not impulsive, nor does it mean he deliberately sets out to avoid mainstream ideas. Isozaki’s rebelliousness comes from his steadfast devotion to his own recognizable style despite having passed through the powerful waves of decades of ideological shift. On the one hand, he gives people a reclusive impression. He’s written several books but has hardly put any effort into publicizing them. Nor has he accumulated the mountains of honor or awards someone in his position normally would have. The projects he takes on are mostly museums or music halls. But being such a theoretician of consistency and his very own distinction, he has stayed the key individuals in the architecture of international mainstream on the other hand.


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Over the decades, Isozaki has done his work extremely ingeniously, but not for thrills, since every building substantiates his intentions to do so with a great thoughtfulness given towards those who are correlated with architectures in use. Compared to the “tough” and sometimes cold spaces created by the likes of Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid, Isozaki’s buildings seem infused with a friendly soul, but he expresses a deep appreciation for their talent nevertheless. In fact, it was none other than the Japanese architect who effectively launched Hadid’s career by discovering her drawings at a 1983 competition of “The Peak” in Hong Kong, designs for which she won rst prize but never saw built. Years later, on the international bid for the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, it was Isozaki who highly recommended Koolhaas‘s controversial design that has since shaped Beijing’s skyline. Koolhaas showed great respect when speaking of Isozaki, seeing him as his ‘eternal study case’ and evaluated the old gentleman as “being amazingly creative over such a long period of time”.


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The sense of being Present

Every major city has its memorable landscape. In Shanghai, we have the the Oriental TV tower and Lujiazui Financial Area’s three towering skyscrapers. But past that postcard skyline, much deeper into Pudong, is an impressive structure in the form of Zendai Himalayas Center, a masterpiece designed ten years ago by Isozaki. A mul- ti-functional center of commercial and cultural complex project comprising of an art museum, a theatre, shopping mall, of ce complex (with artists' studios) and not one but two ve-star hotels, was determined to be built into a new landscape of the thriving modern city from the very start.


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Isozaki repeatedly states: “I tend to take the city, architectures, and interiors into overall consideration. Both internal and external factors of a structure should be focused on before the project starts off, especially consequences like what might be done to the history, culture, and city itself once the building comes into use.” On designing the Himalayas Center, the well-or- ganized geometric patterns or the superior level of architectural techniques didn’t really matter so much as the cultural perspective behind it all did. Ten years earlier, as the Longyang Road subway station was still rounded by bare land, this tremendous project carried the obligation to push the regional development forward beyond any doubt, so it was supposed to have a prominent appearance with strong and immediate visual impact. The hotel rooms are settled in a cube, set on a 31.5 metre high concrete platform making it the symbolic feature of the metropolitan. As for the core facil- ities of the structure, Isozaki boldly created soft curves of an ‘organic forest’ contained within the hard, symmetrical lines of crystalline cubes. Isozaki has also redeployed this form of computerized calligraphy in the Qatar National Convention Centre. The irregularly curved surface also carries speci ed functions of the internal theatre and much more. Isozaki says: “Even the smartest architecture can be vigorless if not made full use of.” These cavelike forms are widely considered impressive for that it both ful lls the functional & structural demand for a theatre and stands for a pure and rational spirit.


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There is a latter example of this Shanghai Symphony Hall renewal project, distinguished from the forceful presence of Himalayas Center and designed by Isozaki jointly with the Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. “There was no need to make the appearance stand out,” he explained, “so I focused on the two-storied space which the audience are engaged the most.” In order to decrease the volume pressure from reducing height of the architecture, the chamber hall had a curved ceiling of introverted beauty. The formidable effort put on the interior design was done in an imperceptible presentation so that audiences can concentrate on the music without external distractions.

On the contrary, the new CAFA Art Museum happens to achieve a feeling of existence between those of the two projects mentioned above. This is Isozaki’s rst work in Beijing; commonly lauded as the ’Best Domes- tic Museum’. Centering the relocated CAFA in a union of Dashanzi Art District and the site of the old brewery around, a large-scale art area of the kind rarely found in Asia took shape piece by piece. The iconic curved surface took reference from the surrounding terrain and its environment was nalized through hundreds of sketches and extends from exterior to the simple neutral interior space juxtaposing the classic white box. This subtle synthesized structure was painstakingly designed to inspire the artists but still is easy to handle at the same time.


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The ruins and The incomplete

Arata Isozaki has been given a peculiar title: ’the master of the incomplete’. In his 40 year long architectural career, there are some works that are truly un nished yet they still enjoys a good reputation just as the fully constructed do, particularly two urban plans raised in the sixties and seventies last century. One is called the ‘Clusters in Air Project’, also known as "city in the air", and the other is ‘Computer Aided City Project’. While these urban designs remained unrealized and an idea on paper only, they nonetheless indicate Isozaki’s anti-modernity attitude. “Ruins are the forms of our cities in days to come,” the architect muses. “The futuristic city will be the ruins. There won’t be any integrated formations of a city but the corpses of archi- tectures will be. Now the designers are forcing segments to t into vacancies that in their delusions they believe to be imperfections. But this endless pseudo-work would never solve or save anything.” It sounds positively nihilistic at rst, but a deeper consideration may unveil unexpected results.


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“The ruins I’ve been speaking of can be interpreted in several ways,” Isozaki contin- ues. “The rst point is the understanding of the concept of time. At this point, the future and the past are all in the same place, past the ruins will be retained to the present, the future will become ruins the same as. I think at some point in time, the ruins of the future and past will exist at the same time. The second point, before things gradually become ruins, then disappear, then rebuilt in the future, it can be said that the future of the city is now the ruins of the city state; and now the city development to a certain extent, may also be in ruins in fact in the future city. Third, construction and destruction in fact coexist at the same time.”


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Isozaki thinks that the the purpose of buildings is more important than caring about the building itself. “ARCHITECTURE IS SUPPOSED TO EXIST FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY. THE ONLY THING WITH A SIMILAR WAVELENGTH IS THE CULTURE. SO I ALWAYS TAKE THEIR FUTURE INTO ACCOUNT ON A CULTURAL CONSIDERATION FROM THE START OF A DESIGN.”

Perhaps it is exactly this unrestricted vision and perspective that drives the freedom and versatility of his works, seemingly not bound by any earthly realities, but pushing the actual boundaries of ages.


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