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Junya Ishigami – Freeing Architecture at Fondation Cartier

Junya Ishigami, model for Botanical Farm Gardens Art Biotop, Tochigi, Japan

No wonder Junya Ishigami started with architecture firm SANAA. His architectural projects have a similar organic character you will probably recognized if you’ve read my previous blog post on Grace Farms, CT.

Fondation Cartier pour l’ Art Contemporain currently offers an exquisite exhibition of Junya Ishigami’ s preparatory models, which are all works of art in their own right.

Junya Ishigami, model for Botanical Farm Gardens Art Biotop, Tochigi, Japan

If you are fascinated by new architecture or simply curious, rush to the exhibition to check it out. All models capture Junya Ishigami’s incessant quest to push back the limits of what is possible to build and how to build it. Yet what strikes me the most is how visually unique each architectural solution appears, as if Ishigami’s style was constantly reinventing itself, feeding off Nature’s infinite plurality of forms and shapes.

Let me highlight a few projects to give you a flavor of what is displayed at the Cartier Foundation but if you can, go and check it out for yourself before September 9, 2018.

Set in the marvelous surrounding of a Jean Nouvel’s glass cube building, Fondation Cartier epitomizes what Frank Lloyd Wright brought to the fore almost 100 years ago: how to fuse interior and exterior spaces, bringing the outside inside and taking the inside for a walk outside. Junya Ishigami is no stranger to the concept.

On a small scale, he presents House with Plants, a lovely nod to Jean Nouvel’s glass cube in itself: in Ishigami’s House, floors are a mix of planted earth combined with more typical living space floor surfaces.

On a much wider scale, he presents his Cultural Center at Shandong, China.

Junya Ishigami, Studies for Cultural Center, Shandong, China

There he integrates inside and outside spaces most beautifully, masterfully handling the complication of the outside space being…a lake!

Junya Ishigami, Model for Cultural Center, Shandong, China

Glass walls encase a 1-km-long sinuous structure built as a promenade sitting on the surrounding lake which comes and laps on both sides of the meandering fluid steel and glass structure. Experiencing this space must be coming close to walking on water!

Chapel of Valley absolutely took my breath away. Set to be built in Shandong, China, it shows how Junya Ishigami is not solely preoccupied with organic architecture aiming for minimal visual disruption of a given natural site.

Junya Ishigami, Studies for Chapel of Valley, Shandong, China

Here, he projects a fully transformative operation on the landscape, building what I can’t resist wording a full Gothic project.

Standing 45 meter-tall, this narrow Chapel looks like a giant folded blank page, erected much like Gothic cathedrals used to.

Raised to ever increasing heights, cathedrals aimed to get ever closer to God’s light, using glass-stained windows to capture such divine intervention to enlighten the world of mere mortals and sinners.

In Shandong, Junya Ishigami plans the divine with a good dose of scientific calculations. Imagine the quality of the light funnelled down to the altar? Divine indeed.

Junya Ishigami, Studies for Chapel of Valley, Shandong, China

All the more divine because there is no glass intervention here, no reflection nor refraction, just natural light straight from a roof-less structure. What about if God makes it rain then? Well, that’s the most beautiful thing here: rain never falls straight so it will trickle along the walls. Yet these walls are so high, it’s all calculated that rain will have been absorbed or have evaporated before it ever reaches the chapel floor.

Seeing this impressive model was a highlight and I have made a mental note to one day go and check out such a Richard Serra in white concrete.

After the surgical incision of the Chapel of the Valley, let’s look at the Water Gardens in Tochigi, Japan.

Junya Ishigami, Study for Botanical Farm Gardens Art Biotop, Tochigi, Japan

There, a whole forest got replanted after a full analysis of leaves growth was performed so as to recreate a canopy which would progressively grow and cover the flat glass roof of the circular restaurant structure.

Architecture is no accident for Junya Ishigami: even the Impressionist dappled light is studied and conceived in the most Pointillist of studies, as shown in the preparatory model.

Junya Ishigami, model for Botanical Farm Gardens Art Biotop, Tochigi, Japan

With full respect and rehabilitation of the past paddy field terrain, Ishigami builds with history – and art history – high in his mind.

As a Japanese architect, Junya Ishigami’s sensibility to art historical motifs is very clear in his many projects centered around clouds and cloud structures. It must be rooted in these wonderful antique Japanese silk screens presenting aerial views of city scenes, seen interspersed through floating clouds (or Yamato-e).

Screens as instant architecture to modulate space within a room and clouds to project small individual life vignettes within a wider collective: all this sounds perfect fodder for Ishigami to build on.

House of peace is a cloud structure for meditation in Copenhagen, Denmark.

This is a small landing space topped by a concrete cloud canopy. Built on stilts in the coldest of seas, Junya Ishigami needs to deal with large temperature variations so he came up with glass walls extending down for full temperature regulation, even in arctic winter.

Cloud Arch in Sydney, Australia shows the Arch as elemental architectural element (it is in the name!) but pushed to the extreme of gravity.

Junya Ishigami, model for Cloud Arch, Sydney, Australia

Forget the simplicity of the Roman arch or the building block that the Pointed Arch brought with the Gothic style, we now have computers to play and build with. Therefore add a torque, a curve, lots of movement and make it a meeting point where arch and life get reinvented, defying all expectations of height and visual fluidity.

I simply love how the play of shadows will also capture time passing, much like a giant solar table. This is not without reminding me of a beautiful installation in the same vein I saw this summer in my hometown of Nantes: Johann Le Guillerm, L’Aalu, part of Le Voyage a Nantes art summer festival.

The last two projects I want to share with you are simply mind-blowing.

The Yamagushi grotto House and Restaurant in Japan defies all expectations of building techniques.

Apparently, the area is renowned for its natural grottos therefore Junya Ishigami decided to honor the natural practice with his own architectural prowess.

Junya Ishigami, model for Yamaguchi grotto house and restaurant, Japan

The structure was created by drilling shapes in the earth, pouring concrete then scraping and digging the earth around the moulded concrete.

Lucky to privately tour this entire exhibition with Curator Isabelle Gaudefroy, my first words to describe this entire process were “accelerated erosion” and we agreed that must have been what Junya Ishigami attempted to replicate, coming up once more with an infinite creativity and imagination still very much attuned to the natural world.

Junya Ishigami, model for Yamaguchi grotto house and restaurant, Japan

Ishigami created a geological and organic structure with his Yamaguchi Grotto, fully raised from the Earth thanks to an inverted fabrication technique which included earth pigmentation and variation of colors obtained during the removal or un-molding of the structure.

Junya Ishigami, model for Yamaguchi grotto house and restaurant, Japan

Nothing is applied, everything is revealed in an organic way: architectural historians would have a field day discussing and inserting Ishigami’s practice within the “honesty” argument of architecture (as opposed to what Frank Gehry does here).

Last but not least, University Multipurpose plaza in Kanagawa, Japan.

Imagine a 12mm-thick steel canopy, without any supporting columns or walls. Can’t you?

Junya Ishigami, model for University Multipurpose Plaza in Kanagawa, Japan

There are only four lateral perimeter walls so the canopy caves in the middle. Add to this that temperature fluctuations affect the steel-plate roof: expansion / retraction means the ceiling height varies by almost a meter at times.

Junya Ishigami, model for University Multipurpose Plaza in Kanagawa, Japan

Yet the genius touch is Junya Ishigami’ s idea to carve square openings at spaced intervals: this brings natural light, exposure to the elements as well as creates meditative frames for the length of the landscape as well as the sky.

Junya Ishigami, model for University Multipurpose Plaza in Kanagawa, Japan

By now, you probably know about my fascination for the works of Light and Space artist James Turrell (find more here).

Junya Ishigami, Study for University Multipurpose Plaza in Kanagawa, Japan

In this University space, Junya Ishigami offers a multitude of skyscapes. Just look up. And sign me in: I will study for life in such an environment.

Freeing Architecture by Junya Ishigami is at Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris until September 9, 2018.

My heartfelt thanks to Fondation Cartier Curator Isabelle Gaudefroy for being so generous with her time and our most enlightening discussion while touring the exhibition: we almost lost track of time but what a delight to end my Paris trip on this note.

My gratitude also goes to Christine Goppel at Cartier, for instigating such a wonderful visit and making it all happen. Thank you!

Lastly, this would not have been possible without the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and their incredibly talented team: visiting the Cartier Mansion in New York with you all turned out to be a gift that kept on giving throughout the summer.

This post is dedicated to MCASD’s very own creativity and constant redefinition of what contemporary art means.

© 2018 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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