At a glance, Junya Ishigami’s Kangawa IT Pavilion appears as random, but upon closer speculation, following a deeper look into the apparent sporadic placement of columns and spattering of open spaces (created by the reduction in density of columns) the space begins to resemble an aerial view of a forest.
As well as being highly prevalent in Japanese landscape and culture, the tree is a recurring theme in Japanese mythology. Over time it has become part of the fabric of Japanese culture. The highly eccentric approach of column placement creates an incredible forest-like space, as well as uncountable smaller, more intimate climates within. This beautifully unconventional space is then bound in place by its four glazed walls. In a general sense it feels as if this is an attempt to prevent an elegant steel forest from escaping, but upon closer inspection perhaps it can be seen as a critique on society and building culture of late. I would argue Ishigami has chosen to glaze the external walls to place the internal condition on a petri dish, a statement aimed at questioning the role of nature in modern life. Many of Japan’s traditional building styles have been laid aside and replaced with towering concrete structures that dominate the sky. This modest single story building raises an important question: is there a way to relate modern building practice and large scale constructions with older motifs and techniques?
Inarguably Ishigami’s scheme is a modern creation but nonetheless, roots to traditional Japanese construction begin to become inherently visible, notably in the building’s core layout. The infrequently regular position of columns at first appears to be just that – a completely nonsensical approach to the layout of a building. But much like traditional Japanese homes, the layout of the columns creates a series of small and incredibly intimate spaces which envelope a larger open plan space for communal interaction. This is relatable to the washitsu style arrangement present in conventional homes in Japan. Ishigami’s use of columns, twinned with his admonishment of walls in the plan of this project has led to the creation of a space which questions the need for barriers. Traditionally the plan of Japanese homes is dominated by columns, whilst light sliding screens called shoji are used to abstract private spaces from view, though do not act as a sound barrier or an insulated front. In traditional Japanese architecture, a shōji (障子) is a door, window or room divider consisting of translucent paper over a frame of wood which holds together a lattice of wood or bamboo.
The lack of barriers in the KAIT Pavilion leads to a truly unique personal experience. How one moves is largely by chance or personal interest, but in places columns torque to subliminally create passages of circulation space. This turning of the column guides movement in these areas and creates a certain abstracted flow. This frenetic movement pattern is much like that in Paolo Ucello’s famous painting at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, The Hunt in the Forest. The painting depicts a band of hunters, both on horseback and foot, moving through a forest in search of game. The painting is an example of Ucello’s mastery of linear perspective and he uses this technique to full advantage as it draws viewers into the darkness of the trees, towards the hunters’ prey. This movement is also present in Ishigami’s scheme on a smaller scale. When one enters the building one is drawn to move through the forest of slender white columns to their intended destination. This would cause a similar perspective effect in one’s personal experience. Very few buildings exist that have the same qualities as the KAIT Pavilion. One that has some relevance would be the IBM Pilot Head Office by Foster in Cosham, UK. Although the intensity of column density is incomparable to Ishigami’s scheme, the building’s plan does have some similarities in the latter’s open layout.
As time has progressed the human condition has changed. Once, open plan living was a large part of every day life. This can be said for not only the Japanese washitsu style of dwelling but may be applied much closer to home also: cottiers huts and castle keeps are two examples in a European context. The radical move towards a space that has no barriers whatsoever is not without problems. Anyone who has visited the project will note that noise is a huge issue in the space. This is understandable as engineering and design students undertake a large amount of practical work. The sound of machines running while a lecture goes on 20 metres away with no noise barrier inbetween can result in an atmosphere of annoyance and potential conflict. And yet, could such a situation be harnessed to make people aware of their actions on others? This huge space gathers people together in a way that not many places do. The collected noise of a group of multi-disciplinary students may encourage interaction with those of different skill sets. Personally, I find Ishigami’s scheme to be very beautiful and I imagine it would be a very pleasurable place in which to work. I do wonder, however, would the nature of the space have an effect on the process and orientation of one’s own work?