Toyo Ito’s ‘Architecture after 3.11’

About two weeks ago, there was a lecture of Toyo Ito’s Architecture after 3.11 at Rubloff Auditorium of Art Institute of Chicago.

It was free to Public.  I was a little worried in case of not being able to attend due to the popularity of his lecture series. When my colleague alerted me with the long line at the entrance, I felt almost giving up the wait and leave.  However, luckily the line went quickly and I was able to attend the lecture although the seat was quiet far away from the stage.  It was OK though.  Good enough to see the full presentation.

After the introductory by Peter Exley, Toyo Ito was with his translator as he spoke Japanese mostly. As the title of the lecture implies, he started his lecture with his insight of the devastating 3.11 tsunami caused by the Earthquake.  He showed briefly a footage that was taken inside of the Sendai Mediatheque (2001) at the moment of the earthquake.

fallen books in the library of the Sendai Mediatheque

Damaged interior space caused by devastating 3.11earthquake

Damaged interior space caused by devastating 3.11earthquake, Jody Verser.

Although interior space may appear damaged heavily with the ceiling materials and furniture, main structure survived the earthquake.  When Toyo Ito visited the closed Sendai Mediatheque after the tsunami, he saw the group of temporary houses provided by the government for the people who lost their home.

Temporary Houses, (The Atlantic, Kimimasa Mayama/Bloomberg via Gertty Images)

Government also considered to raise the seawall to protect.  As it appeared to be an effective choice regardless how much it may cost or how hideous it may look.  However, Toyo Ito had a different idea.

As he felt strongly rebuilding good communities is the most important mission, he began asking, what is architecture here.  He felt that ‘Nature, history, and locality, Modernism cannot embody. (to borrow his words)’  He thought it is too homogeneous. Often he felt that there is no relationship between spaces, floors, and buildings.  With a help from the people who lost their home, the project, ‘Home for All’ was born to reflect the context (nature, history, and locality).

Home for All, Miyagino-ku, Sendai, Toyo Ito, Designboom

Home for All, Miyagino-ku, Sendai, Toyo Ito, Designboom

He pointed out its design enhanced the gathering/community element of the house rather than privacy, and lack of communication.  There is no private room but small bathroom, kitchen, dining room with the outdoor deck for communicating/gathering space.

Next project was ‘Home for all’ in Rikuzentakata (Oct. 2012).  This time, he collaborated with younger fellow Japanese architects, Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, and Akihisa Hirata. He said it was great to see many different ideas about how architecture can rebuild a community.  As far as a building material goes, they agreed to utilize local cedar logs that are blighted by sea (salt) water.  The tall cedar logs became the main structural material for the new home in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.  In fact, this was not designed to be inhabited.  In his mind, this will provide a place for the people who lost their home can gather/meet/communicate.  Bringing people together became the main service of the building.

https://www.japlusu.com/news/%E2%80%9Chome-all%E2%80%9D-rikuzentakata

Home for All in Rikuzentakata, Toyo Ito

He went on with other projects showing use of earth floor, and revived traditional cooking stove,

As the government planned 5-6m of soil over the land  for safety.  He also showed a couple of rendered sketches (illustrations) to show higher ground ‘mounds’ ideas as many felt the same way.  He had several rebuilding/restoring plans sketched but declined.

Sketch by Toyo Ito, Designboom

Sketch by Toyo Ito, Designboom

He went over Tobu district reconstruction plan, and the revival future town of Kamaishi project.

Sketch by Akihisa Hirata Architecture Office

Then, as a last and latest under development project, he showed us the Gifu media cosmos.

Interior view of Gifu media cosmos, Toyo Ito, SAIC

Its concept was both open to nature and harmonize with people.  A couple of things I found interesting were the ceiling materials. Woven ceiling structure with skylight pod hood suspended at various areas throughout the library space.  I think one can get a similar design cue from the previous Sendai Mediatheque project and it may show how the ideas evolved over time.  Another feature of the building is that it uses underground water for cooling and heating the building.  Either cooled or heated underground water flows under the concrete slab through the building and helps circulating the either cooled or heated air inside.  In hot summer, hot air is all vented out through the top of the building, and the circulation of warm air can be kept inside in winter.

As I walked out from the lecture, I thought this was a very different lecture from him as the title goes ‘architecture after 3.11’

Except for the last library project in the presentation, all the projects he has shown looked a bit far from ‘modern architecture.’  They were surely minimal, but fundamental, traditional, localized, and public(open). encouraging interactions.  All, common goal was the rebuilding communities, connecting people, shifting attitude from healing to support the recovery.  It would be very interesting to see how those projects helped people from reconstructing communities at each implemented town a few years from now.

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