Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rebuilding From The Rubble: Three Japanese Architects Construct Amidst Destruction

Tadao Ando's Benesse House Oval on the island of Naoshima. Via.

After years of toxic emissions from refineries built during Japan’s era of modernization, Naoshima, an island in Japan’s Kagawa Prefecture, had become a barren wasteland – a dumping ground for industrial waste. So when philanthropist Soichiro Fukutake approached Pritzker-winning architect Tadao Ando in 1988 to join him in his vision to revitalize the land, Ando’s initial response was, unsurprisingly, “No, that’s impossible.”

Fukutake had purchased the south side of the island two years earlier, aiming to use art as a catalyst for the island’s economic growth. He eventually managed to convince Ando to get on board, and in 1992, work began on Ando’s new building: the Bennesse House, a hotel and museum that provides guests with perhaps the most up-close-and-personal experience with art in the world.

Now, Naoshima has been transformed into a massive art project, and has become a major tourist attraction for art fanatics all over the world, due in no small part to Ando’s work on the many attractions situated on the island. It has since grown to include artists like Shinro Otake, the man responsible for creating a museum where you can bathe in an art environment - even the bath itself was designed by Otake.

Ando introduced his eighth work on Naoshima two years ago: the Ando Museum, a 100-year-old traditional wooden house with an interior that demonstrates his signature style, mixing past and present in a wood-and-concrete building.

But when it comes to rebuilding, the scope of Ando’s work extends far beyond Naoshima. In 1995, the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Kobe, killing 6,434 people and destroying countless expressways, buildings, and homes in the process. Many of these buildings held cultural significance, and had just barely survived the bombings of World War II.

In response to this massive loss, Ando proposed an art museum and a waterfront plaza in Kobe that could serve as a shelter for refugees. Few could claim to be more qualified than Ando for the job, as he had designed 35 buildings in the Kobe area, and none of them suffered so much as a crack.

Today, the museum is a big tourist attraction in Kobe, which has since recovered from the disaster, and Ando continues to design buildings, his most recent project being the Visitor, Exhibition and Conference Center at the Clark Art Institute in Massachussetts.

Ando is the third of seven Japanese architects to win the Pritzker Prize (second only to America), the highest honor an architect can receive, since the award’s inception in 1979. Last year’s recipient, Shigeru Ban, is the most recent of the seven award winners.

Shigeru Ban's temporary churches serve as community centers as well as places of worship for disaster ravaged towns. Via. 

Ban, like Ando, is known for his work in helping regions rebuild – he was also in Kobe building shelters for victims of the earthquake, but of a different kind. Ban believes that shelters should be not only reliable, but cheap, easy to disassemble, and portable. Following this philosophy, he developed the “Paper Log House”, a shelter composed of donated beer crates loaded with sandbags and paper tubes. Additionally, he designed “Paper Church”, a community center in Kobe also built with paper tubes. It now stands in Taiwan, having been disassembled and later reconstructed there in 2008.

In an announcement on the official Pritzker Prize website, Ban said that his Japanese upbringing helps account for his wish to waste no materials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an environmentalist.

“When I started working this way, almost thirty years ago, nobody was talking about the environment. But this way of working came naturally to me. I was always interested in low cost, local, reusable materials,” he said.

And in a New Yorker profile, he went on to say, “I do not know the meaning of ‘Green Architect.’ I have no interest in ‘Green,’ ‘Eco,’ and ‘Environmentally Friendly.’ I just hate wasting things.”

Toyo Ito's "Home-for-All" project in the tsunami-struck city of Rikuzentakata. Via.

Toyo Ito, another like-minded Japanese architect who won the Pritzker Prize , said of Ban, “Many architects in the world today are competing only for the beauty of the architectural form. Ban-san’s attempt is a counter-punch against these architects, and I think he represents a new model of a ‘socially responsible’ architect.”

Ito himself could be called socially responsible – in his book Toyo Ito – Force of Nature, he discusses his work on “Home for All”, a project to build small homes made of wood in communities affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami where everyone can gather and communicate with each other. He writes:
In the modern period, architecture has been rated highest for its originality. As a result, the most primal themes—why a building is made and for whom—have been forgotten. A disaster zone, where everything is lost offers the opportunity for us to take a fresh look, from the ground up, at what architecture really is. ‘Home-for-All’ may consist of small buildings, but it calls to the fore the vital question of what form architecture should take in the modern era—even calling into question the most primal themes, the very meaning of architecture.
In an interview with Domus, he talks about his motivation for the project:
After the big earthquake in Japan we had to make a lot of sacrifices, many victims came out of that and so we went back to zero, we went back to the idea of architecture as a place to make people gather, a place that everybody can use. This is what we have done, restarting the city once again as it has happened so many times in our history. It is a way to make architecture that can be applicable all over the world, thinking architecture as a social tool, as a way of creating spaces to make people stay together.
Perhaps it is this sense of social responsibility and deeper thinking as to what architecture is really about and who it is for that has separated these award-winning Japanese architects from the rest of the pack.

While the three may have vastly different styles and approaches to their work, their works will not only be remembered for their ingenuity, but their impact on the communities they were created to support.

--Mark Gallucci


Unknown said...

Naoshima is a beautiful island that is located in the Seto Inland Sea in Japan. This region is well known around the globe because of its modern art museums, architecture and sculptures. I also visited this amazing destination after enjoying my philadelphia to baltimore bus tours with my younger brother. It is an ideal spot for the history and nature lovers. This region attracts the travelers due to its; Mediterranean atmosphere, sandy beaches and sunny weather.

Suzan Baker said...

The home for all, definitely is incredible. I am very impressed.
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Patricia Carter said...

They are all so wonderful But personally i likie the last one better for obvious resons.
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