|The gallery in the Kirin Plaza building,
Shin Takamatsu's brooding masterpiece at the commercial
heart of Osaka, has long provided a generous and hospitable
venue for avant-garde art. In recent years, with architecture
critic and historian Taro Igarashi as part of the curatorial
team, exhibitions on avant-garde architecture have also
become relatively frequent.
The current show is entitled "New Geometry Architecture:
Toward an Alternative Modernism," and presents
the work of two architects born a generation apart:
Shuhei Endo (born in 1960, established his office in
Osaka in 1988), and Sou Fujimoto (born in 1971, established
his office in Tokyo in 2000). Although they have distinctive
design approaches, they share an interest in unusual
building forms, primarily involving curvilinear surfaces.
Shuhei Endo is well known for his experiments with corrugated steel sheets, which he forms into continuous looping bands that are able to act as walls or roofs. By using them to wrap and shelter architectural spaces, Endo gives a clear visual expression to his desire for spatial continuity between interior and exterior. Sou Fujimoto has produced a number of interesting built and unbuilt works that also experiment with unusual shapes, most notably his winning proposal for the Annaka Environment Art Forum competition. Although the project has sadly been cancelled, it would have been a vast single-level hall, ambiguously divided into smaller zones by a protean outer wall that simultaneously defined semi-enclosed exterior plazas.
Rather than just filling the gallery with models on tables and photographs on walls, the two architects have each taken half the space to install a full-scale fragment of their personal ideas about space and form. Safety regulations required them to use lightweight, light-colored polystyrene, and this same material has been used to line the gallery floor; visitors must change into slippers before entering the exhibition.
Endo's contribution is an array of freestanding strips
of thin polystyrene foam, laminated in various combinations
to give differing degrees of rigidity. They naturally
tend to curl and droop, and the gallery air-conditioning
keeps them waving at random speeds and rhythms. Some
areas of the polystyrene surfaces are used as projection
screens for images of Endo's buildings. Adjacent to
this, Fujimoto has designed a thick polystyrene foam
wall that traces a casual loop in plan, overlapping
and intersecting itself -- an architectural object designed
for the exhibition, with no direct relation to any of
his real projects. Some very ordinary light fittings
and items of furniture have been placed within, perhaps
intended to contrast with the warped walls. Window-like
notches give fragmentary views of the spaces inside,
and of Endo's objects beyond.
Indeed, the two installations act as frames and backdrops
for each other, and are complementary in their configurations
-- droops in elevation versus loops in plan. Perhaps
the primary difference between them is that Fujimoto
has consciously designed his shapes, whereas Endo's
shapes emerged naturally, reflecting the emphasis in
his recent work on using catenary curves generated by
the effects of gravity on construction materials.
It's a moot point as to whether there is anything especially
new (or even geometrical) about the work here. Perhaps
a limited budget kept the exhibition from being as innovative
as it might have been, but the use of unadorned shapes
made from a single material has distilled the show into
a lucid and interesting spatial experience -- which
is, after all, what an exhibition of architecture should