Thursday, 6 March 2008

Kisho Kurokawa, architect

I met the architect Kisho Kurokawa on the 12th of December, 2006 at his office in Akasaka to talk about his new building the National Art Centre Tokyo. We spoke for around 90 minutes. I remember that he was lively, spoke good English, wore braces, and was looking at a collection of medals and awards laid out on a large table. Before I could finish transcribing the entire audioscript, however, the disc mysteriously malfunctioned and I lost the recording. This is why there are gaps in this interview and the end is missing. When Mr. Kurokawa died less than a year later, I retrospectively interpreted the loss of the recording as an omen of his death - spooky!.

CBL: How did you approach this project? How did you get the inspiration for this project?

KK: It started 10 years ago at the time when Murayama was Prime Minister. Since then, a lot evolved from various constraints like budget problems. The preliminary name of this project was the National Gallery, but finally they changed the name to the National Art Centre.

CBL: That sounds like quite a different thing, as well.

KK: Yes, because of it has no collection. That is the most advanced type of museum. Such an age we are now living in. With the IT technology we can see a real image – more real than the real one, than someone who has a collection… We can see a more real image through the Internet.

CBL: It’s not the same as seeing the real painting. But you can get more access through the Internet.

KK: But because we already have digital, high vision high definition type of the television, with Internet technology it is really more than the real things. Sometimes the real one is behind the class case…

CBL: …or there are heads in the way.

KK: So, so, so. We cannot see the real texture. I have, of course, such an experience. But from the image through the Internet – oh such a detail! So, in that sense, we must think what is the real role of the future museum? Is it necessary to collect the whole the original paintings and sculpture, and is it possible for us to collect the Impressionist painting now? Almost impossible! Sometimes one painting is the same value as the construction cost of the museum.

CBL: And it’s so difficult to get the art to Japan with high costs.

KK: So this kind of museum – the first museum with no collection – is a more positive way to break through the situation of the new era of the museum. ‘What is the museum?’

CBL: So, it’s almost like the museum has become a kind of airport.

KK: Airport or just space, or the environment.

CBL: People passing through – art passing through.

KK: Yes, to meet together and to see any kind of images from all over the world, and then we need a huge space and the IT linking, the optical fiber and Internet linkage and also the more advanced type of the handling space of the works. So, I did really the kind of automatic storage type - compact mechanism of the delivery…sending out…

CBL: I went down there and saw how it was organized.

KK: It’s the storage industry or something.

CBL: I thought it was like a giant artistic filter system.

KK: OK, yes, that is a good… yes…

CBL: You have these lines and you have the art coming in and some of it is selected…

KK: Filter means the jury people just sitting around – hee hee – and, by the second, the picture is passing through.

CBL: The structure was like a filter as well. Was that a conscious thing?

KK: Yes, of course, because the intention is such a thing….

[gap in the transcription]

KK: It is the representation of my philosophy of symbiosis. My most important books.

CBL: Symbiosis means two things living together….nature & mankind?

KK: Reason and feeling…

CBL: Darkness & light?

KK: Man and nature, humankind and other animals, interior and exterior, spirit and body…

CBL: Hardware and software?

KK: This year I published my 100th book. It is Kurokawa year in Japan.

[gap in the transcription]

CBL: I think philosophy is a problem because I think, compared to architecture… because with philosophy you can’t see it and feel it, but with architecture you can see it and feel it. With philosophy, the form it normally takes are words, and every word is questionable, y’know. Who knows what one word means? For different people it means different things, then when you have a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter, then a book the amount of variation in understanding increases, so language is very fuzzy and confusing for most people.

KK: I think the art, architecture – or the masterpiece of architecture – is fuzzy. It should be fuzzy. If this is the real value of the painting of Picasso, of the architecture by Le Corbusier – it is fuzzy. We don’t know the real intention by Le Corbusier. Of course, I can read his book and I can check his message, then I can feel the feeling of the space, but of course this is my feeling. I’m not sure Le Corbusier’s intention is my feeling or not. So, this kind of creation is the masterpiece. If this is easy to understand… This is the factory. This is functional. This is easy to understand. This is the entrance way. This is the exit, but this is not art. This is not fuzzy, but not architecture. This is my understanding.

CBL: So, you want architecture that creates ambiguity?

KK: So, so, so, so, so!

CBL: ….and a little bit of confusion?

KK: Ahaa! Yes, hopefully. That makes the people thinking or makes the people go into the maze.

CBL: My problem with philosophy is that it becomes too abstract, and what you always need to do is have very clear examples and then it’s a lot easier to understand. So now the best example that we have before us now is the National Art Center. What sort of elements did you introduce to create this kind of ambiguity?

KK: The first one is the ambiguity of interior and exterior. My feeling is that it’s quite successful. I’m not sure if people can feel the same way. The second way is this, is the hi-tech and primitive; hi-tech because it is transparency. I’m using very hi-tech details in a clip on the façade and a cleaning robot, and laminated the louvers for controlling ultraviolet and sunshine energy. So for these details is very environmental thinking.

CBL: I remember walking down the corridor and the lights go on when you’re there and off when you’re not.

KK: And the façade itself – complete 100% transparency but also 100% cut off sun energy and ultraviolet rays.

CBL: All the ultraviolet is filtered out? A bit like the bad art! Another filter system?

KK: But in a sense this is the saving energy technology, but the people can feel the tender lighting is coming in. This is not just technology. This is something like a good feeling of sunshine. This is another ambiguity or multi-variety.

CBL: What sort of primitive elements? You said hi-tech and primitive.

KK: Can you understand the floor? That is ironwood from Borneo.

CBL: I noticed the holes drilled in the ventilation panels [in the floor].
KK: That is air conditioning, but all floor are wood, natural wood imported from Borneo, because this is hard enough. I can keep this floor a hundred years. Durable! That’s why I can use this floor of interior space. It’s continuing outside of the facade – the same material. That makes the people very ambiguous feeling ‘I’m interior? Or I’m standing on the exterior?’

CBL: They don’t even notice, maybe, when they enter the building.

KK: And the touch is soft because of the wood.

CBL: It absorbs the footsteps more.

KK: And we can feel the nature, walking on the nature. One side is very hi-tech architectures and one side is very primitive, natural…

CBL: I also noticed some wicker chairs. Instead of plastic, which you expect, there’s wicker chairs. Then of course, the other thing I noticed was the bamboo gardens.

KK: So, so, so! It makes the whole feeling of the nature. Even the storage is hi-tech, the facade is high tech but still very natural.

CBL: But very stylized nature, because, for example, the bamboo garden the bamboo was very straight and geometrically arranged.

KK: Yes, intentionally.

[gap in the transcription, but I remember that he talked about the mathematician Benoit Mandlebrot and the way in which fractal geometry had made designs more flexible]

CBL: Why the cones?

KK: This is simply because of cost. They wanted a restaurant and a café in the front part of the building. I placed both of them above the atrium and to maximize floor space below I reduced the base of each structure, creating the inverted cone shapes. The facade then undulates around them.

CBL: It’s hard to believe that such an aesthetically pleasing design was dictated by purely practical rather than aesthetic reasons.

KK: Yes, but this is the essence of my theory of symbiosis – I was seeking a symbiosis between form and function.

CBL Two birds with one stone

[the transcription ends here]

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