Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sousuke Fujimoto, architect

In October, 2010, I intereviewed the architect Sousuke Fujimoto about his exhibition at the Watarium Museum in Tokyo.

CBL: First of all, I'd like to say that it is a great exhibition at the Watarium, especially because you use the space so well. As you know, the space at the Watarium is quite narrow and difficult. What was your first thought when you were asked to design an exhibition here? What did you see as the main difficulties?

SF: First of all, I wanted other people besides architects to enjoy the exhibition. And I wanted to physically express the fun of having an architectural idea rather than just exhibiting lots of architectural plans and models in the conventional way. The Watarium Museum has a characteristic space, so I didn't think it was difficult. It was an inspiration in making the exhibition.

CBL: You have created a kind of sandwich. The second floor creates a sensual soft cave from plastic cylinders. The fourth floor is also a sense experience. We experience both the 2nd floor and the fourth floor with our feelings rather than our mind. But the 3rd floor is where all the detail and information is. This is more cerebral. How did you decide on such an effective arrangement?

SF: Thank you, but I didn't think like that. [laughs] On the second floor, the exhibition is 1:1 scale, on the third it is the scale of the various architectural models, and on the fourth floor it is 'city scale.' I was thinking of making each floor different in that way. On the other hand, after it was made, the third floor became a kind of experience because you can walk around between the exhibits freely, and from those models you can get more detailed information, so I think it became quite an interesting place full of architectural models where people can get information but also have an experience.

CBL: You ask the questions: What kind of place will people be living in 10 years, 50 years, and 100 years? What is your own best answer to these questions?

SF: Like a man-made forest, perhaps. [laughs]

CBL: Don't you think the imagination of architects like yourself tends to go much further than people actually want to? Aren't people basically conservative when it comes to architecture?

SF: Rather than 'going much further,' I think architects give clear shape to something that is submerged in the wider collective consciousness. Once revealed it is not so far from people's image. I think architecture is something that effects people strongly the same way when it appears in front of them.

CBL: I sometimes get the impression that Japanese architecture is something of a lie, because Japanese architects (for example Terunobu Fujimori; the architects behind Tokyo Sky Tree; and the so-called Nagoya Eco Expo of 2005) are good at referencing nature, but the reality is more crowded, tall buildings that are the antithesis of nature, and more overdevelopment to maximize profits of developers, etc. In the same way your referencing of "Cloud City," "Forests in the Sky," "Mountain-like Tokyo" makes me suspect that the referencing of nature is just a way to give a good image to development (sugarcoat the pill). Doesn’t the use of such "nature" terminology suggest that modern architecture is actually ashamed, apologetic, guilty, and defensive about what it is doing? Why is this?

SF: Although Tokyo is full of artificial things, I feel the same way about it as the forest in Hokkaido where I was brought up. It's not as simple as man-made versus nature. I think that there's definitely something new that comes into being between nature and manmade things. It's not disengenuous for architects to reference nature. Contemporary architecture is a man-made thing, but even though it is artificial it can become connected to nature. What we need these days is not to divide nature and the man-made but to look for connections and fusions between the two. I think architecture is never all bad, but also nature is never entirely good. I think the best way of living is to avoid the extremes of artificial and natural.

CBL: You once described your art as "Primitive Future." Is your work a rejection of modernism or just an attempt to reflect the post-modern sensibility of present-day people? What are the key defining points or your style?

SF: I'm not denying modernism and I'm not trying to create post-modernism either. I'm loooking for a new architecture of the present. Basically architects want to be as creative as possible and are not so concerned with movements. But I do respect modernism. It made the modern period very vivid. That can't be denied.

CBL: Your design 'Tokyo Apartment' looks like lots of little houses stacked one on top of the other. This strikes me as a very humorous or ironic design. How important is humor in your designs? Or are you completely earnest and serious in your designs?

SF: Humour is very important because it is a joy, but it shouldn't just be humour by itself, but rather connected to the joy of living in a place and making a life there. Of course I'm designing very seriously. The character of my architecture is to make humour and joy seriously.

CBL: Your concepts are always intriguing and entertaining, but I always wonder if I would really like to live in such a building as 'Spiral House' or 'Atelier/ House in Hokkaido.' It might be quite disconcerting and confusing. What are the advantages of living in such buildings, and what kind of house do you personally live in now and how do you feel about it?

SF: Certainly if someones hates 'disconcerting and confusing' they can't live in those buildings, but when people are confused they will unconsciously find out who they are and what is the connection between then and the space, and in this there is a joy. This is the opposite of living in a machine. As for me, I'm living in a normal apartment. [laughs] It's so-so, but it's wonderful that I can see the cherry trees from my apartment windows.

CBL: In a nutshell what is your philosophy of architecture?

SF: It is 'between' - between nature and man-made, between inside and outside, between cities and house - that is my architecture.

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