30 December, 2010

In mid-90s a group of students from Moscow Architectural Institute (MARKHI) on a trip to Europe visited Vitra factory in Weil am Rhein, Germany, to tour Japanese Tadao Ando’s seminar house and garden, a part of an international project, highly praised in architectural journals. These students were anxious to see it in no time, not missing a minute. Right after their arrival to their hostel, in spite of a very late hour, they went out for a night survey near the

pavilion. They adored it. My daughter, then a student of MARKHI, was one of the participants. Ando’s works meant so much to them!
Knowing Tadao Ando’s name from her, while I was in Japan this year, I explored, one by one, his projects in Tokyo: Striking modesty, simplicity, purity of style, clearness of expression.
In Japan I was absolutely enchanted by both the daring architecture of today and shrines and gardens of Kyoto, Kamakura, Nara. Before my travel I had seen only glimpses of Japan: Tarkovsky’s amazing images of night Tokyo in Solaris, Kurosawa’s gates and castles, breathtaking Tokyo and Kyoto’s tranquility in Lost in Translation... but all virtual perceptions bleak when meeting real Japan.
And then I had a lucky chance to study Japan further in Venice, when I was visiting the 12th Architectural Biennale that ended in late November.
It invited representatives of 54 countries and was attended by 170,000 visitors, among them 49%  youth and students. It was a meeting place for professionals, a testing ground for newest concepts, ‘unthinkable’ ideas to overturn the world (but saving our natural environment, of course) and a unique observation point for the laymen like me. Japan was in the focus of everybody’s interest.
Japan’s participation was unparalleled, starting from the fact that Kadzuo Sejima, a great architect of our time, was its curator, the first lady in Biennale’s history to guide it. Arata Isozaki was a jury member. Kadzuo Sinohara was awarded (posthumously) a prize. Junya Ishigami triumphed in Venice receiving one (of the two) highest Golden Lion prizes for his ‘unique and uncompromising vision’ (project ‘Architecture as Air.’) Tezuo Kondo amazed everybody with his atmospheric installation, and ‘House Behaviorology (atelier Bow-Wow) displayed a great variety of 1:20 models and photos, a visual anthology of comfortable housing units, diverse in style, based on national tradition. Viewers responded: “Very creative,” “beautiful work,” “awesome,” “practically the best thing at the exhibition...”
The great architect Toyo Ito was awarded this year’s Premium Imperiale in the architecture category for his project of Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, Taiwan which may become as significant for this century as Sidney Opera was for the past one. And the ‘Tokyo Metabolizing’ exhibition (in Japan’s national pavilion) revealed the concept of metabolism also born half a century ago, now generally accepted.
Palaces, fashionable high-rises, corporation headquarters were missing, instead one could observe ‘real’ housing, gardens, theaters, museums, public amenities, in accordance with the exhibition’s theme ‘People Meet the Architecture’ created by Kadzuo Sejima. She explained: “The idea is to help people relate to architecture, help architecture to relate to people, and help people relate to themselves.” Very humanistic!
One exhibition visitor, Ivan, wrote about her guidance: “I am from Venice, I study architecture, and I am proud that she (Kadzuo Sejima) had been leading this year’s Biennale.”
The great architect Toyo Ito declared passionately: “The thing that worries me the most is that everyone wears the same things, eats the same things and lives in the same environment.” (Visit ‘new Moscow,’ and you’ll understand what dulness and similarity means.) In Venice I witnessed how Japanese architects oppose universal standardization and the betrayal of historic tradition. They are the best.

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