Toyo Ito interview at Omishima Island: Architecture then, now and next (3)
Part III: Architecture now and next
If you have already read Part I and II of the interview, you may have noticed that Toyo Ito’s vision for architecture is not limited/restricted by what modern architecture means to our society. He looks far beyond – or goes far back to the fundamentals. Instead of diving deep into up-to-date design/engineering details that define prestige projects today, he often talks about “remembering the Jomon era and inherent abilities of humans that modern people almost forgot.” The Jomon is the Japanese prehistoric, hunter-gatherer era (albeit surprisingly civilized), during which people obviously did not have knowledge-based disciplines such as geometry or architecture. But Ito doesn’t solely rely on modern disciplines to define his “architecture” – he embraces rudimentary endeavors by humans to construct anything meaningful in order to resiliently adapt to the surrounding environment and thrive, by taking advantage of what nature has left for them. In that sense, “architecture” for Ito may not even be just about buildings and their design; it concerns fundamental ideas/behaviors of creating something in between the humans world and nature.
In Part III, he talks how he is incorporating his philosophy into real projects, including the community revitalization projects on the island of Omishima in Western Japan.
Your works are eye-opening in many ways. How does your actual work process look like when you create something so uniquely connected to nature?
It almost sounds like people’s senses are part of natural world, and their sensorial values play a big role in your architecture. But when modern technology isolates us from the harsh exterior environment, that damages our senses. We no longer leverage them to adjust to the environment – technology adjusts the indoor environment for us. Is that how things should work? How do you leverage technology to “connect inside and outside?”
It sounds like your version of “efficient architecture” lets users define/achieve efficiency by leveraging technology.
Along those lines, I have a secret desire to design a concert theater in which you can even lie down to listen to the music, if that’s what you want to do. But as you know, everyone expects to sit in a comfortable chair and behave politely when attending a concert. So maybe no one will commission such a project, I guess (laugh).
The Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Imabari opened in Omishima lsland in 2011. Ever since, you have been heavily involved in various local community revitalization activities. Omishima looks to be a very unique place for you to realize the kind of architecture as an extension of nature you have been talking, because the place still retains an almost mythological, pristine environment – although the new freeway systems that recently connected the island with the mainland is changing the dynamics in many aspects. What is your mission here?
The old people who have been here for their entire lives are not really enthusiastic about starting new projects. They say “We are good. We don’t need anything anymore. We are just happy even though we don’t have much money.” In the meantime, young people keep leaving because they can’t find jobs on the island. There is only one high school here, but it’s on the verge of shutting down because there are not enough students. We are trying to help so that it can stay open, but it’s a difficult situation.
The dilemma of this island is how to balance the preservation of a rich heritage with revitalization. If local people choose not to rely on economic development, or high-impact tourism to prosper (because that could damage the natural environment nor local traditions), what are the alternative options? That’s the theme we have been working on with local people, and that’s the reason why I named the current exhibition at my museum “Protecting = Creating the Sacred Island of Omishima.” We need to inherit/protect what our ancestors left to us, but can we leverage it as drivers/sources to re-create a vibrant local economy and a happier community? That’s our goal.
Could you tell us a little bit about ongoing projects?
The projects that Ito’s team have been running on Omishima go far deeper than designing buildings; it’s almost about designing a “beyond-modern” blueprint for a resilient and self-sufficient community that is appropriately connected and interacting with nature. Deepest thanks to Toyo Ito, who was gracious to share his current thinking in such a special setting. What a priceless experience to reflect what modernism has been all about in the thick of pristine environment, from where every one of us came from. At a profound level, the message he is sending from Omishima is critically relevant as we enter critical junction of history. Stay tuned with his next action.
READ MORE ABOUT TOYO ITO’s OMISHIMA PROJECT