Toyo Ito interview at Omishima: Architecture then, now and next (1-2)
So humans need to build geometric structures/envelopes that do not completely dissolve into nature. But Tibetan temples show that we still can design buildings whose interiors directly connect us to raw nature. This approach resonates with my philosophy a lot. We can leverage the mathematical, solid and structural nature of architecture to re-connect us with our surroundings, not to separate/disconnect the inside from outside, or the human world from nature. That’s the kind of architecture I really want to design now.
Are the Japanese creating such “Asian” creations today, including as architecture?
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan feverishly tried to copy the Western system as if it was the answer to everything, so that it could catch up with advanced countries. But I feel that such an approach has finally reached a total impasse. We need to re-discover our fundamental, almost primitive roots as Asians, find ways to elevate and express them as creative endeavors. I strongly feel that it is our biggest challenge today, but we are not there.
For example, take a look at Japanese cuisine. It is very delicate, fine and sophisticated. But honestly, I am not a big fan of that kind of refinement; I like things that are more natural/untreated. The same applies to architecture. Traditional Japanese architecture was about refining what they imported from the continent – the regional cultural/political center of China – via the Korean Peninsula. When Chinese style painted pillars vivid vermilion, Japanese changed it to use unpainted, natural wood. Korean style used noticeably curving roofs from the top toward the eaves, but the Japanese gentrified the curves to make them much more elegant. You see, the Japanese are good at working from something that already exists to refine it. But they are not that good at creating things from scratch.
What bothers me is that it seems like many Japanese feel too proud of their skills to refine things, and advertise them as authentically Japanese. But what can you expect at the end of such a refinement process? I am afraid that there is nothing. To me it is not something we can celebrate, because it’s almost equal to acknowledging that there is no future in what we are doing. So I am not a big fan of the Sukiya-zukuri kind of architecture you see a lot in Kyoto. I would rather choose “minka” (the Japanese traditional vernacular house) – those houses are much more embracing and resilient. I doubt that the Japanese lost or forgot the minka-like vernacular, primitive power, and that’s the reason why we are shrinking as a country. People are too focused on fine details, and spending too much energy on making them even finer.