UIA World Congress 2011
There were also a number of events in the days after the main congress, most notably the UIA Assembly meeting on October 1.
Once the imperial benediction had been bestowed, the congress got underway in earnest, with a full program of lectures, discussions, exhibitions, and award ceremonies. I was able to attend the first and third days, and heard much from colleagues and associates about the events I was unable to experience firsthand.
In the afternoon of the first day, the environmental artist Christo gave the first of the congress's three official "keynote speeches." This focused on his Over the River project for the Arkansas River and his project The Mastaba in the United Arab Emirates. The latter involves creating a kind of truncated pyramid made from about 400,000 oil barrels. Although of limited architectural relevance, his speech nevertheless helped to set the dominant ecological tone of the congress.
This was also reflected in the accompanying exhibitions, which, according to the word on the ground, were less exciting and interesting than the ones at the last UIA World Congress in Turin, Italy. The most prominent one in Tokyo was the 10th Ecobuild 2011, an annual Japanese trade show for companies specializing in ecological building materials and technologies, which occupied the TIF's main exhibition space.
Also of interest was a smaller exhibit expounding the King of Thailand's concept of "sufficiency through architecture." This was held at the Mitsuo Aida Museum, located within the main TIF building. Mr. Warachai Tantisiriwat, a former vice president of the Association of Siamese Architects, explained King Bhumibol Adulyadej's efforts to improve the lives of his subjects through a number of cost-cutting and recycling initiatives.
These include a scheme to save on the expense of building and maintaining parish Buddhist temples in Thailand through a program of standardized design. Among the features of the royally approved temple are marbled walls, which do not require painting and therefore repainting, and glazed roof tiles that facilitate the removal of dust by natural rainfall.
Tadao Ando: Architecture as Entertainment
The highlight of the first day was the speech given by Tadao Ando as part of the congress's "social program." This was the most popular and well-attended event of the entire congress, with Ando filling the TIF's largest hall to its 5,000-seat capacity. His chosen theme was "Talking to the young/ what architecture is." Rather than addressing youth in any specific way, however, Ando gave a wide-ranging, down-to-earth speech that served to popularize his architectural concepts. For example, we learned that he is now working on a new house for the rock singer Bono of U2.
Ando reviewed some of the projects from his long career, starting with his suggestion for renovating Osaka's Central Public Hall in the 1970s. His idea was to insert an egg-shaped hall into the red-brick neo-renaissance building, which was built between 1916 and 1918. Not surprisingly this proposal to radically alter a well-known Osaka landmark was rejected by the city government.
Ando used this anecdote to set himself up as a gruff, no-nonsense, but somewhat eccentric visionary at odds with pedantic city planners and conservative clients. This was a theme he built on in the rest of his speech, with the examples of the Honpukuji Water Temple on Awaji Island (1991), the Omotesando Hills mixed-use development in Tokyo (2006), and 21_21 Design Sight (2007).
The Honpukuji Water Temple's design daringly changed a temple containing a pond into a temple that was contained within a pond, with entry to the temple space via a staircase descending through a lotus pond.
Initially this proposal was unpopular with the Buddhist group involved. Ando recalled that the lack of a visible roof structure in the design was a particular sticking point for the priests, since roofs are usually the totemic architectural feature of Buddhist temples. Luckily for Ando, the head priest took a liking to his idea, which led to its eventually winning wider support and being built.
The temple was near the epicenter of the major earthquake that struck the Kobe region in 1995, and Ando made a joke (which some might consider to be in bad taste) that the reason the earthquake struck was because the temple had started charging a 300-yen entrance fee.
With his design for 21_21 Design Sight, a Tokyo exhibition venue dedicated to product design, Ando mentioned that he was inspired by the APOC (A Piece of Cloth) concept of the fashion designer Issey Miyake, who also serves as one of the museum's four directors. In the same way that Miyake strives to create garments from a single piece of cloth, Ando decided to build the roof of 21_21 Design Site using a single sheet of 20-millimeter- (0.8-inch-) thick steel.
Rather than supplying technical details of how such architectural feats were achieved, he simply made mention of the construction companies he had used, the clear implication being that the excellence of construction techniques in Japan gives Japanese architects an extra edge not enjoyed by their foreign colleagues.
"Armani wanted to copy this design, but this will be very difficult to copy outside Japan," Ando added more pointedly.
He also returned several times to the theme of egg-shaped architecture, using the concept almost like a comic refrain, making his speech into a droll and amusing performance.
"The egg" appeared in connection with his proposed design for the Tokyu railway company's flagship station in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, and Ando's Poly Theater in Shanghai, which he described as an opera house. The design for this latter work, which is being constructed in the western suburbs of the city, bisects a square prism — 100 by 100 by 30 meters (330 by 330 by 100 feet) — with angled cylindrical tubes to create passageways that have an ovoid appearance where they reach the exterior.
The Fiber City
Monday also saw the session "City after 2011," a discussion moderated by Japanese architect Ryuji Fujimura, with three panelists: Spanish engineer Jordi Guimet of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Chinese architect Yu Liu, and Japanese architect Hajime Yatsuka of Shibaura Institute of Technology. Yatsuka was serving as a replacement for Hidetoshi Ohno, a professor at Tokyo University known for his concept of a Fiber City, a response to declining urban populations that reconceptualizes the city as a series of interconnected linear spaces characterized by their velocity.
In the discussion, Guimet raised the idea of a participatory city, in which all the information of the city is shared over the web. This broadband concept of a virtual city fit in well with the views of Yatsuka (echoing those of Ohno), who defined the city by its interactions rather than spatially, reflecting the longstanding influence of the Metabolist movement in Japanese architecture.
On Tuesday the most anticipated event was the lecture given by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the partners of SANAA and the joint recipients of the 2010 Pritzker Prize. The architects largely reviewed their body of well-known works, according to Danny Wicaksono, the editor of the Indonesian online magazine Jong Arsitek.
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C.B. Liddell lives in Japan. He is the art and architecture editor of Tokyo's Metropolis, and also writes regularly for The Japan Times and a number of other publications. More by C.B. Liddell