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Visitors find his Gifu Media Cosmos building “fragrant to the eyes” and the Sendai Mediatheque, “a living room for city dwellers”.
Toyko-based, Pritzker Prize architect Toyo Ito is known for his superbly executed buildings, which connect with people and are high on innovation. In his talk at the India Design 2016 last weekend in Delhi, Ito opened the session with renderings of the Tokyo skyline. His concerns about the grid-like homogenous landscape have led him to focus on the relation between inside and outside spaces. “People who live in skyscrapers on the eight floor or the 80th, live the same way; they lose touch with nature,” he says.
His designs, therefore, create that space for people, reducing the gap between architecture and nature. In the critically acclaimed Sendai Mediatheque in Miyagi, Japan, the transparent shell allows for visibility and transparency. Though a “steel and glass” building, it appears to float off the street, while large latticed tubes stretch from the ground to the roof. Compared to trees in a forest, these columns work as light shafts and are continuous with the surroundings outside, where trees line the street.
“This project faced opposition from the locals, there was even a campaign against building a library in the area. But I got permission, and when we finished it five years later people arrived in large numbers. Now, they use it as an alternative to park visits. I realised if you do a good job and keep people in mind, they will appreciate it,” says the 74-year-old.
With numerous awards to his credit, Ito’s designs have transformed pavilions, parks, office buildings, theatres and homes, in Japan and abroad. If his wooden roof in Odate sits like a worker’s helmet on the site, it is also the world’s largest dome, which affords natural light into the stadium during the day. The Tower of Winds, a 21-metre-tall cylindrical building , is clad in perforated aluminium panels, and translates sound and wind into light. Its cutting-edge technology embraces the city creating a dialogue, powering 1,300 lamps, 12 neon rings and 30 flood lights at its base. A funeral hall in Gifu observes the piety and purity of life in its sleek and undulating roof and stiletto-like pillars.
But his public projects did not begin until he was 40, Ito confesses. “Until then I was serving one client, doing private houses. But in public buildings, one has to satisfy the needs of the community. When the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 struck Japan, I asked myself, can I create something I can share with survivors? I want to redefine my architecture more, so that I can share more,” he says.
Ito is known for his synthesis of structure, space and form that creates inviting places, and his sensitivity to landscape. His ideas for “tomorrow’s architecture” include blurring boundaries, optimal utilisation of energy and materials, and changing traditional building geometries. All these principles come together in Gifu Media Cosmos, which has a library, cafes and other interaction areas. The library has large roof funnels, which are planned as reading, resting and study zones. Made from polyester shades, they allow light to filter into the inner spaces. Keeping with the circular pattern, the furniture too is arranged around wooden spiral bookcases. The main roof is a latticed wood structure with openings where natural light streams through. The wood was locally available and done by over 150 carpenters from the area. A champion of open spaces, this library even allows children to run around and play freely, unlike most other libraries, with separate areas for children. Ito reasons, “When you’re in a park and there are children, you don’t mind it. Why will you separate them here?”
For an architect, who is known for his larger projects, Ito hopes to do smaller projects in smaller cities. “I don’t want to keep to any style, I want to keep trying new designs and never be satisfied,” he says.