A Japanese Constellation

MoMA offers a look at contemporary Japanese architecture with a nod to post-earthquake responsibility.

Header Image: Acrylic model by Toyo Ito & Associates. (Photo: Courtesy MoMA)

The latest architecture exhibition at New York City’s MoMA is captivating. Miniature proposals for contemporary living contemplate related themes such as ecology, social dynamics, and futurism, but with aesthetics ranging from geometric to biomimetic. Curated by Pedro Gadanho, former curator of contemporary architecture at the museum, “A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond” opens to the public on March 13.

The use of “constellation” in the title is intended to play with the current trend of name-brand “starchitects” putting themselves center stage, sometimes even more prominently than their work. By presenting these Japanese architects in a group, the curators are upending that individualistic approach, which, in an exhibition that features luminaries like Toyo Ito, Sou Fujimoto, and SANAA, is no easy task.

This intention is somewhat subverted though by the choice to display each architect’s work separately, their names printed in large letters on the wall. Smooth white, metallic, or light toned wood are used throughout the exhibition, and the dedication to minimalist, organic forms was another constant. Sections are divided by white curtains onto which renderings and photographs are projected; the images, though muted, are often visible from the other side.

Kanagawa Institute of Technology Workshop, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo: Courtesy MoMA)

The area exhibiting the Home-for-All initiative is the only section of the exhibition not devoted to a single architect or practice. Instead, it examines a response by the architectural community to the damage of Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Five architects, led by Toyo Ito, have worked to design communal structures in areas of temporary housing for those displaced by the earthquake.

The display consists of a lone model (the collaborative work of four firms) and a documentary film on the larger project. In this model, the architects seem to have ceded their own stylistic interests in favor of more familiar, friendly forms. Gabled, tiled roofs appear for the first time in the show. Human-scale, traditional walls replace radical curvatures. The three-story structure might even pass for a traditional home were it not for the multitude of wooden beams that stretch from the foundation to above the highest roof. The result is a playful riff on the tree house.

The entirety of the design seems to foreground what earthquake survivors might find most comforting—a reminder of the familiar, with an artistic flavor. In the Home-for-All project, the architects have brought it upon themselves to come together, suppressing their egoism in order to help others. In this, a constellation crystallizes.

A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond
Museum of Modern Art
11 W. 53rd St., New York, NY 10019
March 13-July 4, 2016


All Stories