In his collaboration with the architect Arata Isozaki on the 2002 design competition for a new train station for Florence, Italy, the Japanese structural engineer Mutsuro Sasaki reversed his traditional role. He started with what he calls the “target values” for stress and deformation loads, and then worked back to the final structure. Instead of taking a given form and optimizing its structural conditions based on calculated stress loads, Sasaki generated an otherwise unknowable form by applying those “target values” on individual components of the structure. Each application rippled through the structure until a definitive form emerged.
“I like to take a different position for each project,” Sasaki says, which rather simplistically summarizes a working process that largely depends on theoretical research he conducts as a professor in the department of architecture at Tokyo’s Hosei University. During the interview, Sasaki quietly speaks through the voice of his translator, Hiraiwa Yoshiyuki, one of a few architects in his employ. Meetings like this occur at the small conference table in the surprisingly diminutive offices of his Tokyo firm, Sasaki Structural Consultants, surrounded by books and other publications featuring his work. Fewer than a dozen employees—engineers, architects, and assistants, many of them his former students—sit at workstations and ponder designs for some of the most exciting contemporary buildings in architecture today. Nothing about the fluorescent-lit surroundings suggests this as an office where a structure like that of the Florence station could emerge. “I don’t think so much about the future, about some clear idea of what I’m going to do next,” he says.