Occasionally a building emerges that seems to transcend architecture’s inherent limitations. Tokyo designer Junya Ishigami’s Kanagawa Institute of Technology (KAIT) Workshop is one of those buildings. Articulated with minimal means—exterior walls of thin glass and interior clusters of slender white columns—Ishigami’s ethereal structure is barely a building at all. While the transparent enclosure exposes everything inside, the delicate steel columns define scattered oases of open space, each one a different functional component. Awash in soft daylight admitted by glass bands overhead as well as the building’s transparent envelope, Ishigami’s meandering interior landscape creates the ambience of a tree-filled forest, not a college classroom.
A stellar debut, KAIT Workshop is the 34-year-old architect’s first realized building after launching his practice in 2004 following a four-year stint working for Kazuyo Sejima. More recently, he authored Japan’s pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale (page 77). Like the pavilion, the 21,410-square-foot workshop is modest in scale. Yet this single-story glass box is the centerpiece of the school’s 32-acre campus, whose 40-year-old buildings are currently being replaced one by one. When this ambitious makeover is complete, the workshop will be visible from KAIT’s main gate, where its 5,000 budding engineers and scientists pass each day. Located in Atsugi, an exurb 20 miles west of Tokyo, KAIT, like most Japanese universities, is a commuter school. Though Ishigami’s parallelogram-shaped building gently challenges the rectilinear grid of pathways uniting the campus, it fits comfortably within the existing walkways encircling its site. The building has openings on all four sides, but its main entrance, indicated by an indented doorway and thin steel canopy, is closest to the campus gate.