The Museum of Modern Art’s latest architectural exhibition, A Japanese Constellation, is neither a retrospective-like presentation nor a comprehensive look at contemporary Japanese architecture. It is, as its name suggests, a group show. The architects represented include Pritzker Prize–winners Toyo Ito and SANAA, and the rising stars in their orbit.
Organized by Pedro Gadanho, former curator of contemporary architecture at MoMA, the show explores the “radical aesthetic attitude,” as Gadanho calls it, of this group. On view through July 4, A Japanese Constellation cannot help but have a generational aspect. It opens with the work of Ito, who, at a youthful 75 years of age, is not only the senior member of this cluster but also its pedagogic leader.
Kazuyo Sejima—both her and Ryue Nishizawa’s independent projects are exhibited in addition to their collaborative work as SANAA—spent several formative years in Ito’s office in the early 1980s. The youngest members of the group—Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, and Junya Ishigami—all in their early 40s, point to Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque, completed in 2001, when each of them was just beginning their architectural careers, as a transformative work and towering influence.
Models and drawings for that building, with its treelike multifunctional columns, are on display along with dozens of others by the six architects, in a series of gallery spaces separated by layers of diaphanous fabric scrims. The effect of those veils, onto which photographs of the buildings— both completed and under construction— are hazily projected, is to create an ethereal space that evokes the architecture presented within it.
That emphasis on lightness, and the integration of building and landscape, however, and the childlike quality of many of the models on display, belie the complexity of these groundbreaking buildings. Catch a glimpse of construction shots of Ito’s National Taichung Theater in Taiwan, for instance, as photos of that project rotate on the linen-like partitions, and you can’t help but be struck by the immense clusters of curving rebar that fill its bell-shaped, sprayed, and poured-concrete walls.
The work of the younger architects continues to push boundaries. In Ishigami’s design for the Multipurpose Plaza for Kanagawa Institute of Technology, a thin, curving steel roof will span column-free over nearly 50,000 square feet. Hirata’s use of mathematical algorithms and geometric patterns found in nature as the basis for his bold structural designs references his work in Ito’s office, where he was involved in the early designs for the Taichung Theater.
The exhibit ends with Home-for-All, a reconstruction project involving Ito, Hirata, and Fujimoto, following the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. It demonstrates not just the experimental but the social values in the work of this group.