I had the opportunity to interview Sou Fujimoto in 2011. Here is the transcript of our conversation. (LD: me; SF: Sou Fujimoto)

LD: Which factor listed below is the most important in your way of finding your own design methodology? If the answer is none of them, then what is that?1) Theories and practices of Japanese architects of the elder generation (like Kazunari Sakamoto, Kazuo Shinohara, Toyo Ito …) 2) theories and practices of western architects or philosophers 3) personal memory in your childhood, your intuition or immediacy

SF: of course, I have received a lot of influences from Toyo Ito and Kazuyo Sejima, but also I have received the professional education from Western architecture too. However, I am not practicing under a way that is completely identical with their methodologies. I struggle to pursue the origin of architecture, that is, returning back to the primitive and fundamental departure of the interaction of human and space. What I am trying to accomplish is to redefine and rediscover the thought of the so-called concept of the “building,” the “home” and the “library.”

LD: What is your attitude about their theories (such as the poetics in the ordinary, symbolism inherent in space …)? Inherit? Build upon them and develop? or Criticize? 

SF: From Toyo Ito, I accepted the altitude of treating architecture initiatives and positively; from Sejima, I learned the necessity of the inventive challenge towards architecture; and Kazuo Shinohara has greatly influenced me with his primitive idea that returning to the architecture which acts as human’s habitat place. For me, all the above factors influence me a lot. But rather than taking these thoughts as my architectural concept, I would like to reconsider architecture by my own original way which, absolutely, is built upon the ideas from former architects.

LD: How do you think about the mentor-apprentice tradition among the contemporary Japanese architects, for instance, from Toyo Ito to Kazuyo Sejima, then to Nishizawa Ryue or Junya Ishigami? And how would you like to locate yourself in a historic context? Or there is no relevance at all?

SF: Actually, I don’t really care about this tradition. Doubtless, Toyo and Kojima have great influences on many people, but I don’t think it is necessary to follow their paths. My understanding is to generate a new clue after accepting their previous efforts. For Ito, although he accepts the influences from Kenzo Tange and Isozaki Arata, he doesn’t follow their established clue. What I expect to see is a more complicate diversity but colorful and multifold rather than one clear tradition yet which is yet monochromous.

LD: What do you think of the common characters of Japanese architects of your generation (like Junya Ishigami, Atelier Bow-Wow, Tezuka Architects …)?

SF: Regarding the development of contemporary architecture, I believe that there must be some kind of special nature embedded with the Japanese architecture, which is originally designed by the independent Japanese architects.

LD: I remember that you have made a confession that your favorite architect was Louis Kahn (probably in one of your conversations with Ryue Nishizawa). And is there any particular reason for that preference?

SF: What I learn from Kahn is very much similar as that from Kejima, that is, to think and define architecture from the point zero. I was also influenced by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Therefore, it seems that Kahn isn’t the only architect that I like.

LD: It seems that there are always contradictory terms being overlaid in your core design concepts, like primitive & future, prototype & particular (time and location), singularity (house) & cluster (city) …Those intense combinations trigger the interactivity between users and space. Hence, the enacted potential of space helps achieving the “new vision”. Is this a right way interpreting your design?

SF: That’s true. There exist many contradictions within the overall perspective, including the many characters under the macroscopic circumstance, such as inside and outside, primitive and future, home and urban, etc. These are the gradation elements that generated within the whole horizon. I believe that this particular nature of diversity will produce much more prolific architecture scenes. And, I would like to consider about the concept of architectural space that obtains new and clear meaning which is achieved from the symbiosis status within the complex overall perspective.

LD: You once said you want your concepts being presented clearly, directly and explicitly through your buildings. Could you talk about how you define and reduce the “noises” in the process of purification?(Some of those “noises”, like material, tectonic, corporeality …, are essential for other architects)

SF: About the question of how to clearly and formally obtain the elaboration the design concepts, which is called “noise” by you, it is not the object that I want to purify. Actually, I do think this purifying process would definitely weaken the diversity and richness of architecture. I don’t see this clarification and minimization as a interesting thing, because the usual life displays the complexity and diversity such as that nature embedded in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Moreover, I believe that by adding this “noise” we still can reach a presentation of a clear concept. For me the right way to clarify a concept is not to erase any components. I think that, which is very important, it is possible to achieve a lucid and clear condition in architecture which under a circumstance full of complexity and diversity.

LD: It is hardly for viewers to see an obvious concern about the material aspect in your designs. Do you agree? If so, what is your idea about the interplay between the concept and material? Is it kind of the “noise” you want to wipe out?

SF: This is opposite to the previous question. I never intent to avoid materiality, especially I think the richness between material and space will achieve certain harmony. Although material existence seems not so visible, white wall for me is still a kind of material. With more richness and variety, I make very meticulous choices. I never have such thinking of getting rid of materiality, but in fact it’s opposite.

LD:If you inspect your practice after 2000, can you find a primordial pattern of your design concepts, in the way of formality or metaphysics, which reveals something of your intuition?

SF: I don’t really understand what this means by this question……For instance, if we can create new orders from the newly assembled conditions by which are randomly chosen among the various objects, or we can generate the complexity of the diversity and gradation like the Rissian Matryoshka doll, or we can make the architecture embodied the relationship of contemporary network, these attempts represent the design pattern based on my latest 10 years practice.

LD: In relation to the Primitive Future Project and the Final Wooden House, both projects employ the 350 mm as the interval distance or the thickness of components’ profile, and both use the “stacking” or “piling” as the way to generate the final form. This “piling” can be also seen in some other projects, such as Atelier House at Hokkaido, the Tokyo House and House before House. How do you see the inherent evolving process within the continuity of this concept from the smaller scale installation to the architectural scale works? And how do you evaluate the role of the project of Atelier House at Hokkaido which seems like exists in a transitional position?

Primitive Future Project (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)

As for me, an idea usually can be developed and achieved by various ways. When I was working on Primitive Future House project, I wanted to blend the scales between furniture and building. In a big project like House Before House, I managed to maintain the topography and fuse the building into it. In the project Atelier House in Hokkaido, we tried to find a new relationship between human body and space. In other words, we intend to extend different ideas constantly through the projects. I lay special interests on scale and site ,the two significant primitive concepts to architecture. Through various designs, I tried every possibility to achieve this idea.

Final Wooden House (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)
The Tokyo House (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)
House Before House (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)

Atelier House at Hokkaido (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Office)

LD: In most of your works, the frames (mullions) are intentionally hidden, especially in the House N and the Final Wooden House, however, in terms of the curtain wall system of the Musashino Art University Library, the silver flashing connection components are evidently emphasized and standing out from the glass exterior envelope. Where does this distinguish treatment come from? Is it conceptual oriented or under a technical enforcement?

SF: On the Musashino Art University Library project, I assemble glass and book shelves to create a strong impression. Contrast to the dark color of the book shelves, I use bright dots on glass. I managed to put the massive book shelves and the virtual surface together through lights. Thus, we don’t just see the woods or glass themselves. We achieve richness and variety when we overlap the invisible material layers. That is, new richness and variety come from times of changes.

House N (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)
Musashino Art University Library (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)

LD: Obviously, your works have showed an interesting altitude towards the relationship between building and nature. But there is an distinguished shift of this attitude we can see you treat this issue very differently in the earlier project like House N and the latest project such as Benetton Building at Teheran and the New Landmark for London Olympics, because in the former the green is obviously a contemplated choice but in the later it becomes an independent element has less to do with the structure. Do you agree? And how you think about this issue?

SF: In my opinion, there’s no distinct differences among House N, Benetton Building at Teheran or the New Landmark for London Olympics. As I just mentioned, the main idea is about how to coexist the natural and artificial works, and then create new variety. I have great interests on it. In House N, the exterior nature is enclose in a box, half of which becomes artificial. However, I consider it as exterior space. In the case of Benetton Building, a great number of the real trees are put into glass. I superimposed the trees layer by layer and successfully created the “3D forests”, which is impossible in the nature. The London Tower is also the same, I display the superimposed nature. The wholly new relationship between artificial works and natural things really appeals me. According to the actual situations, we make changes to put the idea into reality.

Benetton Building at Teheran (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)

New Landmark for London Olympics (image credit: Sou Fujimoto Architects)

LD: For the next ten years, what is your expectation for the evolution of your design methodology?

SF: I don’t know the future for sure, however, I will continuously pursue the essence of architecture, and also design something never exists before, such as architecture about the essence and origin. It’s the same in the relationship between natural things and artificial works, interior and exterior, human and space, urban and individual architecture. I will create various new buildings based on such essence.

LD: Do you take the character of “Japanese-like” or “Oriental-like” at a priority place during the design? If you think it is crucial for your practice, then how do you view the oriental nature in your architectural works as the intentional appeal?

SF: Instead of having interests in the concept of “Japanese-like” itself, I’d rather have interests in diversity and complexity that the concept creates. In other words, the concept can be interpreted as a new relationship between nature and artifact. I’m more interested in this. So, I don’t intent to simply represent Japanese characteristics.

LD: Do you agree that the behaviorally differences between the west and the oriental will vanish or become negligible, hence there are universal patterns fitting everyone?

SF: Between the West and East, the different climate means different food, different topography, different culture, so no matter how advance the Internet is and how to communicate between various information, I don’t think climate, food and people’s life and culture change because of this. Between the two, there is no better or worse, but I think our Eastern original creation will influence Europeans and we can be inspired by European originality, therefore, make a new creation.

Posted by:Liyang DING

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