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Kenzo Tange Lecture: Toyo Ito, “Tomorrow’s Architecture”

Harvard University Graduate School of Design
March 7, 2016

Gathering with friends beneath the sakura trees each spring, just as the cherry blossoms begin to fall, is embedded in Japanese tradition. This instinctual sense of placemaking, of sitting below the wispy branches, was captured in Toyo Ito’s subtle imagery of an encircling ring of fabric panels: “This is how I create ‘Places’,” he said to an overflow audience at Gund Hall. Accordingly, Ito suggested, “Space is just void, an expanding and unlimited void.”

Introducing three projects, Ito drew connections from linguistic structure. “The way that Japanese language is positioned in space is similar to how a ripple dissipates into water.” This sense of the relationship between key elements inspires flexibility in the designer’s work.

Photo: Kai Nakamura


Employing this principle in the Sendai Mediatheque, the 13 structural tubes in the plan act as free-floating elements, creating spaces between them. Similarly, in the design of Taiwan’s National Taichung Theater, which will be completed this year, the elements intersect both vertically and horizontally to create a suspended network of places tucked within the amorphous reinforced concrete structure. In the recently completed “Minna no Mori” Gifu Media Cosmos, in central Japan, Ito expressed the façade as an exposed sectional cut — such that the “spaces can dissipate continuously” to the outside, emphasizing his belief that “there is never any confinement to the architecture.”

Dean Mohsen Mostafavi and a student asked Ito about the disjunction between digitally driven design processes and labor-intensive fabrication methods. Highlighting the intricate steel reinforcement assemblies at the National Taichung Theater and the undulating laminated timber roof of the Gifu Media Cosmos (above), Ito emphasized an appreciation for handcraft. Perhaps more important, he voiced a preference for a human-centered construction process: “The more people who can say that they helped build this project, the better.”