Architecture comes in many guises

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Words:
Pamela Buxton

Sou Fujimoto explores transparency, enclosure and his love of forests through exquisite models in this double London exhibition

Sou Fujimoto, acclaimed Japanese architect, inspects one of 100 exhibits on display in his exhibition Futures of the Future at Japan House London
Sou Fujimoto, acclaimed Japanese architect, inspects one of 100 exhibits on display in his exhibition Futures of the Future at Japan House London

A pile of crisps, the arrangement supplemented by a few miniature white figures no more than a centimetre or so tall, is displayed beautifully on a tiny plinth. Nearby are dozens of similar offerings – a scrunched up paper bag, a pile of staples, a cutting snipped from a succulent, elastic bands, an upturned ashtray, all similarly populated and accompanied by an enigmatic caption appropriate to the oddment. ‘Unevenness is the beginning of architecture’, ‘A space may often be a cast-off skin of something’ or ‘Flow creates space; inside becomes outside, outside becomes inside’.

This is the tantalizing work of the visionary Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, who is probably best known in the UK for his 2013 Serpentine Pavilion. These plinths are at two locations in London – at the newly opened Japan House cultural centre where it forms part of Fujimoto’s larger exhibition Futures of the Future, and at the Architecture is Everywhere satellite show at bathroom products manufacturer Toto.

  • Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
    Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
  • Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
    Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
  • Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
    Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
  • Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
    Installation from Architecture is Everywhere at TOTO, the satellite show to Sou Fujimoto’s exhibition Futures of the Future.
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So what’s it all about? The enjoyable Architecture is Everywhere presentation was conceived by Fujimoto to illustrate how architecture can be found within the forms of everyday objects, by touching on notions of scale, permeability between inside and out, transformation, ambiguity and transparency, and many more besides. By using familiar objects in these populated sketch models, he is able to communicate less tangible concepts. ‘Can we create architecture to resemble crystallized air?’ asks the caption to a crumpled piece of clear wrapping.

These lines of enquiry clearly inform his architectural projects, many of which are displayed in his main exhibition in Japan House’s basement gallery. Photos and models of his work are presented along with further plinth installations.

Overall, this unusual presentation is a fascinating insight into recurrent preoccupations in Fujimoto’s work such as the relationship between architecture and tree forms, explorations of transparency, and concepts of enclosure.

These range from small conceptual pieces to major urban regeneration proposals. His public space for the Japanese island of Naoshima avoids rigid architectural form and instead uses translucent mesh to create the idea of a soft, white spatial membrane, floating like an island on the ground. Fujimoto’s cloud-like Serpentine pavilion was conceived as a transparent social terrain realised in a lattice of white poles. His largely transparent House NA is an ‘artificial thicket’ of 21 stratified inhabited platforms with white frames and glazed walls. 

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 by Sou Fujimoto from Futures of the Future at Japan House London.
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 by Sou Fujimoto from Futures of the Future at Japan House London. Credit: Iwan Baan

Larger projects include his competition-winning Vertical Village, proposed as a mixed use ‘small city’ in Rosny-sous-Bois in Paris and to be built largely in wood. Extensively-glazed and with prominent balconies and canopies, this is a collaboration with French architects Nicolas Laisné and Dimitri Roussel and is part of a wider initiative to regenerate the suburbs of Paris.  Fujimoto also worked with Laisné on Arbre Blanc, an extraordinary 17-storey apartment design for Montpelier in the south of France. With its prominent projecting balconies, the form resembles a giant pine cone.

Fujimoto’s competition-winning House of Music for Budapest is imagined as an architectural forest surrounded by trees, creating a gradual transition from tree canopy to architectural roof. Vertical Forest, a proposal for London, is a stratified vertical garden inspired by the city’s gardens, which visitors can enjoy as they stroll down after taking the lift to the top. ‘The forest is always to me the archetype of architecture,’ reads another of Fujimoto’s plinth captions.

  • L’Arbre Blanc, Montpellier, by Sou Fujimoto Architects with Nicolas Laisne Associates, Manal Rachdi Oxo Architects, from Futures of the Future at Japan House London.
    L’Arbre Blanc, Montpellier, by Sou Fujimoto Architects with Nicolas Laisne Associates, Manal Rachdi Oxo Architects, from Futures of the Future at Japan House London. Credit: SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI
  • Sou Fujimoto’s Tree Building from Futures of the Future at Japan House London
    Sou Fujimoto’s Tree Building from Futures of the Future at Japan House London
  • Beton Hala Waterfront Centre by Sou Fujimoto from Futures of the Future at Japan House London
    Beton Hala Waterfront Centre by Sou Fujimoto from Futures of the Future at Japan House London
  • Beton Hala Waterfront Centre by Sou Fujimoto from Futures of the Future at Japan House London
    Beton Hala Waterfront Centre by Sou Fujimoto from Futures of the Future at Japan House London
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He also professes a liking for spirals, and his competition-winning scheme for the Beton Hala Waterfront for Belgrade is particularly stunning, a bold assemblage of curving ramps encompassing viewing platforms, retail, cafes, restaurants, and public space.

It feels as if Fujimoto has had fun putting this stimulating and rather endearing exhibition together. In his ground floor installation at Japan House, among the dozens of experimental plinth-displayed assemblages and captions, sits a rather indeterminate object. What great architectural insight will accompany this? ‘This is a sponge, I think,’ is his tongue-in-cheek offering.


Sou Fujimoto, Futures of the Future, until 5 August 2018, Japan House, 101-111 Kensington High Street, London W8 5SA and at Toto, 140 St John Street, London, EC1V 4UA