Junya Ishigami
"I want to create architecture as the new nature."

His breakout moment came last year when the Fondation Cartier in Paris invited the experimental Japanese architect Junya Ishigami to present a showcase of ideas under the moniker ‘freeing architecture’. It was a liberating moment, architecture had traditionally abided by a formal code of creativity, based on the conservative demands of its clients. Junya Ishigami wants to do with away with all that, he represents a new breed of architect disinterested in how big and how high a building is but more the abstract influence it takes from nature.

Having wowed the art-chitecture world for some time now with his unique concepts around fluidity and transformation, he has cemented his reputation as an out of the box thinker. A deeply reflective architect, Junya has no intent on following conventional form and function, instead, he rather we all see the city with a new type of filter or imagination, a broader range of influences. At the top of the list, nature is an unspoilt canvas to Junya, some of the projects he’s crafted sound almost fantasy like, from a five-storey metal balloon floating in a gallery in Tokyo to a constructed frame in London so thin it was practically invisible, even conjuring up a series of dugout caves operating as a restaurant in Yamaguchi, Japan. A winner of the golden lion at the Venice architecture biennale in 2010, he now brings a lifetime of ideas to the fore with his latest project at the renowned UK art institution The Serpentine.

It’s a bizarre and bold statement, a play on the way we interact with our own surroundings, it’s been likened to a “‘a monstrous bird in flight”. Here with us, Junya talks about the enduring philosophy behind his work, why there is power in forgetting rather than remembering and what is an architect to do when operating in one of the most earthquake-prone nations on earth.

"The architect's role is to create a new system."

Serpentine Pavilion 2019 © Junya Ishigami + Associates, Photography © 2019 Iwan Baan


Your work is fascinating, what would you say is the philosophy behind your work?

My philosophy is about creating architecture as scenery. When I say “scenery”, I do not mean only the landscape, but the perception of landscape as space. In Japanese, we say “fuke” If you have seen my latest exhibition “Freeing Architecture” in Fondation Cartier, the title was Freeing Architecture, which also describes an important philosophy of my office.

I will explain: about 15 years ago, during the period of modern architecture, a lot of architects was making pre-design mass-quality projects and has almost the same vision of the future. During that time, the main role of the architect was to create a system which can deliver the life-quality buildings to the mass construction.

Recently, we have had a lot of different values, dreams and directions for the future and we can perceive many different cultures and philosophies. All these conditions give architects the wide possibilities to create new types of architecture. That is why it’s extremely important to make projects in a diversity of locations. Because then, we have a chance to consider other cultures and unique conditions of each location, as well as bring the values of our own origin into the project.

Similar to many other architects, we have the opportunity to have projects located worldwide, not only in the country we belong to. Even if I was born and raised in Japan, for my work, I still have to accept a lot of different cultures, activities, values of different countries. Therefore, it is important to find a way to mix these values of our own origin with values of completely different locations, environment and cultures.  It is a very important time to increase architectural typologies and values and re-consider the meaning of architecture. So, we have to think about architecture freely.

Within the construct of the future of architecture – you’re creating a new conversation?

Traditionally, when an architect received an order to design, for example, the office building, they usually had to follow the functional rules of the office space and its zoning. Now, when the client asks us to design the office building, they expect us to create the project based on its users or on the quality of space. That means that currently, the specific function cannot create the building itself. It is more important to create architecture as a new type of environment, which we want to make.   

Junya, can you tell me about your relationship with nature?

I will come back to history once more, because, in the modern period, architecture was based on the scale of the city. The city was a system, thus the personal activity had the same scale as the city. Today, the communication and activity scale is beyond the city scale.  For example, when we are buying a bottle of water or a piece of furniture, we always think about the earth or the environment, which allows us to think of a global scale.  Therefore, the architectural solutions have to follow global scale, and a mirror close to nature.

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

I cannot refer to a single project, but for now, I can speak about two Japanese projects – the Water garden project, which was completed last year and the House & Restaurant project, which is currently in the construction phase.  The Water garden project is about creating the garden from the existing elements of the surrounding environment. If you see more detailed information about the project, you will understand what I mean.  One of the main elements is in the trees, which was moved from the site next to the project location, in order to create a new environment.


Park Groot Vijversburg by Junya Ishigami + Associates

How do envision the future of your work?

I want to create architecture as the new nature. Not as an existing nature. Nature is a mix of your natural environment and our human environment. This makes me think about a new type of nature as a source of a new architecture. The architecture, where we combine different cultures, natural environments, and different values. This mix of different environments is very important for my architecture

You have said – “If we forget everything we know, just imagine how many more kinds of architecture there could be.” What do you mean by that?

The architecture we have is mainly based on history and past knowledge, even if we are currently using the latest technologies. History is very important. However, we must always rethink the meaning of architecture for our current time and its purpose.”.  Anything can become architecture. So we have to rethink what is architecture now and temporarily forget about the past in order to recreate new fundamental basics of architecture relevant to the current time. 

Balloon / Junya Ishigami. Image © junya.ishigami+associates

Where do you get your inspiration from, are you into books, music, films?

For my architecture, the biggest inspiration comes from the location of the project and the environment of the site. I have a chance to work in different locations, countries with unique environments, for example, Japan, Europe, Russia, a deep area of China. Each site condition is completely different – this is a very interesting and inspiring point for me to make architecture. For example, the project site in the deep countryside of China has a lot of huge rocks. That allows me to be inspired to create new buildings in this unique environment. I think, recently, we have had a lot of possibilities to go anywhere in the world, to perceive a big diversity of people’s activities and communications.

"We must always rethink the meaning of architecture for our current time and its purpose."

You have a lot of earthquakes in Japan, how do you reconcile your work with that unsettling aspect as well as the fact that your work is quite experimental?

I will don’t consider it as a big problem, because it is just one of the environmental conditions of Japan, it is the same as the high temperatures which we get. Anywhere, in every country we have different conditions, we just have to think about the right solution.
For example, the historical buildings in Japan were created based on the earthquake factor as the main issue, so as a result, buildings can be easily destroyed by an earthquake, but at the same time very easily recreated. That is a unique solution.

Serpentine Pavilion 2019 Designed by Junya Ishigami opens on 21 June – 6 October 2019