Junya Ishigami at Barbican Art Gallery, London (2011)

Junya Ishigami: Architecture as Air

The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, London
28 June – 16 October 2011

Press release text by Barbican Art Gallery


The exhibition is supported by the Japan Foundation, SHISEIDO CO., LTD and Arts Council England

Internationally acclaimed Japanese architect Junya Ishigami is one of the pioneering architects of his generation. Working between the spheres of architecture and art, he redefines the aesthetics of minimalism by playing with perception, materials and scale. For his first UK installation, Ishigami has conceived a new structure built in response to the distinctive Curve gallery, which he describes as “melting endlessly into space”. The structure comprises of a single curved line of delicate 4-metre columns running the entire 80 metre length of the space, which appear to be held in place by air and atmosphere alone. Only on close inspection are the transparent structural components revealed.

This work is a development of Junya Ishigami’s experimental installation, Architecture as air: study for Château la Coste, which was first shown at the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010 and won the Golden Lion for best project. Architecture as Air opens in The Curve on 28 June 2011.

Junya Ishigami is known for his meticulous architectural and engineering research, experimentation and precision. His work is characterised by its lightness and delicacy, by his continual exploration of the atmospheric possibilities of transparency through material and form and, by his desire to dissolve the boundaries between inside and outside, architecture and landscape. He first came to public attention with Table, 2005, a work made from a sheet of pre-stressed steel 9.5 metre long, 2.6 metre wide but only 3 mm thick and which undulated at the lightest touch, appearing to hover in air. On top of the table Ishigami carefully arranged a series of objects to create a delicate landscape of domestic forms. In another work, Balloon, 2007, a rectangular, aluminium volume four-storeys high floated within the atrium of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Balloon was created using an aluminium truss frame skinned with thin, reflective aluminium foil-like panels, which was then filled with helium in order to allow the structure to float. Despite weighing, 1 ton, Balloon defied gravity and appeared weightless as it hovered in mid-air.

In 2008 Junya Ishigami completed two major projects and was selected to represent Japan at the 11th Venice Biennale of Architecture. The first major building was KAIT, a new studio on the campus of the Kanagawa Institute of Technology in Tokyo. Used by engineering and design students from the Institute alongside members of the community, this large rectangular structure comprises of a forest of 305 fine steel columns of varying widths and clad in glass. There are no internal walls so users are free to arrange furniture and work spaces as appropriate to their needs. The space is populated by plants and small trees and many of the campus’ larger trees are visible through the glass walls, creating a rich internal landscape which brings the outside in, and vice versa.

On a small, angular corner site in New York’s Meatpacking district, Ishigami created a new store for the Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. Junya Ishigami transformed the 1950s single-storey brick building by slicing through the centre, creating the shop and storeroom. This simple opening offered new vistas and spatial relationships between the building and its site by using brickwork combined with frameless windows to give the building and interiors an open and minimalist feel.

For the 2008 Venice Biennale of Architecture, Junya Ishigami created a new architectural world in and around the Japanese Pavilion. Internal walls were covered with his delicate drawings of gardens, urban landscapes and new typologies in architecture, which brought nature to the fore. A series of large, clear glass greenhouses were constructed in a new external garden for the Pavilion, emphasising the relationship between the spaces and realising, in built form, the drawing studies from within.

Junya Ishigami was invited to exhibit at the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010 by Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA. He made a full-size ephemeral study of a building measuring 14 x 4 x 4 metres, which was planned for a site in Europe. Its components were delicate columns, beams and bracing: indeterminate contours lacking true physical form that dissolved into the transparent space rather than “structures” that supported the building.

Junya Ishigami was born in Japan in 1974. After acquiring a master’s degree in architecture and planning at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music he worked with Pritzker Prize winners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa at SANAA. In 2004 he established his own practice junya.ishigami+associates.