In awarding Junya Ishigami + Associates the Golden Lion for Best Project at the 12th International Architecture Biennale, in Venice, Italy, for Architecture as Air: Study for Château la Coste, the panel may have announced something more than a simple accolade. Ishigami's project – measuring 45ft deep, 13ft wide and 13ft high – is intended as a study for a building to be viewed as a model or an actual construction. Its ultra-fine fibrous components stretched taut from the existing architectural elements of the exhibition space make it almost impossible to see at first glance. The user is left not knowing exactly where the project begins or ends. The spatial organization of the project is not easily decipherable with the columns, beams and bracing scaled so small that it becomes entirely imperceptible. The fragility of the structure with its brittle frame barely visible, barely holding weight, barely defining a space could constitute a reflection on architecture. The invisible hand of the architect regulates the user. Ishigami has crafted a space of diminishing actuality.
There is an inherent primitivism in defining a space through the marking out of architectural
elements. The threads, or lines, almost vanish and leave users wondering where the installation not
only is but where it was. It's a ruin. Whilst a ruin, as a concept, holds a visual form, it also conveys
its totality through the virtual. The ruin portrays a spatial organization through a collection of
moments of decay. A temporality that is material but entirely inaccessible. The narrative of the
ruin extends beyond the exhibition space.
Ishigami's Architecture as Air combats themes of fragility and transparency at a time when the discipline of architecture finds itself at a point of financial and professional quandary; it trembles amidst economic uncertainty while the role of the architect withers away. Transparency, as an architectural concept, has a lineage traceable to two main points of interest for this project. In 1942, Marcel Duchamp designed the Surrealist Exhibition "First papers of Surrealism". He, too, filled an existing building with string, creating a barrier that intervened between the Surrealist artwork and space of exhibition. Duchamp used the string to consume the void space and disorient the user; the string was there to be seen. In contrast, Ishigami's string, so lightly balanced, operates within the void of the building; not to contain the existing space, but to create a new space. This new space was so delicately constructed, however, as to not impact on the existing space; there were two spaces within the one space. Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, in Literal and Phenomenal Transparency, describe the use of the new word "transparency" its impact and misuse in the Modernist Architectural tradition. Here, large expanses of glass are used for the first time in a clear example of a newly-found transparency in architecture. It is not just the material that Rowe observes, but also the phenomenal – or the immaterial – that needs examination. In Ishigami's project it could be said there is a spatial and optical "misunderstanding", whereby one space envelopes another.
Architecture as Air not only creates a literal disappearance but a phenomenal confusion of spaces – a
perfectly clear set of spaces, yet perfectly ambiguous at the same time.
Architecture has long since been associated with mathematics and the art of geometry. Ishigami challenges the understanding of what constitutes "beam" and "column", "wall" and "floor". The fact that a line denotes a wall or a number of lines describe a volume, undertakes an investigation in what constitutes a geometrical construct: the line. A three-dimensional space is collapsed in on itself through the definition of volume or plane in an otherwise two-dimensional singular line.
Ishigami may be in tune with the present Japanese preoccupation of volumetric play. It may be of no coincidence that Ishigami was once an employee of the La Biennale's director Kazuyo Sejima for it is SANAA that has promoted the interplay of volumetric boxes. The most pertinent example would be the Moriyama House, Tokyo. Volumes are organized by program with residual external space left to define the volumes entirety. It is an inversion of geometry creating volume.
It seems whilst many contemporary architects want to make grand architectural gestures, Ishigami's project strives for an architecture of disappearance. A subtle mark upon the urban fabric instead of an emblazoned flash of gaudiness. This work is in keeping with Ishigami's architectural agenda. It is a question of proximity. To be within the confines of an architectural space a user can become oblivious to the envelope; but here, in its intricacy and its delicacy the user is forced to become acutely aware of their own proximity to the structure. It becomes a perilous position, never sure if your transition from one space to another. It defies weight, scale, boundary opacity and in effect becomes infinitely transparent.
In the execution of the project, Ishigami conjures a moment of suspension that is a stark impression of the current profession through its lack of definition, clarity and opacity. So saturated and thin, the structure breaks from the traditional spatial boundaries and organizational logic. It is a three-dimensionality, contorted and collapsed into a two-dimensionality. The existing building is no longer the definitive structure as an installation, it is the 'medium'. The fact that Ishigami has placed a fictitious buidling in the factual (the exhibition space) creates a definable ambiguity. An uncertainty, a confusion. We are all made accutely aware of our proximity to architectural ruin in every sense. Michael Holt, Marissa Looby