5 projects to understand Junya Ishigami’s architecture-poetry

A selection of the most ambitious projects still in progress by the Junya.Ishigami+Associates studio accompanied by the story of Hervé Chandès, general manager of the Cartier Foundation, about the visionary Japanese architect.

This article was originally published on Domus 1065, February 2022.

I first met Junya Ishigami through his name. This is how it all began. I had heard about him when I was in Japan in 2007 and I visited his Balloon project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT).

I felt dazzled by that great structure which, despite its extravagant design, looked as light as a cloud.

Mother’s house


I met him in person afterwards. Since then, and until his exhibition “Freeing Architecture” at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2018, we have always remained in contact, seeing each other once a year, sharing ideas and imagining projects together.

For I knew from our very first encounter that we would do something together one day. It was like a self-evident fact. I would not particularly focus on a theoretical approach of Ishigami’s work. It was more like an inexpressible intuition, which was also nourished by his books. They offer a dive into his inner poetic mind. In his books, all his drawings are like enchanting little worlds, incorporating elements of nature, such as forests and clouds, into his architectural projects.

Noël House and Restaurant


As a matter of fact, I had a wonderful experience of his drawings when I went to Venice for the Biennale of Architecture in 2008. Ishigami had imagined the Japanese Pavilion with drawings pencilled directly on the walls, which I found quite inspired and daring.

While architectural exhibitions may have a demonstrative form, Ishigami’s approach seems to elude any kind of ideological rhetoric. For the Biennale, he displayed all his imagery on the walls, in a way that was freed from materiality. It was simply beautiful. Delicate and elaborate at the same time, the drawings illustrated Ishigami’s vision – they mirrored his way of thinking about architecture.

Cultural Centre


I also remember his exhibition at the Shiseido Gallery in 2010 titled “How Small? How Vast? How Architecture Grows”, which confirmed my feeling that he would eventually imagine some project for the Fondation Cartier. Indeed, several times we had discussed working together on some project, but nothing came to reality. In 2009 I invited him to design the exhibition of the Fondation Cartier Collection at the Grand Palais in Paris.

It was an ambitious project and Ishigami had put together a great amount of work to conceive a spectacular scenography in the sumptuous space of the Grand Palais. Gigantic brick walls at the height of the Grand Palais’s nave were to be displayed in different layers. To move from one room to the next, the visitor would have to pass through a tiny door. There was something fabulous about these cosmic walls transforming the ceiling of the nave into a celestial vault.

Chapel of the Valley


In the end the exhibition never happened, but along the way Ishigami revealed this aspect of his personality that I cherish: a sharp sense of humour that perfectly matches his openness in his creative process. He pursues a sort of inspirational quest for each project, which always provokes something powerful when it takes shape.

When I mentioned to him the idea of an exhibition at the Fondation Cartier, in the iconic building of Jean Nouvel, I realised that I was not only approaching him as an artistic director, but also as a messenger of the foundation’s building, a facilitator of an encounter between the building and the architect. Ishigami is a great admirer of Nouvel, and the Fondation Cartier is one of his favourite buildings. This coincidence, combined with a tremendous collaborative effort, resulted in an exhibition that engaged all kinds of audiences.

Kindergarten Forest


For his solo show, “Freeing Architecture”, Ishigami expanded on his exploration of new definitions of architecture. Observing him and his team creating and assembling the models on site was extraordinary. Each one was unique in its form, size or shape. And each would beautifully unfold the project. The models were accompanied by their surroundings – including trees, animals and pieces of furniture – which were designed at the same scale as their inhabitant’s bodies. This setting, enhanced with the preparatory sketches, offered a multitude of sceneries and thus allowed an immediate empathy and intimacy with Ishigami’s vision. With this exhibition, he demonstrated a great capacity to think outside the boundaries of an architectural scale, with the subtle touch of a childlike wit.

As an artist, he creates diverse worlds that reinvent the way we inhabit ours. As an architect of feeling, an architect of sensation, Ishigami has not only freed architecture, but I believe he has also freed the exhibition of architecture.

Opening image: Chapel of the Valley, Bailuwan, Shandong, China, 2016-in progress. Courtesy Junya.Ishigami+Associates

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