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Beauty of ambiguity -

transparency in Kanagawa Institute of Technology workshop by Junya Ishigami

Ren Luo


One will be quite shocked by the lightness of the structure when he/she first time see the Junya Ishigami’s Kanagawa Institue of Technology lab building( KIT lab building as in below). The elegant glass facade and the abstract white columns are as if disappearing from one’s view. The transparency of KIT lab is seem to be undoubtable. Yet if being compared to Mies Van deer Rohe’s Crown Hall in Illinois Institute of Technology- also a academy building- KIT lab building gradually shows its unique character. In this masquerade of ‘transparency’, the two building are playing very distinct game. The most obvious connection between this two building is their glass envelops. Glass, as we usual define, opens visual contacts between outside and inside, diluting the existence of vertical structures. This makes the building into 2 floating slabs above the ground. The visual boundary between interior and exterior is melting down. Both building, at the very first glance, are light and transparent in the same way. However, although the two building are similar on this level, the two architects’ efforts make very different results. In Crown Hall, Mies’s struggle is to diminish the supporting structures so that he can have a free plan. In order to do so, the architect designed 4 metal hanging beams- all of which are supported by I shape columns- which lifting the roof above the ground. Further more, these I shape columns are standing around the building’s main volume, integrating with building’s facade. Crown Hall, therefore, became a selfsupporting box. The only programatic space in its ground floor is the walls around two stair cases. Instead making this space as a glamours visual center of the building( like Charles Garnier’s stair-case in Opera Garnier), Mies dissolved its impact by isolating two stairs with walls, creating a ‘lobby’ without entrance to vertical transport volume. The geometry center of this building therefore grows into a weird in-between space. Along with the destroy of spatial center, Mies finally achieved free and equal plan. Ishigami, on the other hand, seems has no interest in free space. At the first glance, he certainly applies some dogmas of modern architecture on KIT lab: using columns to support the building and free the building’s floor space as well as the facade. However with a deeper look, his approach might be taken as an entirely different one. The key is the design of structure. For Ishigami, columns are not used to create free space, but rather a method to define boundaries of space. He carefully calculated the arrangement of columns, rotating them into different angles so that they start to interact with space and human behaviors. In order to minimize the impact of these high-dense vertical components, the architect make them extremely thin, that almost like white abstract lines connecting the ceiling and floor. These intriguing designs brought a contradict result: those thin columns, although abstract in visual aspect, become very progra-

Fig.1 Crown Hall in IIT

Fig.2 KIT workshop


matic in plan. Their interactions actually draws lines psychologically in the space, defining heterogeneous human scales and behaviors. This way of control can be easily linked to methodology that of Kazuyo Sejima, who owns great fame for transforming different behaviors into actual program design: in the design of Akane Kanazawa Gallery, Sejima defined behaviors’ characters first, and then directly modify them into deferent scales’ space. What should be noticed is the fact that: although Sejima uses light and transparent materials in her design, the result actually become opaque instead of clear. The transparency in Kanazawa Gallery only dwells in its outer reign. This quality is pushed into another level in Ishigami’s KIT lab building. Turning to minimized division structure, he abandoned those walls in Sejima’s design. Despite the fact this strategy indeed weakened division structure’s impact, the space of KIT is somehow a upgrade version to that of Kanazawa Gallery- they are all creating complex heterogeneous spaces in homogeneous systems. This character draws KIT building away from Crown Hall. For Crown Hall’s hanging structures and light facade are all paving way for its open and free space. Lacking the definition from interior structures, Crown Hall’s interior space extend itself into its outer environment, confusing the existence of spatial center. When one is in this vast homogenous space, feelings of instability are hence established. View and emotion could not stay in one place so they stretch into far ends on the other side. This makes Crown Hall almost be absence. On the contrary, KIT’s heterogeneous spaces are actually more stable. Those well defined spaces among columns makes movements obstructed. The space, to some extent, stops floating. View crashes on the white forest of columns, putting extension on hold. The building became a translucent myth, which only permit you to have a free movement in its outer reign while always keeping some part of it away from your perspective. This aesthetic can be compared to that of Japanese traditional garden( Ryoanji temple, etc.)- which usually create open view within a certain boundary yet always stop viewer to have full view of it. By arranging stones and trees consciously in certain order, Japanese Gardeners form a clear while opaque spatial experience. Fully open is not a good quality in those gardens. Transparency has to be carefully controlled in a crucial degree so that you sense its existence yet could not share its full vista. In the essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, the author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki made an intriguing compare between Japanese culture and Western culture. He claimed that the Western culture had always on its way of purchasing light and clear, while Japanese prefer to appreciate the quality of shadows. In the absence of light, one can truly sense the existence of light. KIT building is not that transparent as Crown Hall does, yet it reveal the quality of what is absence yet sensible here. The view as well as emotion are drifting between transparency and opaqueness, giving life to a mythical beauty of translucence. Fig.1( left) Plan of Crown Hall. Fig.2(right) columns’ diagram of KIT, showing different sizes and angles of columns


Beauty of Ambiguity: KIT workshop by Jun'ya Ishigami