In fact the real winner is not Japan, but architecture itself. And the belief that architecture can make a fundamental difference and produce hope in the most devastating circumstances. In this case, the massive effort to rebuild the parts of Japan crumbled under the unbelievable brutality of the tsunami that hit the coast after a violent earthquake in March 2011.
The project represents a fundamental belief, that the artistic and analytical sensibility of the profession can be an important tool in the process of healing the wounds after the catastrophe.
Home-for-all is Too Ito’s attempt to act in a desperate situation. The idea is to provide space for the tsunami victims, giving them a place to “meet and enjoy” as Ito puts it in the introduction. To do this, Toyo Ito invited three upcoming architects Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata and photographer Naoya Hatakeyama to participate. Faced with the destruction, suffering and courage of the survivors, Toyo Ito asks whether architecture is possible here. Can architecture really make a difference? The result of the project answers this question.
The project itself was conceived as collaboration where the architects had to give up their individual aspiration and venture into a dialogue with the people living in the disaster area, and not least each other. The project is a fusion of ideas and design proposals, moving towards a post-quake architecture. It is a place for people to meet. A structure of wooden pillars with platforms weaved in between on different levels providing a view of the landscape and places to gather.
Building on the ground of one the most destroyed areas, respecting the struggles of the survivors, the architects searched for materials for the construction in the area, like the cedar logs that could be found floating around after the tsunami. The modesty and incredible sensitivity of the Japanese architects as they venture into a close dialogue with the people who suffered the most from the devastating flood is a reminder of the careful, meaningful and important role of architecture far away from the loop of international fame and glory surrounding big events like the biennale.
Post Earthquake Japan Photo:Yis Ris
The pavilion itself consists of a large number of delicate process models in different scales. They illustrate and convey the long journey towards a common ground on the architectural expression as the architects and residents worked together to create the project. The exhibition is very much in tune with the layout of the main exhibition Arsenale with its focus on materiality, experiments, testing, and doing. And very much in tune with the overall theme of the biennale, Common Ground.
The exhibition catalogue provides a window to the process of developing the final concept through a step-by-step diary where the team describes the process from October 2011 ‘till May 2012. For instance a note from February 16, describing the efforts to find a common architectural expression beyond individual originality of each architect suited to the task at hand:
“This is very different to any design known to us. No big concept, no set direction with regards to form; just things that used to be in the area, things that had gone, the palpable courage of people in day-to-day living, the myriad of interpersonal links, the many individual memories and thoughts, quietly, steadily crystallizing moving beyond notion of design or style”.
Ito’s ambition of resetting architecture, challenging the architects and asking fundamental questions anew, is obviously a success.
Japan Pavillion Photo:K. Lindhart Weiss
Architecture and social hope
The Japanese pavilion reminds us that architecture can, even in the most difficult circumstances, produce social hope. That humanism is possible in architecture expressed in refined artistic language. Where the tsunami destroyed everything in its path, the dignity of the people trying to rebuild their lives and homes stood out. The built project is a testimony to that and meant to bring joy and a sense of community in a place where everything has been erased.
Some people regard The Golden Lion as one the most important awards in architecture; others disregard the whole idea of a competition in architecture as being somewhat pathetic. No matter what, the award serves an important purpose this year: To highlight an extremely well executed project that holds great promise for the profession as such.