妹岛和世 × 西泽立卫
What are your partner’s most interesting ways of working and thinking? What are you unable to do that you especially appreciate in her or him？
Sejima is the bravest person I have ever known. Anyone who wants to design with her has to be daring. She is also very realistic, not a dreamer. All she thinks about are real things.
Sejima is very stable. On the other hand, I sometimes lose my way, when I suffer doing something. She never loses it.西泽立卫
Some older Japanese architects completely misunderstand us. They think I am a very emotional architect and that Nishizawa is very logical. Although I must admit that often…
In the beginning of the design process we tend to discuss a lot, not only with each other, but also with our staff. Gradually we move to the next phase through these conversations. I generally start to think in a direct way and he tries to be more emotional. I think that he is more poetic than me.妹岛和世
Both of you were training for a long time with one of the great Japanese architects. You are a kind of generational succession chain.
When I was a child, I saw a picture of a house which really impressed and intrigued me. So when I took the entry examination for the University, I decided to enroll in an architecture course. One day during my studies, I came across a photo and noticed it was exactly the same house. That infused my interest in architecture. The picture was of the Sky House by Seikun Kikutake, finished in 1957 in Tokyo. It is very curious because Kikutake was a teacher of Toyo Ito and after Ito graduated, he joined Kikutake’s office and worked there for three or four years. After that, Ito started his own firm, which I joined. I was there for six years and was in charge of two small houses and one small building. When I finished my studies, I wanted to join a small office, not a big one, with a young architect. His office was small, with only four or five people, but I could not imagine being there forever. This is a very typical pattern in Japan.
I had already left his office by that time. I imagine that Nishizawa preferred to join my office because I am younger than Ito. My office at that time was very small, only one person.妹岛和世
When I was a student, I was working in Ito’s office because I respected him. There I met Sejima, who sometimes came back to visit. It was a coincidence.
When I was working in Ito’s office, there were about 30 people, so it was difficult to have a continuous discussion with him. In Sejima’s office, you could discuss things with her every day. That is why I chose to work there.西泽立卫
We find that your buildings seem like playing fields: spaces with a prevalence of the definition of abstract rules instead of pure spatial definition; immersive spaces that are defined by weak orders in which hierarchy has disappeared.
I do not think that we always try to erase hierarchy. We are not interested in creating a non-hierarchy but in making a new one, which is different from the existing hierarchy. We think that hierarchy is limited, a kind of ready-made product and that sort of ready-made response is neither creative nor useful. If you do something new, you can discover different things and new ways to approach them. Using too many ready made products reduces your imagination. If you use the same product for ten or fifteen years, you lose your ability to react when you encounter something new. We are not interested in non-hierarchy but in exploring other possibilities, other ways, other types of relations. In short, inventing new hierarchies.西泽立卫
Do you agree that your most recent work is driven by a growing interest in slimming the structure, atomising it and scattering it throughout the building?
Yes, that trend started during the Stadstheater in Almere. The structural engineer is always very important for us. We decided together to develop the plan, structure and direction that the building design was to take, all at the same time. The Stadstheater consists of a lot of spaces so there were many ways to resolve the building. It was very difficult to find the solution, but when we produced it on an exact scale, the bearer walls got too thick and became too prominent and we were not convinced. Finally, I asked the engineer “What about a very thin structure that does not seem to be structure?”妹岛和世