Workshop in Kanagawa by Ishigami + Associates

Junya Ishigami: Building the Dream

Junya Ishigami is a name that has taken more and more place in the architectural world recently. With his works gaining international exposure thanks to the worldwide exhibition Freeing Architecture and the recent announcement that he would be the architect in charge of the next prestigious Serpentine Pavilion, following Frida Escobedo, the 44 years old Japanese architect has proven his place amongst the top people of the profession. Between dreams and Japanese folklore, his work and philosophy are as inspiring as possible and are always a joy to (re)discover.

What defines Ishigami’s architecture? Freedom of modern constraints, weightlessness, invisibility, nature and most of all peace. A former practitioner of the Pritzker Prize-winning firm SANAA, he establishes his firm in 2004. He is part of a new wave of Japanese architects that are defying what the profession can artistically achieve. Diving into Ishigami’s universe is like embarking in a Studio Ghibli movie: our heads get filled with visions of the sensibility of childhood and the magic of nature, and it is as if we could hear an ocarina play a gentle melody in the distance. Ishigami’s portfolio consists of the most spectacular, strange and sensible pieces to emerge out of the architectural field recently: floating rocks, invisible pavilions, buildings that emerges out of a line drawn in the sky or clouds gently resting on water.

In his range of project, he expresses an idea of weightlessness like very few architects. The artist is fond of columns as thin as they can be, as he displayed them in his project for the Kait Workshop in Kanagawa, Japan. They seem to be emerging as trees in a forest, without constrictions from the traditional modernist grid or structural goal, and help to offer this study place a sense of collectiveness and privacy. Ishigami usually designs with the eyes of a child. His drawings and wonderful models display a true sense of place and imaginations. When creating spaces for a younger public, he understands how animals can become landscapes or how clouds can work as partitions, as in his 2015 Cloud Garden in Tokyo.


Image Credit: Serpentine Pavilion 2019, Design Render, Interior View, © Junya Ishigami + Associates


When most renown architects seem to be working toward monumentality and complex digital design, Ishigami fades away behind simple poetic buildings. His Park Vijversburg Visitor Centre which works as a multidirectional corridor with large glass panels supporting a roof expresses clearly the idea of letting the building disappear in favour of the garden. His work might be minimalistic when necessary, he also knows how to create majestic monuments, such as his Sydney Cloud Arch, a lightweight and marvellous 60-meter-tall structure which appears to be moving like a cloud when looked at from different angles. Talking about clouds, they seem to be a great source of inspiration for the Japanese architect. He has replicated one hovering above water for his design of the House of Peace in Copenhagen and continues to study the sky, even talking about “making the sky”. Indeed, his current plan for the extension of the Kanagawa Workshop involves covering a 110m-wide and 70m-long space with a 12mm thin continuous plane of steel – all without columns.

Ishigami is also interested in realizing structures with more massive materials. His design for a cave-like restaurant in Yamaguchi manifests that love, and the concept, quite simple in itself, proves to be a fantastic result of innovative use of concrete. Digging holes in the ground as negative spaces to be filled up with concrete and removing the ground in between the holes created this magnificent one-of-a-kind structure. In the footsteps the other Japanese master of peace that is Tadao Ando, he has plans for a concrete Church of the Valley which works as a thin enclosing space of giant concrete walls without a roof. The 6m-tall model for the Chapel is really something to be seen and makes for a breath-taking piece of his exhibition.

Not wanting to do an exhaustive list of the architect’s work, one can understand by looking at his exhibition or portfolio what he means by “Freeing Architecture”. And while some critics may find his work childish and naïve, there is no denying what Ishigami is the new architect of peace and sensibility. His projects all appear like dreams or mirages. He is a true figure of what one can accomplish with a strong concept and a little fun. Sure, he might not be the one to ask in order to design the next major airport, but he understands the psychology and sensitivity of humans and is, therefore, a great designer of garden spaces, museums and of course, pavilions.

Indeed, when Ishigami was commissioned to do the 2019 Serpentine Pavilion, it wasn’t a surprise for anyone who has followed his work. He was in the public eye last year thanks to his major exhibition in Paris and has now become a worldwide phenomenon. What will his pavilion look like? Now that we are more familiar with his work, we can easily imagine his design. A play with perspective, organic shapes and raw materials, the pavilion will appear as a cloud of grey slates. As if his stamp on the pavilion wasn’t clear enough, his trademark thin columns will help make the light rock structure float above the visitors. Sobriety is the key word here. He is not trying to impress but to create a sense of magic and calm. As his collages suggest, he is considering the rain to be another part of the design, as it will come dripping down the slate roof.

The pavilion will be opened from the 20th June 2019 to the 6th of October 2019. If Junya Ishigami’s vision is materialized, it could offer visitors a once in a lifetime experience of peace and magic, inside the mind of one of the most interesting and visionary architects working today.


Image Credit: Serpentine Pavilion 2019, Design Render, Exterior View, © Junya Ishigami + Associates