The body of work produced by Taira Nishizawa Architects exemplifies the nuanced complexity of contemporary Japanese architectural culture.
Japan is undeniably the strongest contemporary architectural culture in our region a fact reflected in the number of Japanese architects undertaking high profile commissions in many locations across the world; this status achieved and maintained despite over twenty-years of flat-lining economic conditions in Japan itself. Taira Nishizawa Architects reflect the nuanced complexity of this culture, particularly through their completed projects that persistently attempt to answer what it is that distinguishes a contemporary architecture from the architecture of the recent past.
Nishizawa studied at Tokyo Tech within the laboratory of Kazunari Sakamoto, establishing Taira Nishizawa Architects in 1993. For his Brisbane public lecture entitled Wooden Works held at the State Library of Queensland on the 22nd of May, he stood enigmatically side-on. The first building he presented was the Forestry Hall project used principally as a gymnasium, located in the town of Tomochi in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu and completed in 2004. The hall just over four hundred square metres in area is a simple glazed rectangular two-story form sited on a levelled platform within a mountainous landscape. It was completed as part of the Kumamoto Artpolis program initiated in 1988 by the then governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, Morihiro Hosokawa to facilitate collaborations between emerging architects and local people that has produced a significant number of exemplary projects for the Kumamoto region.
This glazed form sits on a timber-clad plinth. From a distance, ones attention is drawn to the monstrous structural complexity housed within, seemingly detached from the roof above and silhouetted when used at night. This structure is a combination of galvanised steel and laminated cedar members arrayed into a diagonal lattice like an inverted basket. When inside the timber members overhead fuse together to define the space and when looking outside frames views to mountains beyond. It achieves an unnerving level of structural transparency, a kind of x-ray vision. In his lecture, Nishizawa invoked a level of “Japan-ness” for the material effect achieved by the project in full awareness of the ideological abuses Japanese vernacular traditions are often called into the service of. Nishizawa claimed that his Forestry Hall project was as “cheap as an amenities block”, drawing a distinction between the budgets he typically works with and his contemporaries such as SANAA and Toyo Ito. One of the cost saving measures employed is the use of steel piles rather than resorting to concrete for the foundations, a material that is expensive in Japan. If this claim is indeed true it is commendable that such a sophisticated project was realised on such a modest budget.