Regardless of the obvious aesthetic excellence of Akihisa Hirata’s exhibition at the Architecture Foundation I had some objections to it. However I should begin with the positive aspects of the exhibit because they are far from negligible. The maximisation of space that is achieved by the use of the contorted loop as a background for the projections and the models is quite impressive. I have been in this room a number of times already and never have I felt that the information on display was so extensive, without cramping the place or making it difficult to absorb. Using this looped panel construction Hirata also proves his tangling theory by showing in a very tangible way that increasing the complexity of the space does not necessarily cause confusion to the user. On the contrary the information unfolds in an organic way and one is able to read and understand it gradually and quite clearly. Additionally passing under the loop or looking over it in anticipation of the next model increases the spacial qualities of the room.
Hirata is a very talented architect and it is no coincidence that he was awarded the Golden Lion award at the 13th Venice Architecture Bienale for his contribution to the Japanese pavilion. His studies on angular forms develop in a very natural way and can be used for example in solar panel configurations that increase the exposure to sunlight during different hours of the day or seasons of the year. It is fascinating to see his experiments with different forms like curves, knots, prisms and fibrous structures in creating interior spaces, volumes and whole buildings that combined can produce extended urban developments or even cities. Thus he tests his theories of organically unfolding forms in many scales that span from interior space to urban design. The endeavour is undoubtedly ambitious but this very exposure of his theory to all scales is where the problem occurs.
Hirata draws a parallel between nature’s way of creating form by following the physical characteristics of the land, the weather and the elements with the way that architectural form should be designed. I concur with this concept, especially since it takes into consideration ecology. I believe that it works well in small scale projects and to some degree to larger scales as well. However cities more than anything else are a reflection of politics. It seems a bit naïve to disregard that and to believe that in order to ameliorate the cityscape the only consideration of the architect should be to study nature’s way of dealing with things. Cities are extremely complex but they always have and always will paint a fairly accurate image of all that is right or wrong within the societies that create them. No state’s physical representation could ever be modelled solely after the way that rainwater carves the stone.
In Hirata’s interview that is screened at the exhibition he discusses philosopher’s Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz’s views according to whom ‘space is an order of coexistence’ or put differently ‘space is formed by the relationships between things that exist at the same time’. Hirata adopts this concept but chooses to interpret it with the tangling theory in a way that he considers complex but is in fact one-dimensional. When the ‘things’ one refers to are people, the relations between them responsible for the creation of architectural form are most definitely socio-political. People truly do create space by coexisting but the way they negotiate their position in space and whether it is even possible to negotiate or not, is a very politically charged matter. An aesthetic interpretation of their relationships, mimicking natural structures or elements is rather superficial and totally incomplete. Especially when Hirata mentions that “his concept of tangling is to make the system with rooms to be developed into a huge, tree-like state” I found myself disagreeing with him. He speaks of Tokyo by referring to its lights and not to the ruthless capitalism that created it and he suggests urban design without so much as mentioning the socio-political responsibility that such an endeavour entails. The political games that are responsible for the creation of cities are ignored but to my opinion are the elephant in the room and Hirata’s incredible design and model-making skills do not successfully master the disappearing act.Akihisa Hirata’s exhibition will be on at the Architecture Foundation until the 17th of November
Read more about it at the Architecture Foundation website