March 23, 2023

La Ronge Northerner

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Japanese architect Arata Isozaki dies at the age of 91

Mr. Isozaki finally built the museum as a village of Platonic solids clad in richly textured Indian red sandstone, with grand pyramidal skylights illuminating the serene galleries below. The first exhibition—massive, glowing, still visual—introduced the Japanese concept of ma, sometimes described as a void full of possibilities, to a Western collection of shapes straight out of a geometry textbook. “This gallery was worth the whole building,” Mr. Geary said at its opening.

The project has transformed Mr. Isozaki into an international career for four decades, which he has pursued in a range of styles in many countries. He built a colorful and fanciful postmodern team building in Orlando, Florida; For the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, ​​Spain, he designed the more sedate and symmetrical 18,000-seat St. Jordi Pavilion.

Among his most unexpected designs was the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha. Its roof is supported by an imaginary pair of giant concrete “trees” with bulbous trunks and thick branches, the surreal forms contrasting with the right-angled modernist structure. As in many of his buildings, he used detail to breach the building’s overall system of control—where the irrational coexists with the rational. Domus (La Casa del Hombre), his science museum in A Coruña, Spain, deviates from the language of his earlier buildings, with a smoothly curved, sail-like façade facing a cubic stone structure, all perched atop rocky and wild hills.

A connoisseur of radicalism in the arts – early on he was drawn to jazz, the Tokyo neo-Dadaists and John Cage – Mr. Isozaki was, as one critic noted, a “guerrilla architect” who engineered controversy within an architectural culture that largely conformed to the rules of modernism. Frequently a guest juror at competitions, he pursued the most unorthodox projects. In 1983, he defended a seemingly unbuildable entry for a sports club in Hong Kong by the then unknown young Iraqi architect. Zaha Hadid. The bold vote launched her career.

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In the 1970s, the language of modernism was torn apart when postmodernists questioned functionalism in architecture and the West’s fundamental belief in the unity of the Renaissance. For Mr. Isozaki, architecture has become a cultural practice – in his words, “a machine for producing meaning.” He designed the buildings with symbols and references, imbuing them with irony and even disturbing humour. He designed the Fujimi Country Club in Oita as a question mark: Why, after all, is golf in Japan?

Mr. Isozaki has emerged as a force driving the architectural New Wave in Japan while at the same time rooting his designs—sometimes called his “ideal crimes”—in Japanese spiritual traditions. He interpreted and regionalized Western patterns and philosophies with Japanese concepts of absence, emptiness, shadow, and darkness.