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Monday, December 03, 2007

Book Review: SANAA Houses

SANAA Houses by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa

In early 2007 the Contemporary Art Museum of Castilla y León (MUSAC) presented an exhibition "tracing the artistic trajectory" of Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA). The trajectory of the duo -- whose design for the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened recently -- can be traced, like many architects, through their house designs. This book, published in conjunction with the above exhibition, presents twelve houses (five complete, seven unfinished) by the architects, both collectively and as individuals.
After a conversation with the duo and curator Agustin Perez Rubio at the start of the book, SANAA's Flower House is presented, taking up the most pages of any project, and for good reason. Not only is the project an impressive design that takes minimalism to an extreme (like Herzog & de Meuron's also unbuilt Kramlich House), with walls dissolving to leave only planes of floor and roof, the museum also built a half-scale model in one of its galleries to give visitors a unique perspective on an architectural project. Not quite habitable (except for children) but of such a scale that those not capable of deciphering the conventional expressions (plans, sections, sketches, small-scale models, etc.) could easily grasp the qualities of the design.
The rest of the houses follow the same presentation of the Flower House, meaning minimal explanatory text and full-page images of models, design drawings, construction drawings, and finished photographs. What's most remarkable is the similarity of the conceptual images and the completed, inhabited photos. The latter embody the minimal, abstract qualities of the designs, even with the clutter of everyday life. Some of this similarity owes to the photographs and to the power of the image in conveying certain characteristics, though praise must be given to the architects for their ability in physically achieving their designs. It is clear that the duo -- separate or together -- have an knack for creating strong spaces, but they also grasp the means of making them happen, making the construction disappear to leave only what is required, the bare minimum. A few essays close the book, but it is clearly the images, like any good monograph and for good reason, that are the most rewarding.

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