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Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: New Architecture in Japan

New Architecture in Japan by Yuki Sumner and Naomi Pollock with David Littlefield, photography by Edmund Sumner
Merrell, 2010
Hardcover, 272 pages

Many collections of contemporary architecture are authored by those unable to actually visit the places they write about. This is a fact that extends to similar online content, as well as magazines and newspapers that don't have the budgets to send writers around the globe to see the latest and greatest buildings in person. So with this state of affairs in mind, it's refreshing to find books born from personal experience, like this diverse collection of recent architecture in Japan. The travels of Edmund and Yuki Sumner, toddler in tow, can be seen as the backbone of the book, but it does not read like a guide; Edmund's skilled photography combine with Yuki and Naomi Pollock's thorough descriptions to create a snapshot of the country's current architectural production, situated within a wider historical context. Introductory essays by Yuki Sumner and Pollock extend this aspect of the book, respectively highlighting some of the most influential practices and discussing some of the influences that have enabled a consistently high, yet diverse, quality of architecture in the country.
The over 100 projects featured are partitioned into seven broad building types: infrastructure and public spaces, culture, sports and leisure, education, health and religion, houses and housing, offices and retail. Most are completed, but a few in-progress designs are found. Most striking of the latter is the Musashino Art University Library by Sou Fujimoto, a library composed of a spiraling bookcase. The diversity of buildings might be what is most striking about the book. The concrete architecture of Tadao Ando did not prevail over today's architects; Ando's contemporaries and predecessors (Kurokawa, Takamatsu, Isozaki, etc.) find their influence in sculptural forms, buildings rooted in history, almost invisible glass boxes, and other characteristics. And of course the global influence is found in projects embracing sustainability, boosting tourism, and stemming from global capitalism (shopping, fashion, etc.). Like architecture in general, the buildings presented here are a confluence of the local and the global. A fairly strong sense of place can be derived from the text and photos, but a map situating the projects would have been really helpful. But as I said, this is not a guide, even though it arises from the Hokkaido-to-Kyushu trips of dedicated travelers.

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