Monday, October 08, 2012

Book Review: Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito: Forces of Nature edited by Jessie Turnbull
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012
Paperback, 144 pages

Since 1966 the Princeton University School of Architecture has hosted the Kassler Lecture, held annually in memory of longtime Princeton professor Kenneth Stone Kassler. But it's just this year that the Ivy League school started turning the lectures into books, beginning with Toyo Ito's 2009 lecture, "Generative Order," and soon to be followed with R. Buckminster Fuller's inaugural lecture. The book on Ito's lecture comes at a time when the Japanese architect is receiving attention not only for high-profile projects in the works but also his humanitarian efforts in Japan after the tsunami last year; the latter earned him and his fellow curators an award for the Japanese Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale.

Much of the book—made up of an essay by then dean Stan Allen, Ito's illustrated lecture, an essay by Ito from 1978 (translated into English for the book), an essay by Julian Worrall, and a short mention of "Home for All," the project that responds to the tsunami—is focused on a few of Ito projects: the White U house (1976, demolished 1997), the Tama Art University Library (2007), the Taichung Opera House (2013, under construction), and the BAM/PFA (unbuilt, now being designed by DS+R after Ito's design was too expensive for UC Berkeley to realize). These projects, as well as the Sendai Mediatheque (2000), are influential projects, affecting the way architects think about space, structure, and nature.

This influence can be partially attributed to the way Ito has been able to redefine his architecture over time without letting go of core beliefs, which recalls the tripartite view of Frank Gehry's oeuvre (chain link, early sculptural works, post-Bilbao projects). Ito has moved from, as Allen accurately describes it, redefining domestic architecture to preoccupations with digital technologies to structural experimentation. The last find expression at Tama Art University but will be even more dramatic and iconic in Taichung, Taiwan. Ito's Kassler lecture may have been all of three years ago, but the book is a timely product that sees an architect not willing to stop experimenting or reconsidering what architecture can accomplish.

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