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Junya Ishigami: Architecture as Air

Junya Ishigami: Architecture as Air Portrait. Photo: Lyndon Douglas

Portrait. Photo: Lyndon Douglas

14 September 2011
by Leila Hasham

A cloud is one new image for architecture. 

Clouds appear as a phenomenon of nature. 

Architecture that floats lightly in the air, soft and fluffy like a cloud, transparent and intricate like an airflow, vast and enormous, but even then having no substance. Such is the kind of architecture I pursue.

                - Junya Ishigami


When entering the pristine, white space of the Curve, having descended the staircase, shoe-less and bag-less, the visitor's physicality becomes heightened, their voice takes on a hushed tone and the soft padding of their feet sends muffled echoes across the gallery floor. This induced reverence seems apt when confronted with the ethereal, cobwebby structure, glimmering in the light.

This is the first UK installation by the young Tokyo-based architect Junya Ishigami, who has garnered international acclaim for a body of work characterised by its lightness and delicacy and playful use of material and scale.  Conceiving of a structure, which he describes as 'melting endlessly into space', and responding to the Curve's unique site, the series of 53 impossibly-thin post and beam construction stands at 4 metres high and appear to be held in place by air and atmosphere alone. Only on close inspection, seen against raking light and the darkly clad gallery assistants are the delicate structural components revealed.

This is an extraordinary piece of engineering, achieved with the assistance of Jun Sato Structural Engineers and, through testing in a full-size mock-up of the Barbican's gallery, erected in a shed in Yokohama. Constructed from sheets of carbon fibre, which have been rolled by hand into fine columns, much like making a cigar, these vertical elements are positioned regularly in a single curved line throughout the space.  Attached at regular intervals along the column are white nylon threads, which have been broken down into their rudimentary parts, so that all is left is the purest of form.  The über fine threads are positioned at four points on the floor, becoming tension elements that allow the columns to float and dissolve within the space. Comprising 2,756 threads in total, the structure's delicate strings fade into the atmosphere and Ishigami achieves a new level of transparency for architecture, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, architecture and environment. Lightness is key here; the total weight of the installation is the same as the Limited Edition Print, a mere 300 grammes. 

Ishigami looks to create a man-made structure akin to natural phenomena, to recreate the same transparency found in nature and when reading his statement on the Gallery wall the penny begins to drop. The columns, he says, are about as thick as raindrops, and the bracing threads are as thick as drops of water vapour in clouds. These words seem to resonate when returning through the space. The crowning and cast shadows from the overhead industrial lamps on the side of the wall are suggestive of brewing clouds or mist, with the spindly white columns taking on the delicate forms of rain.


Junya Ishigami Architecture as Air continues until 16 October, 2011. 

The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery