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Junya Ishigami’s ‘Freeing Architecture’ is the Architectural Event of the Year


Junya Ishigami’s ‘Freeing Architecture’ is the Architectural Event of the Year
All images courtesy of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain and the Power Station of Art, Shanghai.

From 18 July 2018 to 7 October 2019, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain presents the first major solo exhibition ever dedicated to the young Japanese architect Junya Ishigami. The exhibition has encountered tremendous success, with both specialized audience and the general public, in France and abroad. Deemed the architectural event of the year by British newspaper The Guardian, Golden Prize winner of Milan’s Design Prize 2019 in the Exhibition Design category, the whole exhibition has joined Fondation Cartier’s collection since. As the first stage of an international touring, the exhibition is presented in Shanghai, in close collaboration with the Power Station of Art (PSA). 

Serpentine Pavilion

By presenting Junya Ishigami, Freeing Architecture in Shanghai at the PSA, the Fondation Cartier offers the architect his first exhibition in China, where he is currently carrying out several large-scale projects. The public is invited to discover some twenty of his architectural works in Asia and Europe through a series of large-format models, accompanied by films and drawings documenting the different stages in their conception and construction. Specifically designed for the Fondation Cartier’s airy glass building in Paris, the scenography has been completely redesigned by Junya Ishigami for the spaces of the monumental PSA. Thanks to this new event, the Fondation Cartier is able to renew its collaboration with this important Chinese public institution that is a significant player in the artistic and architectural spheres. The event takes place one year after the success of the exhibition A Beautiful Elsewhere, which revealed the wealth and diversity of the Fondation Cartier Collection to Chinese and international audiences. 

Water Garden

Ishigami readily finds context for his architectural projects in the natural world—landscapes, clouds, forests— thus removing the boundary between the external environment and interior space. Situating his work in the existing environment while also privileging the dream world as an important element in his creations, he elevates sensitivity to the rank of virtue. Born in 1974 in Kanagawa Prefecture, Ishigami belongs to the younger generation of Japanese architects who emerged in the 2000s in the wake of Toyo Ito and Kazuyo Sejima, and to which the Museum of Modern Art in New York has recently devoted a large exhibition. Trained at Tokyo University of the Arts, he gained experience as an architect at SANAA before founding JUNYA.ISHIGAMI+ASSOCIATES in 2004. Seemingly free of the rules and constraints of architecture, his work was quickly recognized for its singularity and honored with numerous awards. In 2010, he received the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale and in 2019, the Serpentine Gallery entrusted him with the design of their summer pavilion. His ambitious projects include the construction of the Kanagawa Institute of Technology Workshop in 2008. This building is remarkable in terms of both its light and airy spaces and the continuity it offers between interior and exterior. In 2011, he restored and transformed the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow into a museum-garden and in 2014, designed the striking House of Peace for the city of Copenhagen, an immense building in the shape of a cloud resting on the water, conceived as a symbol of peace. Since 2016, he has been working on a chapel in the Chinese province of Shandong, a 45-meter high edifice that seems to rise up out of a crack in the rock face. 

8 Villas In Dali

Models as Architecture

In Freeing Architecture, Ishigami elaborates upon his most recent research into function, form, scale and the environment in architecture, thereby revealing his vision for the future of the field. Through over 30 models, as well as numerous films and drawings, the exhibition presents twenty projects from their genesis to the complex process of their realization. Far from being tools prior to construction, the models assembled in the exhibition were made specifically on the occasion of the Fondation Cartier’s exhibition in 2018. As viewers contemplate these hand-crafted works, assembled in the architect’s studio over the course of one year, one can see the many steps and the painstaking work that led to the development of their final form. All different in terms of their material, size, and level of detail, they offer a glimpse of the slow maturation process, necessary for the creation of Ishigami’s architectural works. Works infused by a poetics that is achieved as much through experimentation, as it is by theory, knowledge, and technology.

House with Plants

Forest Kindergarten

Architecture as a Natural Phenomenon

A true ode to freedom, the exhibition Freeing Architecture demonstrates Ishigami’s astonishing capacity to think of his practice outside the limits of know-how and architectural thought. It takes the public on a journey into the artist’s imagination, revealing a multitude of poetic, sensitive worlds. A line drawn in the sky sketches a monument (Cloud Arch, Sydney, Australia); a collage of illustrations and animations for children serves as the pattern for the roof of a kindergarten (Forest Kindergarten, Shandong, China). According to Ishigami, architecture can be formed naturally, like a stone-built over time, through sedimentation and erosion. A project for a chef’s restaurant and residence in the south of Japan is designed “as a rock” (House & Restaurant, Yamaguchi, Japan). Between earth and sky, a semi-open space for university students evokes a changing sky, framed by an imaginary horizon (University Multipurpose Plaza, Kanagawa, Japan).

Cloud Garden

KAIT Workshop

A New Scenery 

Ishigami considers the surrounding environment as an integral part of each and every architectural project. He incorporates the scenery in his work, always magnifying it, even transforming it, as with a newly constructed lake in Rizhao, China, designed as the site for a one-kilometer long promenade building in Rizhao, China, and a forest project in Tochigi, Japan, with more than three hundred trees moved from their existing site and replanted on a neighboring plot of land. Designed as an architectural project, the exhibition Freeing Architecture has been carefully scenographed, with each space offering a unique landscape. Visitors can stroll through this impressive maze of walls, over 6 meters high, continually discovering new perspectives, ranging from a model of a transparent building designed for Vijversburg Park in the Netherlands, displayed at ground level, to a gigantic reproduction on a scale of 1:10 of a tall chapel with curved lines (Chapel of Valley, Rizhao, China). The spaces flow into each other like chapters, with themes such as the “garden universe,” “the world of childhood,” and “cloud projects.” The architect transforms the spaces of the PSA and the juxtaposition and succession of small and large models, as well as some immense collages and drawings, create an atmosphere that is at once solemn, dreamlike, playful, and calm. 

House of Peace

Perspectives on a Kaleidoscopic Body of Work

Children’s gardens, chapel, museum, landscaped park, house-restaurant, garden house, monument, and urban sculpture... the variety of constructions presented in the exhibition Freeing Architecture serves to reveal the richness and complexity of a flexible body of work, which is constantly reinvented. Rejecting the very possibility of a singular style, Junya Ishigami advocates, on the contrary, the inscription of each building into a specific aesthetic context, determined by its environment, function, inhabitants, and client. The architect approaches each of his projects without preconceived ideas and is quick to question his entire practice from both an aesthetic and a technical viewpoint. The apparent sobriety of his buildings deliberately masks the incredible complexity of their construction: he uses the soil of the very building site as a mold for a concrete structure (House & Restaurant, Yamaguchi, Japan); he transplants an entire forest destined to be felled in order to compose a dreamlike landscape dotted with trees and ponds (Botanical Farm Garden Art Biotop /Water Garden, Tochigi, Japan); and he designs the extension of a museum from underneath, by unveiling and enlarging its foundations (Moscow Polytechnic Museum, Russia). 

Junya Ishigami is the author of a work imbued with poetry and simplicity, behind which lie real technical challenges, put at the service of an exploration of humans place within the architectural construct.

House & Restaurant

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Founded in France in 1984, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is a unique example of corporate philanthropy. Since the foundation’s move to Paris in 1994 to a building designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, it has developed a program of highly memorable contemporary art exhibitions and frequently opens its doors to topics rarely examined by museums. Resolutely multidisciplinary, it plunges visitors into uncharted waters and prompts surprising and unexpected encounters between artists, scientists, philosophers, musicians, and architects from all around the world. This international scope is not limited to programming, for the Fondation Cartier has also organized numerous tours of its exhibitions to cities such as Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Seoul, and Shanghai. These tours have been made possible by the privileged relationships it has formed over the years with the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions.

Power Station of Art

Established on Oct. 1st, 2012, the Power Station of Art (PSA) is the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in mainland China. It is also home to the Shanghai Biennale. Renovated from the former Nanshi Power Plant, PSA was once the Pavilion of Future during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The museum has not only witnessed the city’s vast changes from the industrial age to the IT era but also provided a rich source of inspirations for artists with its simple yet straightforward architectural styles. As Shanghai’s generator for its new urban culture, PSA regards non-stopping innovation and progress as the key to its long-term vitality. The museum has been striving to provide an open platform for the public to learn and appreciate contemporary art, break the barrier between life and art, and promote cooperation and knowledge generation between different schools of art and culture.


To find out more about Junya Ishigami’s ‘Freeing Architecture’, click here

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