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Art DesignDesign Speak: Sou Fujimoto Blends Nature With Architecture

Design Speak: Sou Fujimoto Blends Nature With Architecture

Design Speak: Sou Fujimoto Blends Nature With Architecture
By Christopher DeWolf
April 04, 2018
The Japanese architect's buildings are a seamless mix of nature and everyday life.

When Sou Fujimoto was a kid growing up in rural Hokkaido in the 1970s, he was fascinated by nature. So when he moved to Tokyo as a young man, you could reasonably assume he’d have hated one of the most populous metropolises in the world—a vast grey sprawl of small houses and boxy apartment buildings.

But that wasn’t the case at all. “I liked Tokyo very much, which was surprising to me,” recalls the architect. It turned out Fujimoto was fascinated by Tokyo for the same reasons he loved nature. The city felt alive and organic, full of fascinating little details such as shop awnings and electrical wires. Like a forest, the city is a framework of life: solid but also nebulous, beautiful at any given moment, but ever-changing.

You can say the same about Fujimoto’s buildings. Since launching his own architectural practice in 2000, he has designed houses, apartment towers and retail complexes that feel less like buildings and more like loose skeletons that wrap themselves around the lives of their inhabitants. “Something between nature and architecture” is how Fujimoto describes his approach to design.

(Related: 10 Nature-Inspired Ways To Make Your Home Glow)

The Souk Mirage, a new retail zone envisioned for a Middle Eastern city, comprises towers of stacked arches and multiple waterfalls. All images courtesy of Sou Fujimoto Architects, unless otherwise stated
The Souk Mirage, a new retail zone envisioned for a Middle Eastern city, comprises towers of stacked arches and multiple waterfalls. All images courtesy of Sou Fujimoto Architects, unless otherwise stated

“Every time the division between architecture and nature starts to blur, we can find something new in between”

The seeds of that idea were planted in some of Fujimoto’s early residential work in Tokyo. House N is a house in the city that was completed in 2008. It frames a garden and living area with a series of concrete walls punctuated by large rectangular openings—some glazed, with others open to the elements. Its spiritual descendant is House NA, built in 2012 on a 592sqft lot for a young couple that wanted a radically transparent living space. Fujimoto gave them a simple white steel frame that contains a series of 21 staggered platforms—a kind of grown-up treehouse where the boundaries between the indoors and outdoors disappear. “My dream is to create architecture without walls,” he explains.

(Related: The Art Of Glassmaking)

House NA is a house inspired by the idea of living in a tree
House NA is a house inspired by the idea of living in a tree

Fujimoto caught the world’s attention with his design for the 2013 Serpentine Pavilion, part of the annual series of installations by world-renowned architects including Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer, Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel. Fujimoto’s pavilion was a mesmerising lattice of white poles that floated upwards like a pixelated cloud. At the time, he said he wanted to play with the contrast between the “really sharp, artificial white grids and the organic, formless experience” of walking through the space.

Since then, Fujimoto’s work has garnered plenty of attention in the press and on social media, leading to more and more international work such as the Bookchair, which he produced in 2017 for Italian furniture brand Alias. A white grid-shaped bookcase that incorporates a pull-out chair, the piece taps into the same aesthetic as House NA as well as the Serpentine Pavilion.

But Fujimoto seems less interested in developing that white-grid aesthetic than in promoting the boundary-blurring ideas that originally led to it. His 2013 design for a public toilet in the countryside of Ichihara, Japan, called for a glass box planted in the middle of a lush walled garden. “It’s quite simple—it’s a glass box, a wall and a door,” he says. “It looks like a funny project, but I was quite serious.”

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Toilet in Nature minimises the boundaries between the manmade structure and surrounding greenery, with a wooden log fence providing privacy
Toilet in Nature minimises the boundaries between the manmade structure and surrounding greenery, with a wooden log fence providing privacy

Two recent projects apply that sensibility on an even larger scale. L’Arbre Blanc is an apartment tower currently under construction in Montpellier, France. Inspired by the city’s mild climate and Mediterranean lifestyle, with its penchant for outdoor socialising and dining, Fujimoto surrounded the building with huge balconies of varying depths. These balconies give residents a chance to create their own outdoor spaces and gardens, which will have the effect of turning the apartment building into a dynamic monument to its residents’ own personalities.

 

For another French project, Milles Arbres, Fujimoto plans to bridge a Parisian expressway with a mixed-use complex that will include two garden levels—hence its name, which means “thousand trees”. The rooftop will even be studded by small houses, giving its residents the unique experience of living in a forest in the middle of metropolitan Paris. Whether it’s a toilet in the woods or a building that contains a forest, Fujimoto thinks the ideas behind his work can be scaled up to even greater heights. “The concept can be expanded,” he says. “Every time the division between architecture and nature starts to blur, we can find something new in between.”

 

Scroll through some of Sou Fujimoto's past projects in the slideshow below:

Fujimoto’s first Hong Kong project, Potato Head Hong Kong, opened in 2016. The architect references the restaurant and bar’s Balinese origins through decorative white latticework on the facade and traditional hand-painted wood panels. Although the project has no outdoor space, lush indoor greenery gives the space the feeling of a sunroom. Photo: courtesy of Potato Head Hong Kong
Built in Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture in 2006, large pieces of lumber are stacked like Jenga game pieces to create a variety of nooks and surfaces that are connected with nature in the Final Wooden House.
Fujimoto’s first high-rise residential project, L'Arbre Blanc combines a relatively typical apartment tower with enormous balconies that appear to spiral upwards and give the building a dynamic appearance.
The Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens used a grid of white steel to create a structure with unexpected views of the greenery and light of the surrounding park.
 

This story was adapted from Singapore Tatler Homes February-March 2018.

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Art & Designarchitecthomesdesigndesignersou fujimoto

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