MoMA Offers Japanese Navigators in an Architectural Firmament

Moma offers japanese navigators in an architectural firmament
Junya Ishigami’s design for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology Workshop, part of the show “A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond” at the Modern / © Nicole Bengiveno

In 2012, Pedro Gadanho, who was then curator of contemporary architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, met with one of Japan’s leading architects, Toyo Ito, about preparing an exhibition on his experimental and organic work and that of the architects in his orbit.

At Mr. Gadanho’s request, Mr. Ito sketched a diagram of overlapping circles showing his “surroundings,” namely the web of architects and engineers whose work he has influenced, and whose work inspires him. This hand-dated drawing hangs at the entrance to the new exhibition, “A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond,” MoMA’s timely reminder of the beauty and daring that can be brought to public architecture, and the questing intellect required to push the profession forward.

The exhibition turns Mr. Ito’s intellectual “surroundings” into form, with models, drawings, sketches and photographs of work by him and a constellation of fellow innovators: Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the firm SANAA (designers of the New Museum in Lower Manhattan), and by the younger architects Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata and Junya Ishigami. They fill a white-walled maze pleasantly evocative of the bright, visually weightless spaces all members of this group have completed since 2000.

What binds this particular set of architects together is practice: All but Mr. Fujimoto have worked in the offices of Mr. Ito, Ms. Seijima or both. As you wend your way among “rooms” suggested by translucent scrims, motifs reappear in the 44 projects: surfaces dappled with square cutouts; columns that seem impossibly slim; roofs sculpted to look like mountain ranges; grids, grids and more grids. The exhibition intends to present an alternative model to the star system in contemporary architecture, although both Mr. Ito and the partners in SANAA have won the starriest of architecture prizes, the Pritzker. […]