Interview with Japanese architect Junya Ishigami

Junya Ishigami sits flanked by his translator and Jose Carlier
(Image credit: Jose Carlier)

Junya Ishigami sits flanked by his translator and Jose Carlier, President of the Interieur Foundation, hailed as the diminutive incarnation of the future of design. It’s the Belgian Interieur Biennale’s 22nd edition, and the 36-year old Japanese architect – a stellar pupil of Sanaa’s Kazuyo Sejima – has been invited as the guest of honour to lead the debate on this year’s theme: the new world.

It’s a fitting tribute to the youthful designer’s rising star. His work bridges the ever-more-blurred boundaries between artistic disciplines, testament to which is the fact that he is known equally for his installations (see his Cuboid Balloon at the Museum for Contemporary art in Tokyo, a monolithic but lightweight structure which hovers over the heads of viewers) and his furniture collection for Living Divani, as he is for KAIT, the ethereally white and forest-like, many-columned workshop he built for the Kanagawa Institute of Technology.

But, he says, it is important to blend rather than to blur the lines between branches of design. ‘The combination of art and interior design is important to create a new way of architecture. All fields should be influenced by each other, but they should not merge completely because that way possibilities gets lost. Each field should bring its own characteristic, and then you can look for new boundaries for new architecture.’

New architecture the Ishigami way references nature first and foremost. Take, for instance, an artificial island project he’s currently working on in Japan. Where an 8-metre deep lake had been created for industrial purposes, the architect’s solution was to make a landscape park by draining it to create islands which can be reached via narrow walkways or boat. Meanwhile, Yohji Yamamoto’s New York triangular 1950s shop moved Ishigami - its interior and, as it turns out, exterior designer - to splice the brick ediface into two dramatic pieces, create a pathway for pedestrians and ‘blend the inside with the outside’ to create a landscape.

‘For me the most important thing is to eliminate the boundaries between nature and architecture,’ he explains. ‘Not to blend them completely but to eliminate the boundaries.’

'Picnic', the furniture installation he’s working on for Interieur (which opens in October this year) remains true to the recurring Ishigami theme. ‘I chose the name "Picnic" because I wanted to make clear that although furniture is used as a tool, it is not just utilitarian. I wanted it to create an impression of landscape, so that a table becomes like a pond, or so that a set of chairs looks like family members standing and talking to one another.’

Another common thread is the almost uniform white of his projects, although, he claims, it is not by design – rather he appears to consistently happen upon it. ‘Originally it was not my favourite colour. At the beginning I hated it,’ he says. ‘But for each building I do lots of colour studies, so if I end up with white, it’s only after a lot of thinking.’

Interieur opens in Ghent in October 2010