Sou Fujimoto's compelling proposal for the 2013 Serpentine Pavilion in London's Kensington Gardens is the latest example of an aesthetic of dematerialization unique to Japanese design. This approach consists of the aggregation of a great number of self-similar, ultralight components into a cloudlike mass. Because of its nearly immaterial nature, the atmospheric poché that results is defined more by void than solid, creating thickened, visually, but not physically inhabitable, spaces in place of conventional architectural surfaces.
Fujimoto's enormous nest will be composed of thousands of 20mm steel poles arranged within a three-dimensional orthogonal grid. "The Pavilion will be a delicate, three-dimensional structure, each unit of which will be composed of fine steel bars," the architect said in a press release. "It will form a semi-transparent, irregular ring, simultaneously protecting visitors from the elements while allowing them to remain part of the landscape."
This method of material assembly is reminiscent of the wooden bracketing used to support the heavy roof structures of traditional Japanese temples and shrines. Bracketing acts as a kind of stepped load-bearing technique, in which weight is conveyed incrementally from one member down to the next.
In recent designs by Fujimoto, Kengo Kuma, Ryuji Nakamura, and others, bracketing has become a predominant form-making technique. Although it can be quite labor-intensive and unforgiving in terms of connection precision, this mass-assembly approach raises provocative questions about the relationship between interior and exterior, form and structure, as well as solid and void. How very Japanese.
Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.