A Decodable Metaphysics
Arata Isozaki and I are contemporaries, and both of us studied in Tange's studio. That is why the "Arata Isozaki: Architecture, 1960-1990" exhibition gives me the feeling that I am looking back on my own times through a different pair of eyes.
In as much as architecture is something that expresses, whether consciously or unconsciously, the spirit of the age, one expects in the thirty-year record of an architect a broad range of themes and diverse ways of addressing those themes, but the breadth and diversity revealed in Isozaki's work are still astonishing.
There are architects like Alvar Aalto and Tadao Ando who transcend their time and place and succeed in putting their own personal stamp on all their work. They tend to repeat themselves, producing a succession of works that are made similar in character by the traces of artistic personality. Isozaki, on the other hand, has removed all traces of himself. His recent statements regarding "formalizing architecture", "architecture as a metaconcept", and "Architecture with a capital 'A'" each suggests an attempt to elude the reality of such traces of personality and to discover the norms of a metaphysical architecture.
However, since architecture ultimately can exist only in a vi*le material form, copious statements are inevitably needed to relate those metaphysical norms to the works themselves. Very few architects today are brave enough to speak of metaphysical norms of architecture, and there are very few who have the ability to analyze and explain the relationship between such statements and their work. The fact that he is to be numbered among the few would alone suffice to make Isozaki a remarkable and much valued presence. He serves a particularly important role since the Japanese critical climate favors criticism based only on impressions, feelings, and tastes.
The third section of the current exhibition features such landmarks as the Gumma P refectural Museum of Fine Arts, Tsukuba Center Building, and Musashikyuryo Country Clubhouse. Isozaki's works cannot be seen in major cities like Tokyo, Paris, London, or New York. All his representative works in Japan have been built in provincial cities.
Isozaki entitled the first installment of his article "Formalizing Architecture'' serialized in Shinkenchiku, "Anti-Urban Architecture". He wrote, "In both East and West, irregular and unrefined designs have repeatedly gained currency and have transmuted the character of those orthodox, integral, formal designs that constituted the mainstream." What does Isozaki mean by "antiurban architecture"? He is not referring to things like rustic, thatched-roof retreat*ut rather to an architecture that is anti-urban in a metaphysical sense. That which is "anti-urban" resists the orthodoxy ruling the metropolis, namely the state, industrial society, and commercialism. "Anti-urban' architecture is the kind of architecture that ought to be built in the city. The works that Isozaki has realized in provincial cities are consequently very urban buildings. Thus his Tsukuba Center Building speaks of the absence of the state or the center, and his recent Kitakyushu International Conference Center speaks of the fictional city produced by the death of the industrial city.
What is distinctive to this third section is a "manner"--employing the methods of linguistics and semiotics--for creating architecture out of the integration of quotation and rhetoric. Isozaki was not the first to do something like this. In the literary world there have been for some time attempts to develop through the methods of linguistics and semiotics a "manner" by which literature might be made decodable as metaphysics. For Isozaki, who ha*een attempting to remove traces of personality (i.e., the traces of the hand) and regional culture (i.e., the genius loci), a "manner" was the sole means available for realizing architecture.
I am interested in knowing whether or not there is a limit to the efficacy of such a "manner". That i*ecause the main theme of today's re-examination of modernism is the dismantling of metaphysical ideas, logocentrism, anthropocentrism, and Eurocentrism.
Refuting an orthodox metaphysical idea with another metaphysical idea is an extremely difficult, perhaps hopeless, task. For someone like me, who is trying to search for a double code (i.e., a philosophy of symbiosis) that does not deny either a metaphysics or the traces of the hand (personality), place (regionality) or culture (tradition), the Musashikyuryo Country Clubhouse and the Sant Jordi Sports Hall (appearing in the fourth section), are particularly interesting. That i*ecause with respect to such works Isozaki speaks of the genius loci, the power of place, and the (actual) place as a space-time continuum, and uses the lantern, a Japanese form which is a product of history.
In his next phase Isozaki may try to join "manner" to "power of place". That at least is my guess.
The central postmodern theme now being developed in many fields, from medicine, physics, comparative religion, and philosophy to literature comprises the dismantling of Eurocentrism and logocentrism. Isozaki is on the cutting edge of this movement, and the new interest he is showing in Japanese culture, the trace of the hand, and the power of place has something in common with the difficult path I myself am at present traveling. It merits close attention.