Interview: Akihisa Hirata

24 Sep 2012

Samantha Morley met Akihisa Hirata at the opening of his current exhibition, 'Tangling'

Tangling, Akihisa Hirata’s current project, is an immersive 1:1 scale installation and is a continuous curved sculpture upon which over a hundred study models and conceptual sketches of his are presented on. A video projection of an interview with the architect and films of his projects from various perspectives demonstrate his concept of architectural space as ‘Tangling’. Samantha Morley met him at the exhibition to find out more about his work and ideas, and winning the Golden Lion Award at this year's Venice Biennale.

Samantha: Akihisa, what is the concept behind ‘Tangling’?

Akihisa: Tangling for me is about how to make ecological architecture. In nature’s ecosystems, the seaweed must tangle on the rock, and the fishroe needs the seaweed to sustain its life. The three have no relation, and yet in their hierarchical system are related. I try to make such mixtures in my architecture, to make the connection from the larger scale; nature, to the smaller scale; human activity as a species. I try to connect each space together in my architecture, be it private areas or public areas in the residential home, all are related.

Samantha: You chose to study Architecture at Kyoto University, but what ignited your desire to become an architect?

Akihisa: When I was a child I lived in a place called New Town in Japan, which was constructed in the 1970s and situated in the countryside. I was exposed to the mixture of artificial houses existing alongside the nature, and felt that perhaps I could create a connection between the two with architecture.

Samantha: Is nature a key force behind a lot of the ideas in your architectural work?

Akihisa: The relationship between nature and space in my work is connected three-dimensionally. Buildings are clearly divided by floors, and this repetition is a fundamental component of modern architecture. I try to create a much more three-dimensional relationship by creating a real connection between the exterior and interior, to make architecture connected to the natural environment. I want to overwrite the typical idea of three-dimensional space. I want to make boundaries and boxes disappear because nature is not flat and buildings do not have to be.

Samantha: Whose architectural work has inspired you the most?

Akihisa: When I was growing up, my architectural hero was Michelangelo. He could create real three-dimensional space, and had the ability to create interiors and exteriors that were not limited by the traditional rules of architecture.

Akihisa, along with Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto and Naoya Hatakeyama, exhibited the project, ‘Architecture. Possible here? Home for all’, which was a Japanese pavillion project at the 13th Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition. It was awarded the prestigious Gold Lion Award for its best national participation.

Samantha: What was your experience at the Venice Biennale this year?

Akihisa: This year was my first year of attendance at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and we were anxious to see if visitors would understand our intentions for the project as it is very complicated.

Samantha: What was the concept behind ‘Architecture, possible here? Home for all’ ?

Akihisa: It was a trial to convey the meaning of architecture in the beginning of any society, as we cannot easily relate to the fact that in the eastern-Japan earthquake in 2011, everything was destroyed. They had to reconstruct the basis of their society. Usually in architecture, we communicate with a client to deliver architecture as required, but here we began re-designing from a zero-state, and collaborated with people from the site to decide what we could make to create society from scratch. The project was unique as such a task can only be undertaken for a disaster-struck area.

The curator selected two architects including me, who would collaborate to make just one house, which was challenging as each architect had very strong design ideas, but we managed to conquer each artistic difference to make the final proposal. The ‘Starchitect’ celebrates and is enabled by his/her economical success, but architectural work is also required when disasters happen, to help society through building. It was good for us to combine our work with the public to create something for them. That relationship is really fundamental. The exhibition is connected to the biggest question in our era - what is important in architecture? It is not just an individual expression by the Starchitect. The architect has a responsibility and must ask - what else can I do? We can create something much more valuable. I think the Architecture Biennale project has a lot to do with this question.

In the 21st century, just as with science, and literature, architecture can help us to find meaning and value in our societies. It is not the individual architect, or the writer’s sole responsibility, but it is everybody’s. Tangling is also related to this. It is about eliminating the individual and thinking on a larger scale. Everybody is connected and everybody has the same responsibility to their society.

Akihisa's 'Tangled' is exhibiting in The Architecture Foundation in London from 18th September-17th November 2012.

Samantha Morley

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