Hitoshi Abe was the concluding lecturer in the winter quarter lecture series at Cal Poly Pomona.
This quarter's lecture series was entitled "Discipline." The common denominator of all the lecturers, was the way they delivered their clients something different from, or on top of what they expected. This could be achieved though technical or political rigor for example. Discipline in this sense can be viewed as a lubricant; a medium which helps squeeze in more than can seemingly fit. With that said, Hitoshi Abe's lecture seemed like an appropriate way to conclude the lecture series. He has several built works that portray highly conceptual and technical properties. I was only able to cover several of those projects.
The first slide of the lecture was this strange photo of Hitoshi sitting inside a bubble. He explained that when he was a student he wanted to see how he could connect himself to the world. In this case, the surface acts as a boundary, or a mediator between two spatial conditions. He explained that this condition is a common thread in his works and is something he has been investigating throughout his career.
This bridge was one of his first projects. The client had asked him to design an iconic entry piece and handrail for the existing bridge. Instead of the projected vision of the city, the project utilized a formal strategy to tie the bridge with its context. A series of frames were shaped to respond to the different elevations of the landscape using a rule-based technique. Hitoshi described the form as a figure moving through the landscape.
The next project he showed was a small restaurant which was formally conceived in a similar manner to the bridge. He described how the client wanted a nice facade improvement to the existing restaurant, but they could really only operate within the interior of the space. After programmatic and structural conditions were more or less set, the form of the surface reacted to the given conditions. I was starting to understand what he meant by a thickened boundary which mediates between two spatial conditions.
This project is a community center and auditorium in Kumamoto, Japan. The programmatic pieces were diagrammatically summed up into one open box. The two sides of the box were then formally undulated to create a thickened boundary. The boundary then takes on functions such as points of entry and office spaces, but also achieves acoustical performance for the auditorium. The form relied heavily on the tectonic of the wood frame. Wooden frames were prefabricated and shipped onto the site then erected and assembled. Hitoshi explained the boundary surface as a trace of interior and exterior forces.
During the lecture, he also curated some of the projects by their materiality. The previous project relied on wood construction for its form generation. The next project utilized prefabricated concrete construction to achieve a different kind of surface.
This project is a prosthetic office building in Sendai, Japan. It was described as a flagpole shaped building with a suspended glass box in the middle which separates manufacturing spaces from offices. Its facade looks like stacked precast concrete panels arranged in a checker-pattern. Hitoshi explained that these panels are in fact not stacked, they are held together with post-tension cables and rely on friction joints. After explaining this,he advised us, “don’t do it.” Hitoshi said that some of the panels began to crack, due to imprecision in the precast process. He explained that in this project, the material was used less to define space, but used rather as a skin to mitigate its relationship with the surroundings.
This project is made entirely out of steel. Hitoshi explained it as a small cultural art space, that was diagrammatically conceived of as a series of soap bubbles. The idea of the soap bubble portrays a sense of non-hierarchical spaces which share common boundary relationships. The spaces developed through morphology of spherical bodies within a box, and these forms became much more hard-edged in the final iteration. The spatial effect in this case was interesting to me because unlike the previous projects, it created not only two-sided conditions like outside-inside, but also more complex ones like inside-inside and inside-outside. The steel construction of this project utilizes double-sided embossed panels that are pressed and welded to one another in a factory. They are then assembled on site.
The last project I covered during the lecture was a small restaurant in Sendai, Japan.
He was asked to design a restaurant in the interior of an existing building. He asked the question, “why don’t we insert the second skin within the building to tie the spaces smoothly together?” There was also a desire to make a connection to a nearby avenue of tress. A photograph of the trees was manually pixilated and perforated out of metal to emulate shadow and light condition inside the restaurant. The problem was how to hide the frame so that the perforations don’t reveal the lines of the frame. For that Hitoshi went to ship manufacturers. The image below shows the steel workers who welded the folded steel panels.
Hitoshi explained that in this project, the effect is going beyond the characteristics of the material. The steel was exploited to achieve an effect different than its inherent capabilities.
The lecture covered some of the more recent projects, however I was busy taking photographs and did not take notes. He expressed a more recent interest in interactive digital surfaces which create communication between spaces.
I was lucky enough to join Hitoshi and some of our faculty for dinner after the lecture. This is a wonderfully awkward shot of us at a nice Italian restaurant in Claremont.
Apropos thoughts about incidents and happenings in and around the Cal Poly Pomona Architecture program.