06: Conversation series 26



Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones interview Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. 
This succint book is part 26 of the Conversation series. The Conversation Series is a continuum of great interviews given by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. It is primarily a chronological whirlwind of Hans's world traveling ways where he gets to interview great and often famous people from the art and architecture world.  The seven interviews documented in this book span across two decades covering their initial projects to SANAA's ascent to the architectural elite, as well as their artistic collaborations with artists such as Luisa Lambri and Walter Niedermayr.
We start by understanding the program and then try to find the design by setting out each element. There are always many ways to do this that work pretty well and, though we are never sure it is the right way, we progress in a design by adding our own parameters. From one day to the next we are trying to find sensible relationships between one element and another. It is a process of adding rules together. - SANAA
This book is a fantastic guide into SANAA's clear thinking and the simple decisions behind their award-winning buildings. It is more than anything, a view into SANAA's methodology for designing them, or at least a partial view into the way they describe how they design their buildings. 
Dissolving the edge of interior space is something we're interested in  -  Kazuyo Sejima
Although Nishizawa and Sejima have their own independent practices, when together as SANAA they seem to have their individual approaches complementing each other. Their way of designing is definitely an unusual way of operating, they are able to take the simplest statements and achieve a not commonly-occurring project; moreover, they seem to have an affinity with subtle statements, whether it is in their way of describing a project or in the materiality of their constructions, their speech is full with subtle statements that undermine the genius of their architecture. 
We often try to create non-directional architecture - Ryue Nishizawa
A curve creates a reflection that's somehow different from reality, whether it's aluminum or acrylic. We like to use this to softly distort the surroundings. - Ryue Nishizawa
Although a little brush with influences is touched upon, the Japanese architects Toyo Ito, Kiyonori Kikutake, HIroshi Hara and Kazuo Shinohara are mentioned as well as  the eternal Mies and Corbusier, perhaps the biggest gap with other progressive architects is their aversion for the use of computers in their work a sentiment they are ready to express. 
The reason we like hand-drawings is because the abstraction it allows is more personal than that of a computer - Ryue Nishizawa
Computers create very flat drawings and automatically decide the level of abstraction - Kazuyo Sejima

Endowed with such a simple way of post-rationalizing the design process, one wonders how many other people follow the same logic but arrive at completely different conclusions, and more importantly, less impressive results. Their genius is constantly underplayed and their  suppression of the ego is extraordinary. SANAA always seem to be striving to create the desired effects rather than achieving the desired effects, they prefer progress and development instead of sophisticated grand theories or unalterable conclusions
So to design a new building is rather to create a meaning within the flow of history. It's not so much to appreciate the architecture, but rather a general understanding of a given environment. - Ryue Nishizawa
Wherever I go, wherever we go, the buildings aspire to have links with the environment. - Kazuyo Sejima
We are very much interested in architecture's relationship with nature, the way architecture appears together with the surroundings - Kazuyo Sejima

It is with these simple thoughts that they investigate a theme in every project; their project description is a catalogue of problem solving, whether it is dissolving the edge of a building as in the Rolex Center, merging with the surrounding trees as in the Serpentine Pavilion, a groundfloor-building as in Almere, a museum as a park as in Kanazawa, breaking up the scale in a high-rise as in the New Museum in New York or enter the 'flow of history' as in the Zollverein School in Essen, the genius in their buildings is undeniable and we can only wonder of their connection with Plato's theory of forms. What abstract entities that exist independent of the world are they interested in? What is SANAA's concrete idea of beauty? perhaps we will never know and that is ok because we will always have their buildings.