04: Tarzans in the media forest




This book is a collection of writings, but it might as well be a fascinating string of thoughts dotted with deeply personal remarks about the genesis and reasoning behind the author´s most intimate architectural acts; each essay is a definite progression of thought. Written with incredible naiveté, Toyo Ito himself seems to hold the reader at close distance with notes of thoughtfulness and a slightly somber predisposition. Tarzans in the media forest is part of the Architectural Association's Architecture words.

Pritzker prize winner Toyo Ito founded his office in the early 1970s after briefly collaborating with Kiyonori Kikutake. Initially called URBOT later renamed to Toyo Ito & Associates, an office that revolves around Ito´s own imagination and observational capabilities. In this book, the voice of Ito is heard through four decades of writing; he is continuously collecting all thoughts and analyzing the built world from multiple scales as a voice immersed in a microcosm of cultural and technological contingencies. Each essay relies on the productive feedback between built work and theoretical assumptions, one feeding the other constantly, growing closer with every new project.

The first essay on the collection is called ‘The Logic of uselessness’, written in 1971 is a flashy semi sci-fi story about the first images of what architecture should be and the imagined awakening of an architectural office; following with ´White Ring´, ‘Signs of Light’ and ´Silver Hut´ which are delicate mental exercises on light, surface and function coupled with analyses on built projects.

"What I want from a white wall is no more than a notation of the shapes of people casually leaping about" - Toyo Ito - White Ring

"I just want to make highly innovative presentations of architecture in its most natural state" Toyo Ito - Silver Hut.

With the essays of ´What is the reality of architecture in a futuristic city?´´Architecture for the simulated city´, and ´Architectural scenery in the Saran Wrap City´ Ito leaps forward beyond the scale of a house to that of a city preoccupied with the speed of construction and renewal in a city like Tokyo with all its complex layering and heritage. Themes of modernity appear and the implications of technology within a modern lifestyle. Under this lens, a city is often seen only as a collection of spaces extending domestic space.

For instance, when Ito is confronted with a simple convenience store like the ones that currently flood the city of Tokyo, he does not see a city plot used as a product-selling space, he sees a device injected deliberately in the city fabric with an agenda of homogenization and sterility; a post-natural environment in which food is no longer food but is an odorless symbol, a plastic hyper-object placed in a plastic space.

"Perishable foods are covered with Saran wrap, and thereby homogenized and relativized. By being wrapped with sheets of thin, transparent film, all perishable foodstuffs are deprived of any sense of vitality, and take on a neutral, abstract, symbolic existence." Toyo ito - Architectural scenery in the Saran Wrap City´

As a logical consequence, we have the following question: If homogenous products are placed inside buildings, how long until buildings themselves become homogenized?

"Even the apparently rich individuality of the multiple works of architecture in our surroundings is, in many cases, no more than the superficial decoration of homogenous content with differing forms. These buildings are like the perishable, Saran-wrapped goods that you see in the windows of convenience stores." Toyo Ito - Architecture for the simulated City

In ´A garden of microchips´ and in the seminal ´Tarzans in the media forest´ Ito starts preocupping himself with the way modern cities are palimpsests of super-imposed and highly layered territories that served certain historical urban functions yet still need to serve new urbanistic needs:

Could we not uncover the structure and the natural flow historically present within the constructions of the machine age, superimpose on them the networks of the electronic era and allow the whole thing to be recreated as phenomenological space? Only then would it be possible to describe this city as a ‘garden of microchips" Toyo Ito - A garden of microchips

"It would be more appropriate to call architecture clad in such a membrane a media suit. Architecture is an extension of clothing and therefore a media suit. It is a transparent suit meant for a digitalized and transparent body. And people clad in transparent media suits will live in virtual nature, in the forest of media. They are Tarzans in the media forest" - Toyo Ito - Tarzans in the Media Forest

With the ´The Sendai Mediateque as a new dom-ino system´, Ito begins to realize, as in other essays can be ascertained,  that certain conditions contrast with his own pure rationality, as he is confronted with the raw materiality of a construction site turning his thoughts into the physicality of construction and the literal weight or architecture.

´Ichiro-like architects: on the reality of architecture´ talks about the new set of tricks and minimalistic tendencies from the new generation of Japanese architects as well as their limitations. Early career moves are mentioned from such luminaries like Sou Fujimoto and Ryue Nishizawa. The name Ichiro is a reference to the baseball player Ichiro Suzuki and his cool, expresionless way of batting as a reference for perfecting technique: within the new generation of architects it is not batting but the effortless usage of the computer to generate new set of design rules.

"The raw dynamic of real material was much more appealing than any pure, abstract beauty, so much that I began to wonder whether another kind of architecture might be possible, a total departure from the clear, pure ´less is more ´ model." Toyo Ito - Dynamic delight

In 'The new real: Toward reclaiming materiality in contemporary architecture´ and  ´Dynamic delight over aesthetic purity´ Ito realizes ultimately that Modern architecture was an all-too-encompassing sterilized panacea that got trapped in its own recursive disciplinary biases. His practice changes course once again leaving as trace incendiary comments like these ones:

"Minimal and stoic, many buildings showcase a pure geometric beauty, but do they really invigorate people?" Toyo Ito

Modernist architecture is all too familiar to both architects and users alike. We´d convinced ourselves that plain, unadorned, transparent, abstract spaces were ultimate beauty. As if pure geometric forms like squares and round columns were the only possible geometries, or optimally functional combinations thereof were absolutely appropriate everywhere.

"Was the final aim of Mies´s famous aphorism ´less is more to have people live in a Cartesian vacuum?" Toyo Ito - The new real

The most conspicuous point of this argument is reached when Ito places the young Mexican architect Juan O´Gorman and his house/atelier for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo as a more developed architecture than Le Corbusier himself (despite the direct influence from Corbu's Onzenfant Atelier from 1923) or at least the solutions Le Corbusier gave for his earlier houses that were supposed to be standing as foundations of modern architecture and therefore should display full features of all principles. Only a force like Ito would bring up this argument and have the spatial and historical understanding to support his point of view.

"O’Gorman’s Rivera-Kahlo House vibrates with suggestions for a new, modern way of life" Toyo Ito - Shedding the modern body image

"Le Corbusier’s houses skillfully incorporated classical architecture on the one hand, and abstract painting on the other. Seen on this light, Le Corbusier’s Five points for a new Architecture (1926), which was intended to enable a new way of life, seems to be only a means of justifying his own architecture using the logic of modernism. Rather than Le Corbusier, it was the 26-year-old O’Gorman who really made a pure depiction of the dream of a new way of life based on the five principles of pilotis, roof gardens, horizontal strip windows, the free plan and the free façade. In the Rivera Kahlo house, these five proposals are indeed implemented purely as social proposals" Toyo Ito - Shedding the modern body image

The last piece called ´Learning from a tree´ is an observation on the complex order of natural form. Ito seems at this point converted to the power of computers with their algorithmic prowess, complete versatility and with the spaces it can therefore create in collusion with the thinking hand. It is a calling for complexity via computer simulations and a resolution against the 'less is more' model and the stale prevailing forms from Modernism. 

"But computer technologies are now liberating architecture from Euclidean geometries. They are enabling the realization of the unstable fluidity of the moving body and the complex balance of growing plant life in architectural space" Toyo Ito - The new real

It almost seems that for Ito, architecture is not what is important but that the position we have against certain occurrences in the world is what creates the architectural solutions in which we rely. What will be Ito's next position towards architecture?