April 24, 2014
Walk into the Konan Ward Cultural Center, built by Chiaki Arai in the city of Niigata, 150 miles northwest of Tokyo, and you feel that you’ve stumbled onto a sci-fi movie set. The hallways resemble intergalactic skyscapes, with LEDs twinkling all around. Their light bounces off tableaux of intersecting planes, walls tilted to open up unexpected perspectives. Round skylights cast shifting, aqueous patterns on the floor. It’s just the kind of place that makes you think, Ah, this is the work of a singular mind.
Talk to the owner of that mind, however, and he’ll tell you the opposite. “The era of the architect as great master is ending,” he declares.
Instead, in Niigata and elsewhere, his designs grow out of an extraordinary degree of public collaboration. His goal is to nurture what the poet W.H. Auden termed topophilia, or love of place. Without that, Arai believes, even the most prestigious projects are doomed.
According to the cultural center’s director, Kazuei Ono, the newcomer is already a beloved landmark: “Everyone sees the elements they wanted embodied in the building. It’s created unity.” Yet for all Arai’s conviction that the era of architect-as-solitary-visionary has passed, the cultural center, with its fantastical and sculptural use of concrete, is unmistakably his.
Submitted by: Jonathan Lee