On the Thresholds of Space-Making

Shinohara Kazuo, Great room (hiroma), House in White, Suginami Ward, Tokyo, 1964‐66. Full credit below.

First U.S. museum exhibition for "cult" Japanese architect Shinohara Kazuo

Posted by Liam Otten February 20, 2014

"A house is a work of art."

So declared Shinohara Kazuo (1925-2006), one of the most influential figures in post-war international modernism. And in Shinohara's hands, it was. Projects such as Kugayama House (1952-54) and Umbrella House (1959-61) combined rigorous geometry with traditional Japanese forms to create purist, poetic structures of modest scale but vast ambition.

Yet Shinohara remains something of a cult figure. Though his works have inspired generations of architects, they have seldom been seen outside Japan.

Now this mathematician turned architect is finally receiving his first U.S. museum exhibition. Organized by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis, On the Thresholds of Space-Making: Shinohara Kazuo and His Legacy features original drawings, sketches, period photographs, and other archival material—much of which has never been publicly displayed before.

Drawn largely from the Shinohara Kazuo Archive at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, On the Thresholds of Space-Making is curated by Seng Kuan, assistant professor of architectural history in WUSTL's Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

"With such projects as House in White (1964–66) Shinohara reinvented established forms of the single-family dwelling," Kuan says. Familiar design elements—a square plan, a pointed roof, white walls, and a center post—are infused with a new sense of abstraction, detailing, and symbolism.

The result "gives the traditional Japanese great room an almost oceanic spaciousness."

The Shinohara School

Born in Shizuoka, Shinohara studied and briefly taught mathematics but soon enrolled in Tokyo Institute of Technology's architecture program. After graduation, in 1953, he joined the faculty and remained there until retirement, in 1986.

"Shinohara conducted his design work exclusively through the university laboratory rather than through a private atelier," Kuan explains. "This lifelong research-driven approach allowed him to focus singularly and exhaustively on theoretical concerns."

Those concerns included scrutinizing and reframing a series of fundamental architectural dualities: public and private, bigness and smallness, openness and enclosure, chaos and order.

"Shinohara's pioneering body of work and theoretical investigations of space-making are a touchstone for architects both in Japan and abroad," Kuan says. His sustained methodological and typological rigor "have played a key role in shaping Japan's history of leadership in architectural innovation."

To demonstrate that legacy, On the Thresholds of Space-Making includes a sampling of works by contemporary Japanese architects who have acknowledged intellectual indebtedness to Shinohara. Featured are projects by the Pritzker Prize-winner Toyō Itō (b. 1941) as well as Nishizawa Ryue (b. 1966) of the firm SANAA; Atelier Bow-Wow; and Ishigami Junya (b. 1974)—all recognized as global leaders of contemporary design.

"By juxtaposing Shinohara's work with that of subsequent generations, we see a clear lineage that constitutes a highly energized collective of creative talent," Kuan says. "These architects pushed the frontiers of architectural design, unrivaled in their intellectual rigor and stylistic coherence in contemporary global practice."

Exhibition Support

On the Thresholds of Space-Making remains on view through April 20. Support for the exhibition is provided by the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and College of Architecture; the Japan Foundation; the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; and members of the Kemper Art Museum.

Image credit

Shinohara Kazuo, Great room (hiroma), House in White, Suginami Ward, Tokyo, 1964‐66. Photo by Murai Osamu, c. 1966. Courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology.