The accompanying catalog, A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima, SANAA, Ryue Nishizawa, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, Junya Ishigami, collected these photographs, perspectives, and orthogonal drawings into 256 bound pages, adding very little: two brief forewords cover the many necessary acknowledgments inevitable in a show like this, which involved generous financial support from corporations and charitable foundations, many of them Japanese. Four essays (none longer than six pages) by Gadanho, Terunobu Fujimori, Taro Igarashi, and Julian Worrall place the work in a broader perspective.1 A chapter is set aside for each of the six architects’ work, with a seventh chapter falling between Sejima’s and Nishizawa’s, and featuring the work of their joint studio, SANAA. Each starts with a single page of text in the architect’s own words printed in 18-point type, the longest a mere 254 words. The book’s smudgy photographs (printed on a toothed paper called Munken Polar Rough) and enigmatic line drawings echo the spare aesthetics of the exhibition, rolled out in a formulaic fashion.2
As MOMA Director Glen Lowry explains in his foreword, the exhibition was built around the close professional relationships and stylistic similarities of what one might call Japan’s Ito School of architects. Toyo Ito (b. 1941) once employed both Sejima (b. 1956) and Hirata (b. 1971); Sejima in turn trained Nishizawa (b. 1966) and Ishigami (b. 1974). While Fujimoto (b. 1971) never worked for Ito or Sejima, he has benefited from their mentorship and advocacy and works within the same aesthetic arc.
Repeatedly, the essays link Ito’s leadership of this talented group to Kenzo Tange’s commanding mentorship in the postwar period; elder Japanese architects have long nurtured their protégés’ careers, favoring them in competitions or recommending them for major cultural attention. Indeed, gossip suggests that Gadanho initially hoped to feature only Ito’s work at MOMA, but the patriarch advocated including not only the equally esteemed Sejima and Nishizawa (both, like Ito, Pritzker Laureates), but also the three young designers possessing relatively thin portfolios. Hirata, for example, is represented by a 2007 farm implements showroom in rural Japan, an elegant installation briefly sited at Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and three unbuilt proposals, including a structurally challenging competition entry for a 6-acre (2.46-hectare) site in Taiwan. The chapters on Ishigami and Fujimoto, too, blithely blend innovative single-family homes with ostentatiously ambitious overseas competition proposals.