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Toyo Ito. Istruzioni per l'uso

Andrew Barrie, Rachaporn Choochuey, Stefano Mirti
"Toyo Ito. Istruzioni per l'uso"
Postmediabooks, 2004
pp112, €14,90

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Much has been written about Toyo Ito's work. One of his recent projects, the mediatheque in Sendai has been one of the most expected architectural events in recent years. As the authors notice, it was the most published project in 2001, and has received all the design prizes that any architect can dream of, inside and outside Japan.

However, Istruzioni per l'uso offers a new approach. The book almost does not talk about the mediatheque. It neither presents the latest and large commissions that are transforming Toyo Ito into an international trademark. Andrew, Racha and Stefano are not so interested in the final results of Ito's architecture, but rather in the working process that leads to those results, independently of the architectural scale. Indeed, because they mostly analyze Ito's small size projects, always present in his production, we can identify ourselves with the Japanese architect. By analyzing the abstract designing machinery behind Ito's houses, pavilions, interiors, installations, etc., the book is very useful for the reader, being this architect or student, and has high didactic value. It's not casual that the authors combine their professional careers with academic positions. Furthermore, they have developed their activities in Tokyo for some years, therefore this unique book benefits and manifests their profound knowledge about Toyo Ito's work.

Among others writings by the architect, the book contains Ito's article "The Image of Architecture in the Electronic Age". The second paragraph is titled "Architecture in the electronic age is a extended form of media suit". As Ito also mentions, this statement is a clear reference to Marshall McLuhan's theories of technological determinism, in which the Canadian author explains how different technologies imply extensions of the human body and subsequent effects in the society. "People clad in a media suit have their brain expanded", says Toyo Ito. In the essay the medium is the message McLuhan proceeded: the content of any media is another media: speech is the content of writing, as writing is the content of print, and the printed word is the content of the telegraph…the content of the speech is the process of thought, which is non verbal…


Consciously or not, but very efficiently explained in any case, Andrew, Racha and Stefano depict in Toyo Ito's model a similar procedural mechanism. Using the words of the authors, "the building is not the purpose, but rather the tool for telling a story that fills our minds". Ito is able of providing for new stories, compelling, fascinating and convincing stories. Clear characters, clear plot, simple stories, these are the type of stories Toyo Ito likes. The particularity as architect is that Toyo Ito builds the stories, embodies his messages within construction materials. How is this done? Istruzioni per l'uso is extremely clear: concept follows fiction, form follows concept, technology follows form, and fiction follows technology.

In the process of developing architecture as media, also the content of any media is another media. But instead of McLuhan's deterministic, open structure, the book presents Toyo Ito's designing mechanism as a closed convection loop, whose dynamics continuously revises, verifies and improves fiction, concept, form and technology, in an endless circuit.

For the authors, technology deserves special attention. Just considering his buildings, Toyo Ito's design is normally understood as a highly technological architecture. However, his designs are mainly developed using sketches and cardboard models. Technology has its place in the designing process and is inserted when necessary, no sooner, no later. "Technology is not harnessing the designer, but rather the opposite". Therefore, "technology is bent to our needs, and we are nor forced to adapt to it".


Non-linear thinking believes that complexity might emerge from the repetition of a set of simple rules. This is true. The book explains however, that Ito presents an alternative solution, where simple, sharp, clear designs are the result of his complex and precise process of refinement. When we see the resulting architectures, we understand them almost as obvious archetypes, but nobody was able to foresee them before. Within the authors' analysis, this characteristic represents the paradigm of Japanese design: "sophistication and complex technology is completely hidden. The peak of complexity is the process, therefore remains invisible to our eyes. What we see is just the result of an intelligent process skillfully designed".

Beyond its functionality, Toyo Ito's designing process has two important characteristics. First, this abstract machinery makes his stories consistent and materially possible, using what is available now. "You must envision what could eventually work with the current tools. To acknowledge the limits of your projects is a key point in order to achieve success". If the size of the project doesn't matter, neither does the location. The second part of the book explains the experience of the workshop "Tomorrow where shall we live?" held at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, 1996), and presents four examples of the several projects installed there and supervised by Toyo Ito.

Clearly, being in Japan or Thailand is irrelevant as far as the process is concern. Second, the design loop is based on flexible collaborative work among Ito himself, his office staff, the engineers, the client, and so on. In the interview, Ito confesses that he is convinced about this fact after many years of practice. According to his words: "flexibility is possible because I have clearly priority in my mind about what is really important and what is not important for me… the rest can change… I'm opened to all kind of opinions. My opinion comes later". Ito appreciates if different opinions are expressed in an opened and direct way, from a mixture of old and young collaborators, Japanese and foreigners, because he knows that all of them can offer different and valuable contributions. The creative atmosphere thus created might be the reason why some of the former collaborators in Toyo Ito's office are now prominent architects, like Kazuyo Sekima, Astrid Klein, Mark Dytham*, Fiona Raby*, among others.

In the end, communication of feelings is for Toyo Ito the most important working tool, because "knowledge from books is nothing. Of course, thinking and developing your own concepts is very important, but what must come first of all is he ability to say "I like this, I don't like that", and preferably in a way that doesn't separate architects from the thinking path of "an ordinary person in the city"; otherwise, it will be dangerous. Ito reveals to the authors that he doesn't like teaching, although he spends much of his time lecturing around the world. At the same time, his vital project is opening a school of architecture. This will be a small school for 10-20 students from different disciplines, even people with no architectural background, perhaps in Fukuoka, a small city of three million people away from Tokyo. In this his last important project, Toyo Ito seeks to develop architectural competitions, the best way to learn, to teach, to communicate, for all people involved including Ito himself. We have to thank Andrew, Racha and Stefano that their fantastic book is not only about designing, but also about teaching and learning architecture. Ito's ultimate recommendation: "drinking and discussing". Cheers!

Pedro Pablo Arroyo Alba

Names with * are interviewed in the book.
Sentences in between " " are quotations of the book.

Questa pagina è stata curata da Matteo Agnoletto.

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