Interviewed in Tokyo on 28 May 2016
Within the polyphony of different aesthetics in Japanese modern architecture, Toyo Ito stands out for his integration of design experience and theoretical insights. His unique ability of self-invention and his subtle sensitivity to problems of his time have enabled Toyo Ito to continuously take the avant-garde position, and open up new perspectives on architecture. This process of continuous search, which equally relies on the materiality of construction as well the cultural context, takes place within clearly defined and lasting value coordinates of the democracy of architecture.
ORIS — Back in the late 1980s, early 1990s, there was a very intensive debate about architecture in the so-called digital age. Nowadays, the realm of the digital has expanded in unexpected ways; we are living in an age of a networked society, but it seems to me that the debate on this essential social phenomenon is not especially present in the mainstream architecture discourse. You were one of the pioneers of the discussion about the relationship between the digital and the real, so how do you actually see this phenomena? Has architecture somehow retreated from the discussion on these ongoing social changes?
Toyo Ito — When digital media showed rapid progress in the ‘80s, my main interest was in how that will effect our physical sensibility. How would a sensation be interpreted in the digitalized world? And how would architecture adjust to that new kind of digital sensation? I was eager to find that out. In other words, in those days, I used to talk much about human beings having two bodies. That we have the physical body – which has been with us ever since the ancient times – and then, there is the other body, which consists of one’s consciousness. We can call that the virtual body. I was under the impression that the digital era will somehow expand that virtual body, so I was interested in how that will affect architecture. But the reality – the real digital age – wasn’t as exciting as I anticipated. The virtual state of the body was not interesting at all. That disappointed me. Thus, I began to think that the more digital we get the more attention we should pay to the real physical world – I felt the need to rebuild, to retrain our physical state. So right now, after 2000s, I’m kind of drifting back to the real material, physical state. This might be moving against the flow – going the opposite direction. But I think that architecture needs strength now more than ever. Architecture needs to be speaking to the wild human senses now more than ever. That’s the kind of direction I’m going towards right now.