Graduate Architecture

  • Baisoin Temple, Tokyo, 2003. Kengo Kuma, Architect. Photo by Vincent D. Feldman, 2013.

  • Evening Snow on Mount Hira. Woodblock print by Ando Hiroshige, 1832. Siegel Collection, University of Pennsylvania.

  • Nihonbashi Bridge, Tokyo, 1911. Tsumaki Yorinaka, Architect. Photo by Vincent D. Feldman, 2014.

  • Thoughts on the Visit to Katsura, Kyoto, May 1934. Bruno Taut. Perkins Collection, University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

  • Japanese Pavilion, Paris, 1937. Junzo Sakakura, Architect. Digital model and drawing by Siqi Wang, Xiaonan Chen, Ge Zheng, PennDesign, 2015-2018.

  • Izumo Shrine Administration Building, 1963. Kiyonori Kikutake, Architect. Digital model and drawing by Junxiong Ma, PennDesign, 2016.

  • Gallery view, September 2018

    Installation view, September 2018

  • Dior Omotesando, Tokyo, 2005. SANAA Architects. Photo by Vincent D. Felman, 2016.

Critical Abstractions: Modern Architecture in Japan, 1868 - 2018

Monday, August 27, 2018Wednesday, September 26, 2018
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Kroiz Gallery, The Architectural Archives
220 South 34th Street at Smith Walk
Lower Level of the Fisher Fine Arts Library building

Opening reception: Thursday, August 30, 5:00 - 7:00pm

In common parlance, we say that something is abstract when it seems to bear no relationship to anything we know. Yet, as an artistic means, abstraction enables our aesthetic engagement with a work produced in times, places and cultural contexts different from our own. In painting, it is defined as “freedom from representational qualities” or the absence of figuration, and its inception is frequently identified with Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square of 1915. Since then, numerous paths towards abstraction have been explored in art and architecture, and disciplinary crossovers have nourished both.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration that spawned a radical transformation of Japan’s architecture, this exhibition aims to contribute to expanding the traditional Western-oriented history of modern architecture to include Japan on par with other countries where abstraction became manifest in building. Curator Ariel Genadt proposes to reconsider Japan’s contribution to modern architecture through 50 key buildings, organized under ten themes, which both rely on and enable architectural abstraction. With references to concepts in art and literature, this method aims to demonstrate ways by which architectural creation in Japan paralleled better-known works of modern abstraction. The buildings are re-presented through analytical drawings and models, photographs, videos, digital animations, rare books, woodblock prints, and text, highlighting aspects such as style, tectonics, composition, light, tradition and creation. Together, they reveal three principles that may suggest how architectural abstraction remains pertinent to design today: 

• Architectural abstraction is relative. It may focus on ideas rather than forms, on the ahistorical, or even on what has not been stated or shown. 

• Architectural abstraction is never context-free. It is instead culture-, place- and time-bound. 

• Abstract architectural expression is not opposed to symbolism. Abstract forms may trigger different associations in the mind of each beholder. 

In light of these points, the term critical is used in this exhibition to indicate, first, that the works presented were rarely if ever acts of creation ex nihilo, even when the architect aspired to such an ideal. All works shown are in one way or another critical acts, whose meaning contrasts with— and at times represents an intentional negation of— some precedent. Second, critical may also signify necessary, suggesting that various kinds of abstraction were indeed required for any perpetual reinvention of Japan’s architectural means or their meanings. In that case, such critical abstraction has contributed to an assertion of the country’s post-traditional architecture as an act of cultural production that reaches far beyond Japan. 


Curator: Ariel Genadt

Photography: Vincent D. Feldman

Analytical drawings and models by PennDesign students: Stephen Allis, Nick Auger, Josh Berliner, Douglas Breuer, Daniel Andres Cely, Xiaonan Chen, Cao Fan, Cai Fang, Zhewei Feng, Yihui Gan, Jonathan Gorder, Lyu Jia, Onie Khondaker, Erik Leach, Chuangzhang Li, Linnan Lu, Liangjie Lu, Junxiong Ma, Yue Peng, Bowen Qin, Kai Tang, Joanne Po Tseng, Siqi Wang, Greg Whitney, Liz Young, Qinheng Zhang, Jennifer Yifeng Zhao, Ge Zheng, Yu Zhou

Additional drawings and renderings courtsey of Kengo Kuma and Associates

Digital modeling and animations: Harvard Graduate School of Design students: Andrew Bryan, Julian Bushman-Copp, Paul Dahlke, Nathan Fash, Mijung Kim, Jeffrey Laboskey, Misato Odanaka, Nathan Shobe, Emmet Truxes with Mark Mulligan

Videos: Hiromoto Oka, courtsey of Tokyo University

Curatorial advisor: William Whitaker

Scientific advisor: David B. Stewart

Special thanks to: Douglas Breuer, Rive Cadwallader, Christy Ching, Max Hakkarainen, Heather Isbell Schumacher, Lauren Mitchell, Erisa Nakamura, Allison Olsen, Evan Oskierko-Jeznacki, Bowen Qin, and Siqi Wang

Financial support provided by: The Japan Foundation New York Grant for Arts and Culture; The Lauder Institute - Wharton Arts & Sciences; PennDesign Office of the Dean; Plaza Artists Materials.