In 1995 Sendai, Japan held design competitions for the Sendai Mediatheque, which would have an audiovisual media centre, a civil art gallery and service centre for people with visual and hearing disabilities. The Sendai Mediatheque was to be built on an old bus depot in Sendai. The design competition had six aspects to be considered to ensure that this library was more accessible and more efficient than other civic institutions. The aspects were; art, multi-functionality, urbanism, design competitions, data media and operations. Art meant that the gallery and the media centre would handle multimedia. Multi-functionality meant that the site had to fit all the programmes needed. Since things were changing faster data media would refer to both books and online networking capabilities. Urbanism was to remind them that this was not just a building for Sendai but one that had to fit in the 21st century. Operations meant running cooperative programs. Since closed competitions were always very biased, open design competitions were the way to go for transparency. Toyo Ito and Associates Architects won the competition with the help of Mutsuro Sasaki, the structural engineer they were working with. Construction began on December 1997 and ended in August 2000. It was not until 26th January 2001 that Sendai Mediatheque was opened.
Modernism is mostly characterized by the use of more sophisticated mechanical technology, the redefinition of roles played by different genders, better living standards, the rise of various social classes and sometimes political changes occur. Modernism can be viewed as an inevitable process, a way to make the society better or something that can harm the society. England had modernized in the 19th century before Germany had even started modernizing. The industrial revolution in England was characterized by the use of machines in the factories leaving the laborers jobless (Ito 213). Modern materials were invented and began being used as concrete, glass, steel beams, etc. Politics started when workers in the factories joined to form factory unions. Most Englishmen who participated in businesses tried to adopt an aristocratic form of government and limited the economic growth of other countries. When Germany started modernizing it made notable significant progress as it attempted to beat England. The advancement of aviation with the Zeppelin, the rise of the Bauhaus movement and becoming a federal nation with a parliamentary government even though it was weak are some of the achievements noted. The youth formed different groups to create a forum to air their political and social issues that arose as they struggled with modernism. East Germany was unable to put up with the technology that was arising daily since it did not have enough infrastructures that could support this (Richards, and Denis 150). West Germany, on the other hand, was well equipped, and so it enjoyed the modern technology. The decision by Germany to become a republic had been attributed mostly to the French revolution and by being a republic, the government paid more attention to every citizen and came up with laws which either regulated education or in other cases banned some religions. Walter Gropius started the Bauhaus and in the manifesto, he drafted he said that the final goal of every artistic activity was architecture. He believed that craft taught to the students was a way of preparing them to design for mass production.Gropius also believed that the student later on in future would keep in touch with the production process since they had gradually mastered problems and the use of machinery if they started from the least complicated jobs using simple tools. The Bauhaus is remembered for no introducing modern design and redefining design from decoration to function. According to the book A Primer of Visual Literacy by Donis A. Donis the function techniques include simplicity, symmetry, angularity,abstraction,consistency,unity,organization,economy,subtlety,continuity,sharpness and monochromaticity.
Toyo Ito expressed interest in transparency and openness an idea he had gotten from modernism that was developed in the 20th century and at the same time he created a unique architecture that emphasized on fluidity. Transparency was the use of glass in the building. Mirror facades especially would reflect the city and show it as being distorted or fractured making it seem like there is no connection between the outside and inside the building. For those on the outside of the building, the inside becomes like a reality in which they wish to come and live in. In his project, Toyo did not desire to create joints, beans, walls rooms or architecture since he did not want to limit people to specific actions or place. His design qualities did not come from a specific style but rather from observation of the Japanese society and its built environment. In his project, he outlined five points to allow him to create an open and transparent architecture. This point was the desire not to create joint, the desire not to create beans, the desire not to create walls, the desire not to create rooms or the desire not to create architecture.
The Sendai media the Que did not have a facade but instead it had five exposed sides that were all treated differently. The sides were constructed using material like glass, steel panels and aluminum mesh.Since each of the sides is designed in a special way to deal with different times like winter, summer, day or night for the benefit of the people in the building, then it was easy for Toyo Ito and Mutsuro Sasaki to convince the people to build such a building without a facade. The southern side, for instance, being the main facade has a double layer of glass so that it can shield the building from winds during winter. Also, during the day, the outer layer extends increasing the light and its effects in the building. The west side is coated with a metal frame revealing the emergency stairs since it is opaque. The north and east facades have also been designed differently to improve the conditions of the media the Que.
While Toyo Ito dealt with conceptual architecture, Le Corbusier was a modernist architect who had developed principles of architecture that he finally called the five points of new architecture.They included pilotis, free designing of the ground plan, free design of the facade, the horizontal window and roof gardens. Pilotis involved the use of a grid of reinforced concrete columns in place of supporting walls. The free designing of the ground plan ensured that the internal use of a house was unrestrained in the absence of supporting walls. The free design of the facade point ensured that the exterior of the building had nothing whatsoever to do with the structural functions and as such structural constraints had no effect on the facade (Weston 230). The rooms would be lit equally by the horizontal window cutting the facade along its entire length.
The final point of Corbusier was on roof gardens, and he wanted buildings to have flat roofs with a garden would serve a domestic purpose and at the same time protect the concrete roofs. Conceptual architecture practiced by Toyo Ito was a form of architecture that introduced new ideas, and, therefore, it did not put so much focus on the finished building but rather the ideas that had guided them which were presented as texts, diagrams or art installations. In Sendai Mediatheques design Toyo Ito used regularized columns, thin floor plates and a few interior walls. He changed Corbusiers idea of solid slabs into a small honeycomb in the designing of media the Que.
The open Design of Sendai media the Que is meant to ensure that it remains relevant at all times by adapting to daily changes. It is fully aware that even with such a complex design the modern technology can make it entirely irrelevant in hours and so it has built a space to withstand the ever changing nature of the electronic age. The first floor has the reception, a cafe and its the area where books are stored. The second floor is an open space with a public reading area and a private administration separated by translucent curtains that look like a floating wall. The reading area and where to loan a book is always the third and fourth floor. On the fifth floor, there is the childrens library, the administration offices and the internet. Exhibition galleries are located in the 5th and 6th floor. The last floor that is the seventh floor is the one that hosts the conference room and a cinema.With such an arrangement it would be very easy to rearrange the building if need be.
The structural tubes are an interior spatial experience that brings fluidity to space. The tubes in Sendai Mediatheque are thick walled steel pipes that look like they are continuous, but they are segmented for each floor then assembled in sequences for all floors. The tubes have different functions like providing a passage for people, air, water, electricity and light within the building, providing protection against fire and also the tubes act as support pillars for the building (Witte 63). Four of the columns contain lifts that promote the idea of transparency and openness since one can view any floor of the building while they are in the lifts in the columns.
The tubes are placed randomly in the building as each tube needs a specific site to be fixed according to the structural Engineer Mutsuro Sasaki due to the varying force that are applied to each one of them across each floor. According to Toyo Ito, these columns are just like walking through woods that are spaced differently, and people can choose to do whatever they want wherever they want.
There are some ways in which Sendai Mediatheque and Modernism architecture are similar to the levels of technology used in both are high, both of them apply transparency and openness in their structure, and also, the materials used in modernism architecture have been used in Sendai Mediatheque like glass, steel panels and aluminium mesh. The difference between the two is in the construction of buildings with facades. Modernism architecture differs with Toyo Itos work the Sendai Mediatheque when it comes to the new interior spatial qualities. While modernism architecture condemns its use Toyo Itos use of structural tubes in the Sendai Mediatheque is such a success (Turnbull 142). Another difference between the modern architecture and Sendai Mediatheque is in the construction of buildings with facades.While modernism architecture recommends the inclusion of facades in their work Sendai Mediatheque does not have a facade but instead, it has five different exposed sides. Even though Toyo Ito used some principles of modernism it can be seen that he did not let modernism architecture confine him to its principles and as such he was able to come up with a unique design that will exist for so many years.
Ito, Toyoo. Toyo Ito. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2009. Print.
Richards, Brent, and Denis Gilbert. New Glass Architecture. London: Laurence King, 2006. Print.
Turnbull, Jessie. Toyo Ito: Forces of Nature. New York: Princeton University School of Architectural/Princeton Architectural Press, 2012. Print.
Weston, Richard. Plans, Sections and Elevations: Key Buildings of the Twentieth Century. London: Laurence King, 2004. Print.
Witte, Ron. Toyo Ito: Sendai Mediatheque. Munich: Prestel, 2001. Print.
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