Mind & Matter


Urban Cyclorama

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The Za-Koenji Theater by Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects. Photo: Blaine Brownell.


Located in the Tokyo’s western Suginami district, the Za-Koenji Public Theater is a center of contemporary performing arts. Artistic Director Makoto Sato envisioned the project—which is situated in a dense neighborhood comprised by housing, retail, a school, and an elevated railway—as a public forum accessible to a broad population. Designed by Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, the building is conceived as a fixed theatrical scrim that demarcates a clear separation between the controlled environment of the theater and the frenetic activities of its site.

Ito’s concept of an urban-scaled curtain indicated by a rigid yet graceful enclosure required the use of steel and concrete composite cladding. For Ito, this approach represents an ongoing study regarding monolithic structural plate assembly, originally inspired by his incorporation of Japanese shipbuilding techniques in the groundbreaking Sendai Mediatheque project. Ito conceived the Za-Koenji “curtain” as a homogeneous, multifaceted surface defined by the intersection of several catenary curves. The roof itself consists of a continuous, 150 mm thick steel plate that yields to seven implied conical and cylindrical volumes—emblematic of both a carnival tent structure and a series of gentle waves.

The Za-Koenji enclosure is perforated by a series of small round apertures—another homage to marine construction. The apparently random placement of the portholes across the façade blurs the distinction between wall and roof, and the dramatic application of interior spotlighting projects this stippled pattern onto the floor as well. Not only does this dot motif animate the building’s surfaces, but the incorporation of multiple small apertures also sparks the visitor’s curiosity, inviting intimate connections between the building and its site.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.