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On the Thresholds of Space-Making: Shinohara Kazuo and His Legacy

On the Thresholds of Space-Making surveys the work of Shinohara Kazuo (1925–2006), one of Japan’s most influential architects of the postwar generation. A mathematician turned architect, Shinohara achieved cult-figure status with his series of sublimely beautiful, purist houses designed over a thirty-year period, from the mid-1950s to the 1980s. Shinohara was also a rigorous polemicist, and through both writings and architecture he scrutinized and reframed fundamental architectural conventions, such as public / private, body / space, and openness / enclosure. His slogan “A house is a work of art” encapsulates his belief in the potential of quotidian design. His resistance to a technological approach to architectural design, one that had dominated Japan’s architectural profession since the 1920s, caused him to break away from established forms of the single-family house ubiquitous in Japan’s postwar suburbia.

The exhibition includes original drawings and sketches rarely seen outside of Japan. These items are augmented by period photographs of Shinohara’s building projects as well as by reproductions of select models of his houses. A featured work is his House in White (1964–66), one of his most iconic, in which he rearranges a familiar design palette—a square plan, a pointed roof, white walls, and a symbolic pillar—to give the main room almost oceanic spaciousness through abstraction. The architect’s formalism—his basic explorations of geometry and color—lend his work a poetic quality that fuses simplicity and surprise, the ordered and the unexpected.

Also showcased in the exhibition is the enduring legacy of Shinohara’s work through projects by younger Japanese architects whom he influenced: Ito Toyo (b. 1941); Nishizawa Ryue (b. 1966) of the firm SANAA; and Ishigami Junya (b. 1974). By juxtaposing Shinohara’s work with that of subsequent generations of architects, we see a clear lineage that constitutes a highly energized collective of creative talent. These architects pushed the frontiers of architectural design, unrivaled in their intellectual rigor and stylistic coherence in contemporary global practice.

This exhibition is curated by Seng Kuan, assistant professor of architectural history at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Support for the exhibition is provided by the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and College of Architecture; the Japan Foundation; the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.