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Sou Fujimoto: Something New, Something Old

During a brief visit to Singapore to serve as a juror for President’s Design Award 2016, Sou Fujimoto talks to Asih Jenie of Cubes Indesign about his recently completed projects in the region, cross-discipline collaborations, and his continuous search for something new. 

Sou Fujimoto: Something New, Something Old

Can you tell us about a recently completed project in the region?

Recently, I designed a four-storey building with trees on it, in the backstreet of Omotesando. [The building is] called Omotesando Branches. The backstreet area of Tokyo is an organic network of pathways with vegetation and plants – it’s a mix of everything.

We tried to recreate that kind of mixture in the architecture. The frame of [Omotesando Branches] transforms into trees. The project is quite small but I like it because it reflects our method – our strategy is to integrate different things; sometimes nature and architecture, the inside and outside of architecture and other things. Typically, these integrations happen in the backstreets of Tokyo. It’s my tribute to Tokyo’s crazy backstreets.

You have also completed your first project in Hong Kong, the Potato Head Hong Kong, in collaboration with the PTT Family’s in-house interior design team. How did you combine Potato Head’s signature of mid-century modern and ethnic Indonesian aesthetic with your own aesthetic?

It was like a casual conversation. When I design a house, the structure is plain, but after completion, life enters and make the house more complex and beautiful. There’s a harmony to the integration, which I have always enjoyed.

It was exciting to see the world of Potato Head mix with ours to create something unexpected. Sometimes you see this almost Indonesian world, then the simplicity of our design, then a little bit of both. And of course, the Hong Kong parts come in too. It has been quite an exciting process.

Several fashion brands, COS, Akris and Citizen Watch, to name a few, have tapped your name for collaborations recently. What are your thoughts on the cult of personality in the design industry?

It’s good, in a sense. For me, fashion is a very different world. It was interesting to see a different world. The differences and similarities are very inspiring. Of course, there’s the recognition – then you could be invited to join competitions or get more commissions and opportunities to see other worlds. It’s more about opportunities to widen your world with challenges that make you a better architect.

After 20 years of practice, which part of the design process is still the most challenging to you?

It’s really challenging to think about something new. Because I like to see and find new things, be it a new typology, a new understanding of life or a new way to make a space – any kinds of new things. This is exciting but quite difficult.

What constitutes new for you? How do you know when you’ve arrived at something new?

I can feel it. It feels fresh, but at the same time, for me, everything is continuous from 20 years ago. In a sense, the concept is not changing, but in this continuity, there are jumps. Like when I thought of an idea ten years ago, I didn’t see the possibilities of it going in a certain direction to realise that idea. But after ten years, you revisit the idea and you find new connections to other ideas. This idea is something new but at the same time, it came out of the idea you had ten years ago. Not only my own ideas but everything in history. Maybe 100 years ago, Le Corbusier did something that inspired me – my idea is new but it’s connected to Le Corbusier’s. Everything should have that connection to the past but at the same time have a new take on the past to enlighten it in a different way.

Tell us about your experience as a juror for the President’s Design Award.

I’m enjoying it! [Ryue] Nishizawa-san was invited once [to be part of the] jury and I knew from him that the award is quite important. I felt so happy to be a part of it. And of course, it’s quite exciting to visit the architecture projects, walk around sites and have a talk with the architects. I can’t talk about specific projects unfortunately [laughs], but I really enjoyed the experience.

Portrait by David Vintiner. Photography by Valerie Sadoun (Omotesando Branches); Laurian Ghinitoiu (Forest of Light for COS) and Jin Fukuda (Naoshima Pavilion). All renderings of Mille Arbres courtesy of SFA+OXO+MORPH.

Read more about Sou Fujimoto and Potato Head Hong Kong in Cubes Indesign #82, out in October.

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