Elegance in a detail

Last time I visited a building by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa was very long ago, at a different
 geography of my career and at a different understanding of myself. I was obsessed by certain architectural motives without being able to grasp what made them so interesting to me and why. During those years, I travelled around every part of Japan, mapping SANAA’s work, from their first residential projects in Tokyo, their spatial exploration of proximities, to their iconic museum in Kanazawa and the less known Senju Museum in Karuizawa. I even dragged myself to the suburbs of Gifu with my little Japanese vocabulary, no umbrella and a camera I never used properly. Every time I experienced one of their buildings, I remained so amazed that I deliberately decided to ignore their weak points or unresolved aspects.

I started reading every publication I could possibly find around SANAA’s approach to design, trying to build a personal idea of what they had been trying to do throughout their profession. What were they trying to say, in this global panorama of fragmented contemporary experiences? What was beyond the sophisticated shapes and simple materiality that obsessed me so much? How was their work, which comes from the observation of some strictly Japanese social and settlement concerns, able to speak to a whole international generation?



I would attempt to say Beauty is recognizable by anyone. But nowadays simple answers can stand on their own very rarely, so, once I returned to Europe, I made it out to SANAA’s Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne. Same were the questions, different the continent…and different, on a bittersweet note, the execution: it was time to focus on something new!

Once in New York, even if the New Museum did not impress me, I was still curious to see another of SANAA’s most relevant works, the Grace Farms in New Canaan (Connecticut). I went there the first time on a lazy Sunday afternoon and I keep going back whenever I have the chance.

As soon as I got there, I had a feeling that the building was special and all those questions left open on some memory lanes came back, in overwhelming happiness. At first, I was moving my steps as quickly as a kid, when it’s time to open their Christmas gifts. I was studying the building and its site, investigating, searching. Not only the sinuous curves of the canopy seem to caress the ground, but the whole intervention continues a trail that gently embraces the site. Just like Nishizawa’s Art Museum with the island of Teshima, here architecture is enabled to tell the story of a place. The River building spectacularly frames the surrounding landscape, yet its neutrality welcomes any sort of feeling, thinking or activity with a peaceful disposition. The precision of the execution ensures an endless delicacy to the building and never distracts the eye from the enjoyment of the place, but it magnifies nature like a glowing device. Grace Farms makes you feel like you have reached a remote place, suspended between your spirit and any place in the world.

Only one detail reminded me of where I was, while walking stunned by every perspective over the building (and by my train of memories): if The River were in Japan, you would never see a gutter. Gutters are one of those elements that can turn an architecture masterpiece into a flop. Here the gutters are hanging discretely few inches from the canopy and let the rain fall into elegant drainage circles, hidden by white stones that are just a little bigger than those composing the rest of the paving. I was in Connecticut, USA, in a time of my life where sometimes it rained. Certain questions can follow you everywhere, but learning to answer with elegance will make you happier.

Giorgia Cedro

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