Jun Aoki

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 March, 2012, 12:00am


Every starchitect has their little quirks. You know: Zaha Hadid's latticework bulges and pointy bits, Frank Gehry's twisty funhouse warping, Richard Rogers' inside-out schtick - it's hard to get to the top of the architectural pile unless you've got a feature, a little visual tic, a distinctive style that makes a particular building unmistakably you.

So it's a little bit of a shock to hear a highly acclaimed architect declare that 'I have no style of my own' - but that's exactly what Japan's Jun Aoki does. And in a way, he's right. Powered by a belief that the physical and cultural context provides the one and only basis for designing a building, Aoki's work is notably diverse. He started his career working at the office of acclaimed architect Arata Isozaki, before established his own practice in 1991 with the intention of doing 'anything that seemed interesting'.

Things that have seemed interesting to him since then include a whole lot of homes (usually identified by just a single letter), offices and public spaces such as galleries. His work is characterised by geometric lines, an airy vibe and a rigorous approach to lighting, as well as a playful quality, full of visual tricks and lacunae between interior and exterior appearance.

At first glance, his buildings may typically blend in with their surroundings, but many - such as the lip-like Mamihara Bridge or the SIA Aoyama Building with its spatter-pattern windows - come with a few surprises when viewed up close.

Aoki has also created a number of retail properties, in particular for luxury brand Louis Vuitton. He designed the facade of the LV store in Central's The Landmark, and has done both exteriors and interiors for several of the brand's outlets in Japan and New York. His work is featured, along with that of several other leading architectural names, in a lavish new coffee table book published by the brand, Louis Vuitton Architecture and Interiors.

'I started designing for Louis Vuitton 14 years ago, when the brand was changing its design strategy,' he says. 'They wanted to control every store from Paris, and they needed to update their image. At that time, almost every store they had was in a department store, and in 1998 I had almost the first chance to design an independent store for them, in Nagoya,' winning a competition to do so.

The attraction of the brand, he says, is that it has geographical diversity at its core, constantly posing interesting questions of an architect. 'Louis Vuitton's key word is travel. Every place has to be different, otherwise we wouldn't need to travel,' says Aoki.

'So every design needs to be unique to its environment. Also, Louis Vuitton has within it a contradiction - it's very open to the people, but at the same time very luxurious. It's a challenge for an architect, but it's good for me.'

Japan highlights

Mamihara Bridge, 1995

From early in his career, Aoki nominates this lip-shaped, two-level car and pedestrian bridge as one of the two projects that stand out most for him. 'It was about the mutation and evolution of a load,' he says. 'Even if you try to control it, it mutates, and that can create a very interesting space.'

Fukushima Lagoon Museum, 1997

An inverted, glass-sided cone wrapped in an internal spiral ramp, the pedestrian bridge connecting it to the lagoon helps the museum appear to grow out of the eco-park that surrounds it.

Louis Vuitton Nagoya, 1999

A glass and mesh cube within a cube, this airy construction is the other of the architect's proudest achievements. 'I wanted to create a kind of cloud or gas feeling in my work, and this was the first realisation of that,' he says.

Aomori Museum of Art, 2006 Another one that seems to just float up out of the surrounding landscape, in this case an archaeological site, this building blurs the boundary between the two with galleries in a transitional space where building and land seem to merge into each other.

SIA Aoyama Building, 2008 With just nine storeys in a building 64 metres high, this is an office block with the soul of a residential block. Its windows come in seven different sizes, and despite looking randomly distributed, are positioned to allow light to penetrate to every corner of the interior.

Speaks volumes

Louis Vuitton Architecture and Interiors is quite a tome; a lavishly produced coffee table volume detailing the architecture and interiors of the brand's stores, and featuring the work of architects including Jun Aoki, Peter Marino, Shigeru Ban and Christian de Portzamparc, it is as beautifully designed as many of the buildings that feature in its pages. Particularly in the exteriors, there are some impressively diverse riffs on the LV theme, from the stately maisons of Europe to the monumental latticework boxes of Asia, and the addition of various plans, sketches, diagrams and notes helps to break up the book nicely. In other words, Louis Vuitton Architecture and Interiors is as good a book about the design of a single brand's stores could be.