Mrs. Pulitzer, in one of her speeches about the Foundation, observed that unlike many buildings which have no “there” there (or “thereness”), each space within the Foundation has a distinct character yet directly relates to the overall design. The specificity of this architectural piece has inspired a variety of artistic explorations that aim to directly and specifically engage with the space. More recently, and with the upcoming reopening, there are explorations such as the Richard Tuttle show that Mrs. Pulitzer is curating, exploring spatial relationships with minimal materials. There is also the program series called Press Play, exploring and engaging the specific building through the experience of sound. In a sense the building itself has become part of the art. How do you personally envision arts and acts that engage with this space? Or rather, what kind of artistic interventions would you be interested in seeing in the space?
I think that architecture which has “thereness” can be made in the design process, which in this case progressed as the client, architect, and artists exchanged opinions and proposals about the Pulitzer building from their respective standpoints. I am really interested in this process of dialogue. In the first stage of the project, the quality of the architecture steadily increased through uncompromising dialogues among the artists Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, and us, and with Mrs. Pulitzer, our client. This collaborative work with them was extremely significant, making us think about the most basic elements of art museums.
In evoking a vigorous dialogue between the art museum and the artworks, the artists and the audience, we hope that the new gallery spaces will remain a constant stimulus.
You were quoted in an article that you and Mrs. Pulitzer discussed the possibility of outdoor signage and cushions for the stairs during concerts, and that the issue of a sign for the building exterior is particularly interesting since it relates to how the building fits into the surrounding context. I know that you visited the Pulitzer after it was first opened. How do you feel about the way that the museum unfolded in its surrounding urban fabric? Last year, in 2014, there was also the PXSTL Pavilion being built right across the street. How would you see it in relation to the museum structure?
I think that a building can’t exist by itself in architectural meaning, and the influence that the building gives to surroundings must be considered when it is designed. We wanted to create not only a building, but also a new cultural center in St. Louis, in which the museum was one of the nuclei. In this meaning, it is a great success that a cultural area has been formed with the completion of the surrounding cultural facilities, which includes CAM and PXSTL next to the Pulitzer.
If designing buildings is only for novelty and creating bold forms, the completion of buildings will be the goal for architects. However, I assume the completion is another beginning of architecture. It is a great pleasure for me that I could see the process through which the building has been used by the Pulitzer and its visitors to enrich people’s cultural lives.
The Pulitzer was your first public building in the United States. Now that you’re looking back after 15 years, and after having designed other spaces in America, such as the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and a currently in-design residential project in New York, how does designing in this country differ from designing in other places in the world?
In the United States, a mature industrial society, exposed concrete finish is very difficult in financial and technical respects because it must be made by hand, one by one. However, we brought together an excellent team, which overcame this difficulty.
I always think that it requires a great team to create great architecture. In the design process, I spend a great deal of energy to bring together a team, which includes the client, constructors, consultants, and executive architects, and engineers. We go to visit buildings together in each country, and sometimes we exchange our opinions about them at the construction site in progress. We try to have the opportunity to communicate to each other in our team as much as possible in order to achieve the shared goal of great architecture.
What’s next for you?
In 1969, I made a start to my architectural activities by relying on passion alone. I was self-educated and had no connections or backing, so I naturally had no work. Running about determinedly, I tried my hand at very small residences and retail projects. Forty-six years have gone by since then. Today, public projects account for most of my work, and the places where I am building have been globalized over the years. Back in the day, I never even imagined my (in some ways) fortunate present circumstances, but this does not mean that my struggles have ended.
I am well aware that I would be able to work more efficiently if I built off of my accumulated experience and aimed toward refining and developing my work from the past. It is a self-evident truth that one can build more solid work if one just thinks about making cut-and-dried architecture within the bounds of the given frameworks. Even knowing this, however, I always find myself trying to come up with new things to attempt with each project in order to break away from the expected.
I have continued to believe in the limitless potential of architecture, which always allows one to turn each and every project into a new endeavor with the power of one’s own imagination. In a sense, the moments in which I am striving intently in pursuit of architecture’s possibilities are what drive me to live.
For me, “next” is still “another challenge in architecture.”