Koichi Takada was inspired by Dahl Misfir, one of the most emblematic caves located in the Middle East, in order to create the interior of The National Museum of Qatar. Walking across the space creates the same feeling than exploring this cave; sandy tones, windy and corrugated walls, and high ceilings with natural light escapes. When building the Sky Tree apartment building in Los Angeles, Takada took the shape of the old trees in the Redwood forest in California. His work uses design to put a sense of nature into architecture. He reproduces shapes, which he says perhaps future generations will never see.
Nuria Ocaña: You were born in Japan and spent a great part of your academic training in NY and London. How do these worlds mix in your work?
Koichi Takada: I grew up in Japan, by the banks of the Tama River, in western Tokyo. Japanese gardens are very organic, unlike designs in the West, Europe, and Western America perhaps, which are very structured. I try to bring that organic quality out in my work, from the design I learned and experimented with as a child.
NO: For you gardens are the most significant image of the East, then?
KT: Yes. You need to understand how nature works to be able to design.
NO: And your greatest influences from the West?
KT: Classic architecture. I am a fan of the work of Italian Francisco Borromini. San Catalino, for example, is a construction that managed to humanize churches; also, the design and geometric patterns it includes provide it an organic sense, in some way.
This building was an act of rebellion for the archetype of the time. Everybody was looking for the perfect circle, but Borromini deformed it and turned it into something natural. I like this way of designing, because it humanizes architecture and creates a connection with people who experiment the works.
Everything able to create emotions is essential for our work. Look at different cities across the world; globalization has placed one building after another. We mean to take those emotions back to architecture.
NO: Is the fact of bringing back natural shapes and movements an act of protest against the world in this globalization?
KT: I am very interested in the different shapes through which nature is present in cities. When you see how trees grow among the streets, for example, you discover their ability to get adapted to different environments. Some are even taller than the buildings or houses, and it is fascinating to understand how is it that nature adapts. I get excited, especially, when thinking how the architecture of the future can be inspired by these organic shapes.
NO: Has nature become a luxury under today’s social conditions?
KT: We need to question the relationship between natural and artificial environments, without a doubt. Thinking about introducing nature back to the cities is a luxury, since we have increasingly less natural elements there. This is why we should turn to design, to ask ourselves if it can be reintegrated within the limits of the space. There are many ways to do it, having natural light, ventilation through wind.
The world today is based on metallic buildings and some of them don’t even have windows that open, so doing it is almost like bringing the countryside back to the city. Constructing and offering that relationship between the artificial city and the natural surroundings is perhaps the way in which architecture can contribute to the future.
NO: You have spoken about your interest in creating an appropriate balance between interior design and the work itself. Can you go deeper into this matter?
KT: In the firm, we design, ideally, from the inside out. Meaning, we design from the interior to the exterior in relationship with the city. Usually architects don’t do interiors, but the design as a whole with interiors, exteriors, and landscapes, relates to the city’s master plan and this is of great importance.
The interior does not refer only to this physical space, instead it recreates a dialogue between architecture and what lies beyond the city.
When you design interiors you have the opportunity to decide how to introduce nature into the work and how to make it interact with the work itself. Through technology, you can simulate the amount of sunlight the building will get, measure the wind… to find the way in which these patterns can help us improve our lifestyle. Architecture is not only the external part. The truth is that it is an interaction between the interior and the exterior.
NO: After building several of the most important cities in the world, why did you decide to establish your firm in Sydney?
KT: This city has a beautiful balance between construction as a city and nature. And this duality creates, at the same time, a balance in lifestyle. Also, the city is very young. The differences are celebrated and what predominates is a sense of freedom in design, since there are many opportunities that have not been explored yet. Experimenting freedom in design is a wonderful feeling. It is a great city in a great time.
NO: At 46 years of age, your portfolio includes several of the countries with most weight within the global scene. Do you picture yourself with the Pritzker?
KT: I think that architects who have won the Pritzker represent a way of designing the world. But there are other ways to do so. I am interested in exploring these ways. Perhaps this will eventually lead to get recognition from an organization like the Hyatt Foundation or other institution, but our work contributes to creating the world and, under this parameter, deciding which goal to reach depends on people.
As an architect, I am constantly learning. In most of the places I have visited, I usually learn how people talk to their own cities. You are never a master, you can never have full knowledge of everything. And acknowledging that is very exciting. I believe it is the reason why I am so interested in nature. Nature needs constant change, it needs to find the way to survive, regardless of what may come.
NO: If you weren’t an architect, what would your profession be?
KT: I would like to do cycling professionally, in part because it means you go across several landscapes. Also to understand topography, not only as a visual element, but to experiment the power of the landscape on the body. I am a dedicated cyclist and I have proven that, frequently, the best ideas come from spending time outdoors.