Exquisite Craftsmanship on Display

John Hill
10. marzo 2021
Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan opens at Japan Society on March 11. It is the first exhibition at the New York institution since lockdown measures went into place one year ago. Organized by Japan Society with the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, the exhibition was beautifully designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto in collaboration with Brooklyn's Popular Architecture.

Anniversaries abound in the exhibition: March 11th marks the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Fifty years ago, Japan Society's current headquarters, designed by Junzo Yoshimura, opened to the public. And it has been ten years since the building was designated a historical landmark by NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Although the 50-year-old building is clearly modern in its expression and in its sparse rooms, it was supposedly inspired by traditional Japanese carpentry and is therefore a fitting venue for an exhibition that "unpacks the intangible wisdom of craftsmanship," per the exhibition text, "and charts how this has been transformed into significant forms of architecture." That unpacking is literal, evident upon taking a few steps into the first of the exhibition's three galleries. 

World-Architects got a sneak peek at When Practice Becomes Form ahead of its opening. What follows are some photos from our visit and captions about the impressive artifacts — most from Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum — and displays by Fujimoto with Popular Architecture.

Drawings, wood plates, wood templates, and models are on display in the first room, "2D to 3D," which includes a half-scale model (at far end of the room) of Yakushi-Ji Temple in Nara. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The other end of the gallery features a 1:2.5-scale model of Kintaikyō Bridge in Iwakuni. In between are numerous smaller models of temples, a display of pieces comprising a temple's interlocking bracket complex, and full-size wooden templates mounted on the walls. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The wooden templates hung on the walls serve as the patterns for constructing the curved lines of the eaves and other engraved members of temples and shrines. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
A long table made from standard lumber is a waist-high platform for the display of the many full-size pieces that go into the interlocking bracket complex of Engaku-ji Temple's Reliquary Hall in Kamakura. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
Not only are the pieces the outcome of templates like those on the walls, they are a clear expression of the intricate craftsmanship that goes into creating structures that don't use nails or screws. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The second of the exhibition's three galleries, "Tools," includes a display of chisels, saws, planes, and other carpentry tools. It also shows how the tools are used through demonstration videos and the gallery includes artifacts that illustrate how craftsmen select wood and how they pass down their technical knowledge. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The last room, "Kigumi (Wood Joinery)," is the most impressive, both in terms of the exhibition design and in seeing complex joinery in full- and large-scale models. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The dark space with dramatic lighting draws attention to the models on stands, which range from the multiple stages of carving a round column (previous photo) to puzzle-like joints that boggle the mind. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
A large Quadruple Plug (Shihō-sashi) model in the middle of the gallery stands out among the rest; it is described as "the most complex kigumi wood assembly" which in turn "is scarcely used." (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The top of the Quadruple Plug model shows the final product, while the lower half reveals the complex solids and voids needed when four beams converge at a single post. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
This last view of the exhibition shows the Kawai Joint, named for its inventor Naoto Kawai, who developed a joint that can be assembled in perpendicular or linear configurations (a video helps to explain that), unlike other splicing or connecting joints that can do just one. (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan is on display at Japan Society (333 East 47th Street, NYC) from March 11 to July 11, 2021. Japan Society is designating March as TAKENAKA CORPORATION’S Free Admission Month. Visitors can reserve complimentary advance timed tickets online, dispensed on a first come, first served basis. 
In concert with the exhibition, Sou Fujimoto will give a keynote lecture (online) on June 24 about "his work and connections between contemporary architectural practice and traditional craftsmanship."

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