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Organic embrace: the fluid geometry of this new crematorium evokes a sense of peace and serenity.

It's a gross simplification to suggest that Toyo Ito is following Frank Gehry's lead in embracing the computer and his feminine side, and morphing from sharp angles to sensuous curves. And yet it's tempting to trace the parallels in his shift from the jagged geometry of the Serpentine Pavilion (AR September 2002) and Tod's store in Tokyo, to the organic cellular structure of the unrealised performing arts centre in Ghent and the proposed opera house for Taiching. In fact, the curvilinear has alternated with the orthogonal throughout his career, from the voluptuous curve in one of his earliest structures, the PMT building in Nagoya, to the elliptical vaults of the Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, and the Odate sports dome. The Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre resembles a violin on plan, and is lit from a random scatter of amoeba-like windows.

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Now Ito has proclaimed his commitment to the 'emerging grid', a concept he has defined as a 'transformation of standardised rigidity into fluid organic space ... that signals endless new possibilities interrelating architecture and people'. Grin-Grin, the trio of arched pavilions rising like grassy hillocks from the Island City Central Park in Fukuoka, and Meiso no Mori, a municipal funeral hall near Gifu, can both be seem as stepping stones towards Taiching. In contrast to the Sendai Mediatheque (AR October 2001), where the delicate tendrils Ito sketched as supports for the massive structure became ossified, his recent work recalls the springy, lightweight structures with which he launched his career.

Meiso no Mori was designed to replace a decrepit crematorium, create a sublime space in which to honour the dead, and anchor an existing cemetery. Inspired by the image of softly floating clouds, Ito sought to dematerialise the building and create a structure that speaks of peace and serenity, a freely curved reinforced concrete shell that hovers over the living and the deceased. The shape of the roof structure was determined by an algorithm that generated the optimum structural solution. Ito likens this structural analysis to the evolution of plants. Here, as in nature, a process of great complexity (comprising several hundred evolutionary cycles) yields satisfyingly simple results. The canopy flows into peaks and recesses that echo the wooded mountains beyond, especially when they are capped with snow, and are reflected in the still waters of a pond. They also provide an undulating ceiling vault that is softly lit from below.

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Four structural cores and 12 slim conical columns with built-in rainwater pipes are positioned evenly under the roof structure. The columns are as smooth and gracefully tapered as the pedestals of Saarinen's Tulip chairs, and the canopy is extended to protect the floor-to-ceiling glazing of reception rooms for mourners that extends as a wing from the main block. Functional and ceremonial spaces are placed between the cores and columns as windowless, top-lit boxes, clad in the same creamy marble as the floors.

In an exhibition, Toyo Ito: the New 'Real' in Architecture, which was presented in Tokyo last autumn and is now travelling around Japan, the roof canopy of Meiso no Mori is mocked-up as a platform that fills a gallery and gives the visitor a visceral sense of the structure. As you explore its gentle slopes and declivities, you encounter fragments of other recent buildings: an architectural promenade through space and time. The computer modelling of the roof is demonstrated on video screens, and there's a simulation of the wooden forms and steel mesh that were sprayed with concrete to create the thin shell. You sense the building taking shape before your eyes and beneath your feet. The mix of energy and invention is electrifying, but, on site, the product of this effort is calming. The drama is muted and the asymmetry evokes the world of nature that is framed by the columns and the undulating roof.

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Article Details
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Author:Webb, Michael
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:649
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