SANAA's Ryue Nishizawa reveals the plans behind the Musée du Louvre's impending Lens outpost, a new museum in Naoshima and how it feels to be this year's Pritzker winner.

As Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano belched out ash across Europe, causing widespread travel chaos, Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA, this year’s co- recipient of architecture’s highest accolade, the Pritzker Prize, flew to Malmö, Sweden, to discuss the ethereal beauty and the deceptive simplicity of the studio’s award-winning architecture.

During a discussion with architecture and design critic, Mark Isitt, organised by Plåt 10 (, the architect candidly recounted how he discovered that he and business partner, Kazuyo Sejima, had won the 2010 Pritzker Prize “On the day of the announcement I was in Beirut in Lebanon visiting a competition, so I wasn’t really aware. A few of my friends sent emails saying congratulations. I was very happy and excited to receive so many emails from my friends!”

Nishizawa’s modesty is undeserved, but characteristic of SANAA’s unique architectural approach. Standout projects, from the studio’s early Ogasawara Museum in Nagano, completed in 1999, to the Serpentine Pavilion in London and New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art have garnered critical acclaim for their ability to draw attention on a metaphysical level, in contrast to the heavy stylistic forms of statement architecture. When questioned on the effect of their Pritzker win, Nishizawa’s response was simple, “If clients come to us, and ask us to build something, I think it will be really nice. We always have to go abroad to ask them if we can create architecture, so if it’s the other way around i think it will be really nice.”

In addition to founding SANAA in 1995, both architects concurrently head their own separate practices, allowing both Nishizawa and Sejima to pursue separate projects. While SANAA employs around 30 architects, Ryue Nishizawa’s studio employs around 10 and Kazuyo Sejima around five.

During the architect’s visit as guest speaker at this year’s Plåt 10, held in Malmö on April 15, 2010, he revealed plans for SANAA’s forthcoming Louvre Lens, the Northern French outpost of France’s most celebrated art institution (due to open in 2012) and Office Ryue Nishizawa’s latest project on the island of Teshima, an addition to the acclaimed Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation, created in collaboration with the Japanese artist, Rei Naito.

On the Musée du Louvre, Lens, France:
You have a natural shaped hill in the middle of the town. It used to be a coal mining area, so they have so much archaeology from the 19th century, such as transportation routes. We thought it would be nice to preserve this, together with the existing landscape. The plot is quite big - like 40,000 sq m or something - so what we did was we broke the plot into several pieces to have a more smaller scale borium to avoid disturbing the beautiful landscape. The idea was to regement each unit to position it to define the natural flow of the topography that this area has. They look like a group of boats floating in the river. It’s a steel construction, with some parts in metal and some with steel beams. We are planning an aluminium façade on a concrete wall. Some of the pavilion has a totally transparent raised façade and some of the rooms have an opaque aluminium finish.

The exhibition room has steel beams. There are skylights in between to bring lots of daylight into the rooms. Each box has a slight curvature of the façade so that it looks a little bit distorted.

On the Teshima Art Museum, Japan:
Naoshima is one of the islands in the middle of the Japanese sea. This is where Tadao Ando’s museum project is. They asked me to make another museum. It’s very natural, so the property is not a square, it’s a more organic shape. They asked me too make just one room. One of the concepts was that the space would look like water drops. This kind of shape fits very well with the organic nature of the topography.

I’ve been studying steel construction but I finally decided on a concrete shell. The entrance is the only part that has a corner, the rest has an organic shape. Concrete shell structures normally need some height to be stable but in this case I decided to go very low in a very long horizontal way. I am working with the structural engineer Mr Sazaki. Inside the building you can see the edge of the floor, the wall and the ceiling all go together, so there is no definition between the walls and the ceiling. I cut a section from the left to the right so you can see how the curvature changes at each different point. I made a few openings on the shell, but this is just an opening with no metalwork and no glazing.

For the construction, normally Japanese people use plywood as a framework to cast concrete, but in this case it’s a very 3-D shape so we decided not to use plywood but soil for moulding, then its reinforced and they pour the concrete and dig all the soil out. The entrance is really small, but once inside you can see the space getting bigger. The concrete is poured all at once to cover the 2,400sq m structure.

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