SANAA – Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates have joined the most esteemed ranks of architecture after winning this year’s Pritzker Prize, which is considered as architecture’s highest honour. Their projects include the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, the Rolex Learning Center on the campus of EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland, and last year’s Serpentine Pavilion in London. Their work is known for exploring lightness, transparency, seamlessness, gracefulness and subtlety. Interview with Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa at the opening of the Rolex Learning Center earlier this year.
The Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne is a one-storey structure, with no stairs or partitions, that slopes and rises an undulating landscape. How did you conceive it to feel like this ?
Kazuyo Sejima : "We somehow imagined it like a park that would be a place to start communicating. The concept was to make one very big room where people in each programme can meet and come together. There are no boundaries anywhere."
Ryue Nishizawa : "This is not a proper building but more of a landscape building. It is very open to the outside, the public and the students."
You have described how it has two “hills” that divide the overall space into three zones. There’s an emphasis on an organic, curving design.
R.N. : "Human movements are not linear in the way a train travels but curve in a more organic way. With straight roads we can only create a crossroads, but with curves we can create more diverse interactions."
How do you expect the students to use the building as a meeting-place ?
R.N. : "When people find valleys, they tend to settle there and build villages. When they find a hill, they like to build a beautiful cafe on the hill. When they find slopes, they cover them in terraces. We hope students can find nice places for themselves."
K.S. : "People come from many directions to the main entrance, which leads to the café, the students’ restaurant, the students’ office, the bookshop and the library. The highest place is the restaurant, where you can have a nice view of Lake Geneva. We also wanted to give privacy to each space, so every space has a certain kind of furniture and a different type of lighting level or lighting colour."
You are also designing the Louvre-Lens near the city of Lille in northern France, which is due to be completed by 2012. How did you approach the brief ?
K.S. : "The site is like a small island, a little bit higher than its surroundings. I also remember the very beautiful trees, particularly the landscape. So our intention was to try to keep the nature as much as possible and to make the building as calm as possible."
The Louvre-Lens is a series of five, one-storey structures formed from four rectangular spaces and, in the middle, a square, glass foyer. What can you tell us about this ?
K.S. : "The rectangles are not exactly rectangular but have a little curve to avoid cutting into nature. Because the nature is very beautiful, we are thinking of using exterior walls finished in aluminium as this gives a calm reflection and stillness."
As well as temporary exhibition spaces there will be the Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time). What is the aim for this space ?
R.N. : "The aim of the Galerie du Temps is to see art from very old eras to the nineteenth century and we hope the visitor feels connected from the past to the present."
Kazuyo Sejima, you are the director of the 12th International Architecture Exhibition for the Venice Biennale (29 August-21 November 2010). What can you tell us about your theme ‘People meet in architecture’ ?
K.S. : "It’s about the relationship between people and architecture, people and their relationship to their surroundings, and how people live in architecture. I’ve invited around 40 architects and artists to participate. The idea is not to show a lot of information but to ask the participants to think about the space itself. I would be very happy if we could feel where our society is going through this exhibition."