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Architect Sou Fujimoto on Finding Inspiration in Einstein and Everyday Objects

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Potato chips, clothespins, cardboard boxes: within the exhibitions, videos and displays at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a bank of pillars filled with everyday ephemera seems like one of the more unorthodox takes on design. But for architect Sou Fujimoto, his display, which juxtaposes household objects with small figurines, has a clear message: in architecture, inspiration and creativity can come from unlikely sources. The Japanese architect has been celebrated for his fantastical designs, which play with the notion of in-between space that blends the natural and the artificial. His Serpentine Pavilion concept, a rational grid of white tubes, framed the beauty of Kensington Garden, and his Musashino Art University Museum and Library, an endless row of shelves, many yet to be filled, seems like a child's conception of the perfect library. Sou's current exhibition suggests inspiration comes from anywhere, so Curbed asked him to discuss his own influences and creative process.

Insights Start With Scale
"Architecture is everywhere. These things on display aren't architecture things, they're regular things, even trash. But if you put a small person next to them, they become unexpected architecture spaces. I like to do these types of funny things to expand the concept of architecture. I like to get inspiration from different scales. We're always making transitions from big to small. It's important to see the human body in relation to space, and how that works on a deeper level."

Take a Jump
"When I'm working on a project, I always take inspiration from the site, the locals and the client's recommendations. It's the standard starting point. But then I like to make a jump. In the case of a project like House NA (Tokyo, Japan), the starting point was the daily culture of the client. They said they were nomads within their small home, always working to find spaces to use their computers. I thought it was a good idea to provide a variety of spaces for them, so I tried to create variety and richness, a diversity in scale and atmosphere. All the spaces could be one room, but many different levels. After completion, I realized it was like a small tree. Within the branches of a tree, there is a variety and diversity. This exhibition in Chicago is filled with artificial things. But if you look closer, you see that the complexity and different patterns showcase a different understanding of nature. It's all scales and viewpoints."

Getting Shocked by Gaudi
"Gaudi was the very first architect to impact me, but it was such a long time ago. At the time, I didn't know I wanted to be an architect. I was just surprised and shocked. I've since studied modern architecture that's so different from Gaudi, and I'm not sure how you can bring him into the modern context. But I just like him. When you visit the Park Güell (in Barcelona), it's half park and half artificial structure. You can see how his structures are so integrated into the landscape. That's one of my favorite projects of his. It's not just one object, it's an object melting into the landscape. It's really surprising."

Finding Ideas in Forest
"I'm really interested in forests, their diversity and balance. They have so many different types of places, with varied light conditions and brightness. I'm currently working on a museum in Budapest (Liget Budapest), and we're trying to create an artificial forest, to transform the natural inspirations. In a sense, it's very simple. There's also a university in Paris, which was inspired more by the activities of students, but also has a connection to the forest."

Structures and Superstings
"My biggest influence comes from physics. I like Einstein. Not his physics exactly, since I don't always fully understand the theories. It's more about the way he looks at the world and brings different ideas together to explain everything and search for meaning. I was interested in physics in high school, but I wasn't good enough to make it. But that kind of natural science theory still interests me. Superstings, the complexities of it all—it's always been inspiring."

Chicago Architecture Biennial coverage [Curbed]
Sou Fujimoto Plans a Super Airy, Leafy Hub for Parisian School [Curbed]
Behold Sou Fujimoto's Swiss Cheese-Like Museum for Hungary [Curbed]
Eight Things You Didn't Know About Architect Sou Fujimoto [Curbed]