words Julian Worrall
A sculpted chunk of intergalactic obsidian that has dropped into the suburbs of Tokyo, Za-Koenji Public Theatre in Suginami is Toyo Ito’s latest creation. Home to a community theatre with international aspirations, the facility houses two performance spaces, a community studio, an archive and a cafe.
The bulk of the building is buried underground. Its larger performance volumes – a flexible 230-seat auditorium and 250-300 seat conventional theatre – are stacked vertically, with the studio, foyers, cafe and ancillary spaces around their perimeters on several levels.
A homogenous metal skin shelters the theatre’s above-ground contents in a scalloped carapace with formal qualities that combine the meteoritic with the tent-like. Light penetrates the shell via scattershot perforations inset with translucent glass, adding a creaturely quality to the exterior. These organic gestures reach a climax internally in a voluptuous carmine-coloured timber staircase, which coils through four levels and is peppered with luminous spots.
With this work, Ito continues to explore novel conjunctions of structure and form. Extending the technique pioneered in his 2005 Mikimoto store in Ginza, he has executed the external carapace in reinforced concrete faced with steel plate – a composite that enables extremely thin soundproof walls but requires exquisite accuracy in construction to achieve a seamless finish.
Ito appears to relish such challenges – here he compounds the difficulties by introducing conic geometry. “The roof form was carved out of a cube by five elliptic cones and two cylinders,” he says. “We adopted elliptic cones and cylinders with single curvature that can be flattened into a planar surface in order to ease the construction process at later stages.”