Yoshio Taniguchi is a world-renowned architect. Born in Tokyo in 1937, Taniguchi was raised by his equally skilled architect father Yoshiro Taniguchi. Taniguchi took up Mechanical Engineering for his undergraduate studies in Keio University. He graduated in 1960 and later continued on to his post-graduate studies Harvard University’s School of Design. Taniguchi earned his master’s degree in Architecture in 1964. From 1964 to 1972, Taniguchi worked for fellow architect Tange Kenzo in the latter’s studio where he did architectural design projects. Taniguchi similarly worked for Walter Gropius. Taniguchi also taught architecture in several universities – the University of Cape Town in South Africa and the University of California. In 1975, Taniguchi established his own practice. In doing so, Taniguchi learned where his expertise lies. He worked on various museums and other public buildings. Taniguchi works on one project at a time, which is something that the learned from his father when he asked for advice about architecture.
Taniguchi designed the Tokyo Sea Life Park (See Figure 1), which was completed in 1989. Tokyo Sea Life Park was built on a landfill and the site overlooks Tokyo Bay (Lubow). In his design, Taniguchi used the site as an inspiration. The horizontal planes in the structure, for instance, coalesce with the sea landscape. Taniguchi used glass panes around the octagonal dome so people can see the sky and the view of the ocean. To institute continuity, Taniguchi also designed a ring enclosure around the dome that appears as if water flows into the sea. White tents arranged as sails were also included in the design (Lubow). Incorporating these designs or features suited Taniguchi’s approach in designing based on the site and scenery. In an interview, Taniguchi said, “I tend to show the outside environment from inside the building” (Rudick). Inside the dome, people will find escalators that will lead them under the building where they can see marine life through glass panes. Taniguchi purposefully made the design of the building simple so as to draw guests’ attention to the real attraction below the building. Nevertheless, Taniguchi designed the building in a way that would be inviting since the facade is welcoming and leads directly towards the dome and the entrance of the building where people can explore what they came to see. It is easy to navigate around the dome as it directly leads to the escalators that would bring people down to the marine park (Lubow).
Figure 1. View of the Tokyo Sea Life Park
Taniguchi’s best known work was his redesign of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. For this project, MOMA initially invited ten architects to send their mission statements. MOMA then selected three to create designs and Taniguchi was one of the three selected (Nakamoto). Taniguchi competed against Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and Bernard Tschumi. In 1997, MOMA announced that Taniguchi won the competition albeit the fact that he was the least prominent among the three contestants. For MOMA, Taniguchi opted for an unsophisticated design because he believed the architecture must not overshadow art collections inside the museum (Nakamoto). Since he was more concerned with utility than convenience, Taniguchi’s design also included an expansion of galleries and an inclusion of skylights to draw in natural instead of artificial lighting. His design was not MOMA’s first choice. Moreover, some people critiqued his design but MOMA chose Taniguchi’s design because it was practical, unlike the other two designs. Figure 2 below illustrates Taniguchi’s concept design of the MOMA.
Figure 2. Yoshio Taniguchi’s MOMA Design
The Asia Society of Texas (See Figure 3) is situated in Houston’s Museum District – a 2.3 acre property that houses the Contemporary Arts Museum and Museum of Fine Arts (Asia Society) completed in 2011. Taniguchi’s approach in design is consistent through all his works. Hence, in designing the structure, he also prioritized function or utility over aesthetics, or rather for Taniguchi, utility equals aesthetic. He used simple materials such as wood and glass and designed a functional space (Asia Society). Taniguchi believed that a wide space would allow people to interact not only with art but also with one another. This idea supports the goal of Asia Society Texas Center’s objective of creating a space that would bring about awareness and understanding among people and other stakeholders in the community (Asia Society). Taniguchi also designed large windows and a skylight to similarly allow natural lighting inside the building. As expected, Taniguchi’s understated approach manifests in the low-lying structure that blends in the neighborhood (Rudick). Although the height of the structure blends in, it remains is noticeable because of Taniguchi’s simple yet modern and sophisticated design.
Taniguchi’s designs are reminiscent of minimalism, which is also characteristic of modern Japanese architecture. “There is a definite affinity between the underfurnished, functional, rectilinear spaces of Modernism and the Japanese tradition” (Lubow). His projects that were previously described illustrate Taniguchi’s minimalist approach in his designs. Moreover, Taniguchi strongly believes in utility when it comes to architecture (Maki). In architecture, especially in the design of functional buildings such as museums, Taniguchi believes that the functions of the structure are more important than the appearance. Hence, Taniguchi focuses on this – the interior and the space – rather than the exterior. It is for this reason that his approach is consistent. In most of his works, Taniguchi used glass panes not only to design windows as functional in drawing in natural light but also in consideration of practical aspects of design – museums can save energy when using natural light rather than artificial light. Aside from creating functional spaces, Taniguchi also believes that architecture must feature what is inside it rather than feature the architecture itself. For this reason, he opts for simple yet functional designs that would bring the spotlight on the articles – art works – inside the structure (Maki). Therefore, Taniguchi designs large and extended spaces within which galleries and other art collections can be featured while at the same time allowing people to interact with art and one another.
Overall, Taniguchi’s philosophy in design is grounded on the functional, social, and practical value of structures. He is conscious and sensitive of the context of architectural design because Taniguchi focuses on utility. Taniguchi’s approach is comparable to that of Chinese architecture. Chinese architects are particularly sensitive about utility of structures, especially public buildings such as museums. As Taniguchi, most Chinese architects are conscious that museums must be accessible to the public and should, therefore, be functional in a way that allows not only interaction but also learning and similar activities. Chinese architecture promotes the practice of designing for functionality. In China, architects believe that architecture is not only meant to be seen but also touched and this. These principles mirror Taniguchi’s philosophy and approach in architectural design because he too believes that buildings must serve a purpose. Structures need not attract attention because the real articles that should attract attention are the ones that people would see inside the building. Hence, Taniguchi believes that an architectural design must complement and feature, not overshadow, articles inside the structure.
Asia Society. About the building. 2014. < http://asiasociety.org/texas/about-building>.
Lulbow, Arthur. The talented Mr. Taniguchi. July/August 2004. <http://www.departures.com/articles/talented-mr-taniguchi>.
Maki, Fumihiko. Stillness and plenitude – the architecture of Yoshio Taniguchi. <http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic247773.files/10._Stillness_and_Plentitude__the_Architecture_of_Yoshio_Taniguchi__by_Fumihiko_Maki.pdf>
Nakamoto, Michiyo. Yoshio Taniguchi unveils the new MOMA. 15 October 2004. <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/1/e7576626-1cec-11d9-abbf-00000e2511c8.html>.
Riley, Terence. Yoshio Taniguchi: Nine museums. New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004.
Rudick, Tyler. Yoshio Taniguchi uses concept of ‘borrowed scenery’ to create new Asia Society Texas Center. 14 April 2012. <http://houston.culturemap.com/news/entertainment/04-14-12-yoshio-taniguchi-interview-asia-society-texas-center/>.