ONE OF JAPAN'S MOST EXCITING ARCHITECTURAL TALENTS,
HIRONAKA OGAWA, TAKES A DRIVE ACROSS SHIKOKU, THE ISLAND ON WHICH HE WAS
RAISED, REFLECTING ON HOW THE IDYLLIC COUNTRYSIDE HAS INFLUENCED HIS
UNDERSTANDING OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
"It's a very unique thing about the Japanese that they can have a relationship with nature without having direct contact," the 38-year-old architect Hironaka Ogawa observes. He is standing within the Sundial House, a property that he designed in 2009 in Takamatsu, not far from where he was raised. The sun is high in the sky, and from within the abode's protectively windowless four walls, he listens to the intense summery croak of cicadas outside. "It is possible to feel the season without seeing it or touching it," he says.
The journey that Ogawa is embarking on across the island of Shikoku begins here, and a metallic blue Lexus IS is peacefully parked outside. The vehicle's bright tone contrasts against the stained cedar exterior of the Sundial House and the green paddy fields that nip at its ankles. The meeting of the hand of man and Mother Nature creates a striking tableau—perhaps fitting when you consider how the award-winning, Tokyo-based architect has forged a reputation by essentially using nature as a building material in many of his designs.
As the name suggests, the Sundial House was conceived so that its farming owners could tell the time of day by seeing where the light falls inside (shadows revolve around a two-story tower in the middle of the property). "As a farmer, it's very important to know what time of day it is, depending on which season," Ogawa explains.
Building the Sundial House in Takamatsu was a significant milestone in Ogawa's career, and the dwelling is an appropriate starting point for today's drive. Not only is it located close to his hometown, but it was also one of his first major solo commissions. Prior to setting up his practice, Hironaka Ogawa & Associates, in 2005, Ogawa spent five years working for architectural master Kengo Kuma. Kuma-san spotted the young Ogawa in a school competition and invited him to work at his firm. It was the young architect's first job, and the time he spent there was hugely influential. "I had my own ideas about what architecture is before meeting Kengo Kuma," admits Ogawa. "But that vision became more clear having met with him and worked with him.
Ogawa's dreams of creating constructions had begun many years before: during elementary school, at the age of about 11 or 12, he first set his sights on a life in design. As a child growing up in this tranquil part of Japan, Ogawa would entertain himself by producing objects out of bamboo or wood. His mother noticed his taste for invention and suggested a career in the built environment. "Back then I had no idea what that meant, or what architecture meant," he recalls. "As I got older, I began to understand."
The effect of a childhood spent on Shikoku is still apparent in Ogawa’s work. He was raised in a house just outside Takamatsu, surrounded by gardens, farmland and forest, with no clear fences or divisions. He recalls that when playing as a very small boy, he didn’t know where his home started or ended. “Being brought up here changed the way I perceive space and divisions of space,” he explains. How has this influence played itself out in his oeuvre? “Rather than building out of context, I like architecture to blend in with the surroundings,” he says.
There is perhaps no better way of describing Ogawa’s multidimensional and elusive practice. A house that performs like a sundial; a house with two trees bisecting its interior; a chapel that hovers above the grass around it—his portfolio is unified by one element, an invisible boundary between the built environment and the natural world.
I LIKE ARCHITECTURE TO BLEND IN WITH THE SURROUNDINGS
As the sun reaches its zenith, the Lexus comes to a halt outside the Chikurin-ji temple, a holy complex that dates back 1,300 years. Steep stairs climb up to a plateau where numerous temples are located,surrounded by damp moss and ponds teeming with large toads. The crowning glory of the site is a 102-foot-tall, five-story pagoda. It becomes immediately apparent how much Ogawa's architectural style owes to the low lines, the simplicity and the sensitivity of more traditional Japanese architecture. "These buildings were designed with deep consideration for how the wind would hit them and how the rain might make a stream and run down the edifice," he says, continuing, "or how the light comes through the paper doors and how space is used."
From the Chikurin-ji temple, Ogawa drives westward. The route is green, with tall valleys of cedar trees lining either side of the road. The blue Lexus IS zips smoothly through the verdant scenery like a kingfisher. He then drives parallel to the choppy Pacific Ocean along the south coast before heading inland toward the Shimanto River. Ogawa handles the car masterfully as it flashes through the changing landscape. "It feels stable and quiet," he notes from behind the wheel. "Because of that, even though you're moving, you can feel the connection between nature and yourself. It's quite refreshing."
The Shimanto is said to be the last clear river of Japan. Originating at the town of Tsuno, it flows for 120 miles before reaching the Pacific Ocean at Tosa Bay. The river, which is a reported 59 feet deep in some parts, is populated by fishermen jetting about on kayaks, collecting the eel traps and unagi (Japanese for "eel") that Shimanto is known for. White cranes swoop overhead, and the air is thick with the smell of hinoki cypress. This is Japan at its bucolic best, and a far cry from the Tokyo area, where Ogawa has lived since he was 19 years old. The escape in the Lexus IS is not only a refreshing change of pace for Ogawa but an inspiring one. The contrast of urban and rural, man-made and naturally grown, is a creative trigger that continually spurs him on. He is currently working on a housing and hospital project in Takamatsu and makes the journey back to Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku at least twice a month.
"It's very important to go back and forth between Tokyo and Kagawa," he says. "A different switch goes on, and integrating both worlds is important to me and my lifestyle."
The drive along the river is punctuated with many bridges, both thin cement structures on stilts and wider ones made of red steel girders. The architect carefully darts along them in the Lexus IS. The road slowly gets steeper, and the settlements become fewer and farther between, giving way to rice paddies and the odd farm. The Lexus IS is now on the open road, climbing up to the Shikoku karst, a rare rock formation that sits 4,600 feet above sea level. Ogawa drives along the Jiyoshi pass before finally hitting the alpine summit, the L-shaped eyes of the Lexus IS striding through the dramatic landscape. The karst is dotted with meadows, drowsy cows, craggy bits of limestone and two huge wind turbines. This could be Switzerland.
The Lexus IS is parked on the roadside. Dusk slowly pulls in across the karst, and at the small campsite, vacationers are leisurely pitching their tents and bedding down for the evening. The architect's journey has reached its end.
"Nature is so much bigger than anything we architects can make," Ogawa remarks, looking out across the panorama in front of him. "When you're stuck in a city like Tokyo, you can forget that."
It becomes chilly as twilight casts the deep valleys below in the color lavender. It is an epic sight.
"That's why I come back here regularly," he reflects. "To realize the importance and sheer power of nature."
THE ALL-NEW LEXUS IS RANGE IS UNIFIED BY SUPERIOR BODYWORK AND
EXCELLENT HANDLING, AND PROVIDES MODELS TO SUIT EVERY NEED.
THERE IS SIMPLY NO BETTER CAR IN WHICH TO HIT THE OPEN ROAD
TEXT BY TOM MORRIS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLÉMENT JOLIN