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Italy, Australia and Japan - Parallel Worlds in Architecture?

The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ICCJ), in collaboration with the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ANZCCJ) poroudly presented an evening presentation and conversation with world-renowned, Italian-Australian architect, Mr. Riccardo Tossani. With over 60 participants attending, the presentation was a tremendous success.

Mr. Tossani’s works, such as the flagship Giorgio Armani in Roppongi Hills and the flagship store of Italian fashion brand GAS in Omotesando, have attracted global attention, garnering several awards and features in famous international  publications. Founded in 1997 with his partner Atsuko Itoda, the Tokyo-based practice of Riccardo Tossani Architecture has been creating innovative works and projects throughout the years. With an international staff and in collaboration with leading artists they have completed a diverse range of architecture, interior and planning projects around the world. Under Tossani's direction as design principal, the studio continues to address issues of multi-culturalism, social evolution, art in architecture and environmental sustainability; these topics were covered in the presentation as well.

The presentation started with a briefing on Tossani’s life in Australia, the US, Italy, and Japan. It was in Australia where he had his first “aesthetic experience” inside a movie theatre, with his parents, showing an Italian film. The landscape in the film awakened his interest and emotions for architecture, prompting him to study it in university in Australia, Italy, and the US.

Mr. Tossani provided very interesting insights on Japanese architecture in particular. He mentioned that the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, built in 1964 by Kenzo Tage, made him realize “there was a much higher world, that architecture was not just about creating buildings, but about something spiritual and can touch your soul”. However, in contrast to this, Tossani stated that today’s Japanese architecture consists of the destruction of urban landscape, and general overdevelopment of the same types of buildings. “Buildings have skins and veneers of the West but don’t have anything else beyond that; there’s no soul or heart,” said Tossani in his presentation. One of the reasons behind this can arguably be pointed to the fact that inheritance tax in Japan is very high, leaving families no choice but to sell their property to big developers.

Figures provided regarding architects and engineers in Japan were astounding; currently there are 365,921 engineers/architects (ie. graduates) in Japan, with only 4,169 architects with a formal practice. Of that number, 2,000 work in Tokyo; additionally, there are only 13 foreign architectural firms, 10 of which are private (1-15 architects). With 37.9 million people in Tokyo, one wonders why there are so few practicing architects. Furthermore, most of these architects work in large corporations/general construction companies, thus resulting in minimal architectual input, and maximum engineering input. Perhaps this is why Japan is facing a lack of creative, innovative buildings.

One cannot lose hope in the future of Japanese architecture. For example, Mr. Tossani’s completed works, along with future projects for hospitals, office buildings, and residential complexes, are giving Tokyo a mini makeover.

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