Project Area: 1,349 sqm
Collaborators: Toyo Ito, Christoph Cellarius, and Florian Busch
Tokyo-Berlin/Berlin-Tokyo was an exhibition showing the 150-year-long history of mutual exchange in painting, architecture, graphic, photography, film, video, and performance. The exhibition comprised over 530 works showing how movements of influencing each other shifted between these two cities and culminated in the upper hall of the New National Gallery with the works of living artists from Tokyo and Berlin.
Our design for the upper hall showed the multitude of varying relations between contemporary Tokyo and Berlin. In contrast to the density of the basement, the curators suggested that the upper hall was to show the works of only about a dozen contemporary artists.
Finished in 1968, the New National Gallery is Mies van der Rohe’s last and arguably most modernist work. In this perfect square, cut out of an infinite Cartesian world and separated from its surroundings only by glazed walls, any exhibition design is faced with immense presence of the grid of roof and floor and the potential of the space’s homogeneous transparency.
Rather than building walls following or working against this grid, we proposed an exhibition design which would not be a top-down implant but translate Mies’s Cartesian grid into an undulating layer, gradually evolving in response to negotiations between the artists, the curators, and us. In engaging artists and curators early on in the design process, several feedback cycles led to a series of transformations of this layer which dissolved the Miesian absolute space into an exhibition of fluid, active relations.
The visitors to the exhibition freely wander in a landscape-become-exhibition. As there is not one predefined path but a multitude of unexpected encounters, the exhibition becomes an interactive experience. Moving up and down the hills, perceptions of the artworks change fluidly: The visitor keeps discovering new relations between artists and artworks, between Berlin and Tokyo.