The Ninth Annual Royal Academy Architecture Lecture, sponsored by John Wiley, was given by Itsuko Hasegawa this year, fortuitously coinciding with a London visit in connection with the invited competition to redesign the environs of the Tower of London. Hasegawa's architectural career, stretching over more than 25 years, has a good deal of relevance to the competition, being particularly concerned with waterfront redevelopment.
Japan and Britain have more in common than they often realise, partly because both are island nations. Hasegawa's lecture, 'Island Hopping', described an architectural response to the physical aspects of the island condition, based on an appreciation of winds and tides, resonating with the rhythms of the human body, and of the 'fluctuation, freedom and dissipation' of the waterfront.
If there is such a thing as a 'gendered' approach to architecture, then Hasegawa, it seems, is not afraid to touch on it. She made explicit reference to the feminine in correlating waterfronts to the never-ending rhythmic processes of city living, driven by the cycle of collective memory. Pointing out that society in Japan is ageing rapidly, she underlined the importance of responding to social conditions by creating a 'softer, feminine more positive . . . and comfortable' urban environment. In achieving a realisation of these 'process city concepts', she proposed adopting ecological design strategies, such as closeness of water, planting of trees and an emulation of the 'gentle' architecture generated by traditional construction materials such as wood, paper, tatami, earth and clay.
However, her departures from a traditionalist approach lie in her whole- hearted commitment to new materials - which, she believes, can often be used to re-create almost entirely the 'comfortable' qualities of the old, natural substances - and her exploration of 'non-linear vectors' in the composition of her projects.
Indeed these factors made Hasegawa's work look positively futuristic 25 years ago, when her first major arts complex was built at Shonandai. Three-quarters of the complex was buried underneath an artificial garden of metal trees and flowers. Passing time has changed that, although the Niigata Performing Arts Centre, her most recent project (completed last year) in a career of arts complexes, bears witness to a still-bold formalism.
Occupying one of Hasegawa's favourite sites - a waterfront transition zone between the port and the city - Niigata is a huge project which embodies much of her research into the waterfront condition over the last ten years.
For the last two months, Hasegawa has been working on costume and set design for a production of The Magic Flute. One of her aims was to create a place where international and local theatrical and musical traditions could be brought together successfully. Much the same could be said of her experience of the earth's rhythms through wind and tide, which can be universally understood.