Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA

No sooner had I arrived at the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery on December 1, to take in Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA, when snow began to fall. The fleeting loveliness of a Seattle snowstorm, in a way, provided an aesthetically resonant counterpoint for delving into the models, sketches, and photographed works of these Tokyo-based architects. SANAA (an acronym for Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates) designs buildings and installations that have a hushed integrity, yet are infused with, and invite, a spirit of playfulness. The architects’ signature style, however, goes one better than the snow: permanence that has the effect of ephemera.

Perhaps the most shimmering example of how SANAA tweaks our visual perceptions can be seen in Hisao Suzuki’s photograph, Dior Omotesando, (2001-2003). This glass skyscraper houses a Christian Dior retail store in Tokyo. Inside the structure, the architects wrapped semitransparent acrylic screens all around the clear glass exterior, fitting it with a new skin, as it were. In Suzuki’s deep-focused nighttime image, the Dior building emerges, seemingly icy to the touch, like a frost-clouded crystal, up from its dark, nondescript neighbors on every side.

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