I first became acquainted with the work of Sejima three and a half years ago while working on my thesis project at Syracuse University. Between the works of Sejima and Herzog & DeMeuron, my fundamental ideas of what architecture is and how it functions changed significantly. The key word that ties all of this work together is atmosphere. When *girl wrote about the work she used the terms ephemeral, light, air and beauty. This all speaks to things that many imagine are outside the realm of architecture - until your fundamental idea of how architecture operates is changed.
When thinking of architecture as the creation of atmosphere, your focus shifts from the manipulation of walls and large architectural objects to the very nature of how you perceive those walls. You realize that you must choreograph these elements, make them perform, to manipulate the experience of the space. Then architecture is no longer about defining rooms but about designing spatial atmospheres that can transcend the built environment. "Atmosphere" is an all-encompassing vision of spatial experience, beyond spatial ideas and formal manipulations of space that preoccupied many traditionally modern architects. It is no wonder that the work of SANAA, Sejima and Nishizawa often have the most beautiful, simple and functional plans and forms - all because their time is spent realizing the intangible qualities of the world around us, harnessing them to create beautiful experiences and atmospheres which happen to be called architecture.
When I presented my thesis project, it was clear on which side of the line people stood when it came to asking the question "What is architecture?" I heard, "I don't get it, it's just a big open space with a bunch of columns, how is this architecture?" but I also had the leading theory professor whispering in my ear, "Your project is the only project worth looking at," meaning that at the very least I was challenging the concepts of what architecture could be.
I still can see it both ways. Maybe I would be more eloquent describing my project while trying to speak Japanese.
A few images of my humble thesis project: