Design Manifestos: Satoshi Toyoda of Rafael Viñoly Architects

Since joining Rafael Viñoly Architects in 2006, Satoshi Toyoda has participated in the preliminary and conceptual design for nearly every project in the office. An expert in the use of various 3D-modeling software packages, he supports the design effort led by Rafael Viñoly through the preparation of test models, study models, the development of prototypes and a wide range of visualization techniques. He also most recently initiated the development of the Computational Research and Design Group within the firm to streamline the workflow of between the design and the production of building details, and ultimately construction. He organized and currently directs the in-house Visualization Team, which supports each project through the initialization of three-dimensional models; the preparation of both abstract and photo-realistic renderings and animations at various project stages; and coordination with the firm’s physical Model Shop to generate physical models and prototypes. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Satoshi’s unique approach and design philosophy.


On discovering and pursuing the profession
The answer to that may be a little bit mundane, just like many other architects I used to play with Legos — a lot. I used to and still love them. That was essentially my first introduction to architecture. Along with Lego, My father when I was small showed me a lot of the architecture in Japan where I grew up, from historic buildings to modern contemporary buildings. My father’s work had nothing to do with architecture professionally but he may have had an interest in architecture, which he ended up not doing and instead gave me an indirect inspiration.

While I was in high school in Connecticut I was interested in pursuing an architectural degree for college. I was looking for schools in the US that had very strong architectural programs, but back in high school I wasn’t completely sure how certain I was with pursuing architecture as a profession. So I chose some universities just to give myself flexibility to move around if I wanted to. Of course I ended up sticking with architecture for five years of a professional degree at Syracuse University. I didn’t really question it for a second. I just went with it, and I enjoyed it very much and came out looking for an architectural job.

’20 Fenchurch Street’ (Photograph by© Will Pryce courtesy of Rafael Viñoly Architects)

On his biggest design influences
Probably Frank Lloyd Wright whose architecture is one of many that my father showed me a lot when I was small. I always liked the quality of the architecture that Frank Lloyd Wright did in his projects, which was very much integrated into the human experience and natural forms you find in nature. One another person would be Mies. Mies van de Rohe who did high rise Seagrams building in New York. It was very clean, minimalistic, and practical piece of architecture . Those two, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies are two that I respect quite a bit and gave me a lot of inspiration in my own design.

On his path to Rafael Viñoly Architects
After I came out of school back in 2006 I knew I wanted to be in New York City. I moved here without having a job partially because i didn’t know what kind of firm i wanted to work for. I came across a job posting at Rafael Viñoly Architects and ended up getting the job. I only knew the Tokyo International Forum when I was applying. I started like every junior architect getting hopped around between different assignments. A lot of the work were competitions. After the first year because of an immigration visa issue I went over to work at our London office for a few years. That’s where I began to have much more interaction with Rafael. Several months into that interaction, he spoke to me about the possibility of working on multiple jobs helping him with everything he does: going to meetings around the world, dealing with the big picture, broader side of business. Or if I wanted to pursue a particular project from the beginning to the end to get the full set of experience. He raised these as options…but they didn’t really turn out to be options (laughing). He had already decided it was going to be option one and he began involving me in a number of projects. I’ve been doing essentially that kind of work, About three or four years ago I started to get my own team to help me with multiple assignments. So I’ve been constantly working on multiple projects and recently have begun to also work on new business and going after the potential clients and jobs. That is the evolution of my experience and how I got to where I am now.

On the studio’s unique approach to architecture
When you look at a few of the very iconic projects that we’ve done starting with the Tokyo International Forum to more recently 432 Park Avenue in Manhattan, or 20 Fenchurch Street in London you kind of notice there is no particular style among them. For the Tokyo International Forum we tried to fit more into the urban context with a glass hall that became the jewel of the project. 432 has clear proportion and simple geometries, essentially a square extrusion with a structure integrated facade system to give free plan for every residential unit. 20 Fenchurch had this double curve form which people gave it the nickname of “Walkie Talkie”. One of the highlights on 20 Fenchurch is it has London’s largest publicly accessible sky garden at the top of building. We don’t really do stylistic shapes, colors, or materials. We try to come up with a solution that is specifically appropriate for every project’s type, location and client. The shape is derived from dialogues with clients That leads us to create non-stylistic architecture that I believe is very unique. When you try to take several of our projects some people don’t even realize they are all done by us. So that’s one part of our approach.

The second part of our approach is at two hundred people we are large for a studio but small for a corporate firm. Within this type of office, every single project is involving Rafael Viñoly as a lead designer. Almost 100% of the projects that we’ve done, main design concept came from Rafael. Working on residential towers, performing arts theaters, academic research facilities or airports, it’s quite unique for the lead designer to be able to involve himself in every single project when we do such a diverse range of project types, locations and scales. I feel the fact that we don’t have a particular style and the fact that Rafael is involved in every single project we work on are truly unique aspects of this company.

‘Tokyo International Forum’ (Photograph by © Chuck Choi courtesy of Rafael Viñoly Architects)

On the studio’s design process and the state of software today
We use Rhino from conceptual phase to schematic, to design development and sometimes even in construction documentation phase. Our primary tool for documentation though is Revit, which comes in usually around the DD phase. Because of its efficiency for production and documentation, we sometimes bring in Revit at earlier phases even in schematic design while design continues to get developed in Rhino. Even if we do most of the production in Revit, we maintain the Rhino model in parallel to keep it as a controlling device for overall design.

I think software like Rhino is quite incredible.You could almost generate any shape or really anything from your imagination for projects of any scale. This is very difficult to achieve with CAD where you have to some degree the capability to design in 3D but not as smooth nor as intuitive. Some offices, even myself back in school tried to work on three dimensional forms with software like 3D Max, but even that is not really a design tool. It’s more of a rendering tool. You can’t really continually change the shape and see how one looks versus another comparing Rhino. Rhino has been quite impressively accommodating to more natural input of how you want to develop design.

On the future of architecture in the next five years
I think these amazingly useful 3D softwares have been spoiling both architectural offices themselves as well as client expectations. We and I’m sure many other firms do also we demonstrate live interaction with the client using a Rhino model at design meetings to incorporate some of their comments in real-time. They get so entertained and impressed but they also think it’s incredibly easy. When a client sees a fancy rendering at a very early stage of the project they sometimes think the building is ready to get built! Which obviously not a case… This representation method, which has gotten so much easier is at the same time distorting client expectations of what need to be done in order for a building to get built. In addition to interactive 3D modeling, photo-realistic rendering has changed some dynamics also. Several years ago renderings took so much time and the quality was not as great as it is today. We didn’t have to generate many, we didn’t even think of generating many perspectives as part of the design process. This was because it required a lot of resources and time and it was also very difficult to make a photorealistic rendering ten years ago. Now it is so easy to do.

We used to show spaces with a plan and elevation and specify characteristics like the type of wood or the type of metal with sample materials. Clients would imagine what the finished space would look like through the samples. Now clients tend to ask constantly for renderings for every single space of a building. That’s an example of client expectations getting spoiled, which we’ve seen over the past decade or so.

‘432 Park Avenue’ (Photograph courtesy of © Rafael Viñoly Architects)

For the future, and part of this is already happening: a lot of design, in my very personal opinion has been relying too much on the capability of some of 3D softwares. You can create very interesting and weird forms say like organic forms much easier out of these 3D softwares, which can diminish the actual thinking process of the designers. I feel many designs are kind of experimenting with sculpture type of form that you just happen to be able to create out of computers. I don’t think this is the true nature of what architecture should be. It is becoming less of what the architecture should do functionally or contextually. I feel like a lot of architecture now tends to be over-complicated forms without much meaning behind them. That seems to be a trend and I see it happening even more in the future.

On the future of Rafael Viñoly Architects
For us, Rafael has been operating in this profession for more than forty five years. He understands true nature of what architecture should be, so we don’t get distracted too much by the use of this software. We try to focus on a design that tries to maintain very functional, practical aspect of what building(s) should be without going overboard with shape making. We don’t like to do much decorative architecture. We want to do good architecture, which should be a building that functions well for the user, while creating a good investment return for the owner and the look of the building should be the expression of what the building is. The facade shouldn’t just be a decorative makeup attached on a surface. I don’t think we’re going to be too influenced by the improvement of the software other than it’s helping us to be more efficient in terms of production.

On advice he would give his younger self
Pace yourself. Don’t overpush yourself when you don’t need to. The busy time will always come without you choosing to be busy, so enjoy the free time while you have it!

This post was previously published on blog.modelo.io on 12/23/15.

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