OPN Masterclass at Iowa State University Draws on Iowa Landscape

This year’s OPN Masterclass at Iowa State University — Graphic Anatomy of the Modern Epic: Case Study of Farming Iowa — was an intensive, four-day drawing workshop led by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Principal of Tokyo-based architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow. The annual event sponsored by OPN Architects, brings globally recognized figures within the architecture field to hold a small workshop with Iowa State architecture students. Held at the Ames campus from March 4 to 7, Tsukamoto led an in-depth analysis of the Iowa environment and the factors and forces that have shaped and reshaped it over time. By the end of the masterclass, 37 Iowa State University undergraduate and graduate students had spent four days considering the long-term effects of architecture and culture on the natural environment — introspection that is particularly important for young architects beginning their careers as climate change looms.

Never having visited Iowa before, Yoshi spent two days prior to the workshop touring Iowa farmlands, downtown Des Moines, and the Des Moines Art Center to familiarize himself with the landscape that would be the focus of the four-day workshop. Students were encouraged to use maps, research papers, drawings, and paintings that related to the Iowa landscape as a basis and reference for their projects. The aim of each group was to draw a 6.5 x 3 ft scene that featured the Iowan landscape while highlighting a factor that played a role in the shaping of that landscape.

The first day was spent planning and researching. Days two and three were dedicated to drawing and mapping, often times elbow to elbow.

“Because the paper was so large there was always a negotiation of placement where each of us could draw. But in that, it was very unique experience because you’re collaborating so closely with all different levels of students.” said graduate student Wade Vollink.

By the fourth day the students were ready to present. The drawings were placed on easels and positioned directly in front of the Iowa-centered research papers and photos that inspired each piece.

Projects were varied. One focused on the pork industry and what kind of infrastructure it requires as well as environmental toll it takes. Another investigated the idea of how historically curvy rivers can eventually become straight over time because of the man-made influences of the surrounding landscape.

Tsukamoto co-founded, Tokyo based, Atelier Bow-Wow together with partner Momoyo Kaijima. The firm has built over 25 houses, public museums, and commercial buildings. While the majority of this work can be found in Tokyo, you can find the firm’s work in Denmark, France, and the United States. The firm’s research studies have contributed to “micro-public-space,” a concept of public space, which has been exhibited across the world at events such as Biennales in Sao Paolo, Venice, Istanbul, and Liverpool.