Japanese architect Junya Ishigami has been named the winner of the inaugural Obel Award for his Art Biotop Water Garden creation.

Instituted by the Henrik Frode Obel Foundation, the Obel Award, which comes with a €100,000 (AU$161,816) prize, is one of the world’s most lucrative architecture prizes. The award honours “recent and outstanding architectural contributions to human development all over the world", and is given to projects that “offer seminal solutions to urgent problems". The award recipient could be an architect or a group of architects, and the project, which could include buildings, landscape projects and exhibitions, should have been completed in the last five years.

Ishigami won the award for his Japanese water garden at the Art Biotop, an art retreat and artist’s residency located in the foothills of the Nasu Mountains in Japan.

The jury, which was chaired by landscape architect Martha Schwartz and included Snøhetta co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, Henning Larsen's Louis Becker, and Dr Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, said that Ishigami's Art Biotop Water Garden “resets the boundaries between architecture, landscape architecture, art, and environmentalism”.

The water garden is formed of 318 trees planted around 160 biotopes or artificial ponds that are miniature habitats for aquatic plants and animals. A carpet of moss surrounds the ponds. The garden has a flooded forest effect with stepping stones provided to traverse the landscaped space. The trees were saved from the area where the residency was constructed and replanted in Ishigami’s garden.

From the jury’s observations:

“Ishigami’s approach relies in large part on emotions and sensations and is based on the context and the qualities of the landscape. The result is a landscape full of beauty and atmosphere – a highly poetic space that strongly influences the emotions of the visitor.”

“The project demonstrates how we can interact with and make our imprint on nature without destroying it. In this sense, the Art Biotop Water Garden is a seminal contribution to the fields of architecture.”


Photography: Nikissimo