March 7, 2011

Architect Ioanna Angelidou looks into two key conditions in contemporary Japanese architecture, namely genealogy and mediation. The first is relevant to Japan’s long tradition of hierarchy and apprenticeship. The second is relevant to its contact with Western culture through Modernism. The two of them together essentially constitute aspects of network and networking respectively.


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Yoyogi National Olympic Gymnasium (Kenzo Tange). © Ioanna Angelidou.

Points, Lines, Thresholds

As curator of the 2010 Venice Biennale, Kazuyo Sejima honored Kazuo Shinohara, recognizing him as a figure of great influence both to her and the entirety of the contemporary architecture scene in Japan. Sejima neither studied nor practiced under him, yet Shinohara—a prominent figure in Japanese architecture since the mid-1960s—largely defined the approach of a generation, including the work of Toyo Ito, with whom Sejima apprenticed.

On the other hand, when describing the selection process for the series of young architects invited to exhibit at the Arsenale, she noted that she considered her choices to be cutting-edge upcoming professionals, only to realize that most were already established since their work—mostly comprised of unrealized projects—had now been widely communicated through architectural media and the internet.1 Indeed, the latter over the past decade has increasingly become a substantial mediating platform for architecture, alongside more traditional mediums such as exhibitions and print publications. From Le Corbusier, man of books and manifesti, to collaborative polemic magazines such as Archigram and from Mies’ exhibition designs to the micro-curatorial scene of Tokyo’s architecture galleries, with each generation of architects come platforms that enable communication of ideas.

The concept of both formal and informal intertwinement is made particularly evident in two key conditions of contemporary Japanese architecture: genealogy and mediation. The first is relevant to Japan’s long tradition of professional hierarchy and apprenticeship. The second reflects its contact with Western culture through Modernism. Respectively, they essentially constitute aspects of network and networking.

Branching Out

The way influences from Western architecture and modernity have taken root in the country is two-fold. Initially, during the Meiji restoration period, foreign architects such as Josiah Conder and later Frank Lloyd Wright with Antonin Raymond built in orthodox European styles. This kind of architecture had a symbolic nature during this period, as it involved new construction methods unfamiliar to Japan, methods that local architects desired to master in order to embrace their beauty. In this way, Western architecture was perceived simultaneously as a representation of progress and authority. However, from as early as the 1870s, a mixture of traditional Japanese elements was incorporated to create a pseudo-Western style which still celebrated technological advancement and aesthetics. Both approaches are rendered naked from a political context, as architecture in Japan traditionally adheres more to craftsmanship than ideology. Indeed, the acceptance of modern architecture was immediate and wide as it bore significant formal affinities with traditional Japanese principles and was introduced as an already neutralized version of the stance in Europe that initially represented the rejection of historicism.

Fumihiko Maki describes the confluence of modernism and architecture in Japan using the term “the Le Corbusier Syndrome,” which he parallels with three discernible periods in Le Corbusier’s work: from the country’s pre-war modernization to the reconstruction followed by the utopian schemes of the Metabolists. Maki very aptly likens Le Corbusier’s effect in Europe, Asia and the Americas to a stone in a pond, water ripples diminishing with time and distance. In Japan it seems more like multiple stones creating systems of ripples, interfering with one another to create a complex pattern,2 an expanding architectural genealogy with a family tree continuously branching out. The first period is roughly detected between the end of the 1920s and the early 1930s and throughout the years until World War II. During this time, Japanese architects such as Kunio Maekawa and later Junzo Sakakura traveled to Europe to visit modernist buildings and apprentice with Le Corbusier. At the same time, back in Japan, magazines circulated images of modernity within the local architectural community, which at the time was just starting to discover itself anew and discuss its future. The second period is situated during the first post-war years through the 1960s, when the need for reconstruction was immediate and accompanied by the optimism regarding revitalization of the city with urbanism and mega-plans, hence the Metabolists who perceived the city as a living organism. The Metabolism movement was an extended team of practitioners from several fields, though mainly consisting of the then-young architects Kiyonori Kikutake, Takashi Asada, Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki, Otaka Masato and. to an extend, Arata Isozaki. Kurokawa, Maki and Isozaki were all students of Kenzo Tange, an established figure in Japanese architecture by that time, who in turn was a disciple of Kunio Maekawa. Tange was sympathetic to Metabolism and the idea of an organically expanding city, as his 1960 project for Tokyo Bay reveals. However, he remained very interested in the union of technology with humanity as well as the re-interpretation of architecture in Japan.

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Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture (Kunio Maekawa). © Ioanna Angelidou.

After 1965, the year Le Corbusier died, his work began to be approached in a more critical manner. Until then, both in Japan and abroad, Le Corbusier was perceived as a hero or idealist who completely reformed architecture and his expanded activity, ranging from design to writing, allowed him extended influence that almost elevated him to god-like status. In Japan this critical discussion could be traced to much earlier, with the so-called Tradition Debate towards the mid-1950s. Yoshiro Taniguchi, initially in high regard of Le Corbusier, during this period expressed the need to assert distinctive identity through adaptation and hinder large-scale assimilation of foreign architectural (and not only) elements. Indeed, Taniguchi and Maekawa each embody two distinct perceptions of modern architecture and views of its adaptation in Japanese context. Consequently, they were also the two key figures around which the future architectural genealogy would develop, two schools that occasionally adopted and lent principles and members to each other.

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Tokyo National Museum of Western Art (Le Corbusier). © Ioanna Angelidou.

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Tokyo National Museum: Asian Gallery (Yoshiro Taniguchi). © Ioanna Angelidou.

As much as architecture in Japan was considered the confluence of beauty and technology, Kunio Maekawa, having collaborated with Le Corbusier directly, kept a focus on building performance whereas his students Togo Murano and Kenzo Tange maintained a rigorous interest in aesthetic performance. Through Tange’s practice and laboratory at Tokyo University emerged the majority of the Metabolists who envisioned a dynamic city rather than a radical yet static urban condition as that illustrated in Le Corbusier’s schemes. Then, after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and the Osaka Expo of 1970, world architecture entered a period of intellectual change. Many members of the Metabolist movement had already started to be skeptical about the flexibility of the megastructure and the way it embraces human scale. This is precisely the differentiation Fumihiko Maki makes between mega-form, compositional form and group form, the latter described as a condition within which elements stay connected yet independent. Maki has also been associated with Team X and worked in America for SOM and Josep Lluis Sert, another disciple of Le Corbusier. This blend of diverse artistic influences he likened to the shadow of a cloud, both unpredictable and elusive.3 In Arata Isozaki’s architecture, the multiplicity lies in the several periods and modification of approaches it underwent. Besides Isozaki, Kurokawa and Kikutake have employed several styles and aesthetic systems in a semantic way. Charles Jencks perceives this adaptive mixture with previous modes as a tentative way to move away from modernism, an evolutionary rather than a radical departure. He traces the reason this is so evident in Japan to the flexibility of Japanese culture in assimilating and adapting external fragments and the absence of an in-grown avant-garde that would gain validity by inverting precedent principles.4 Indeed, Isozaki declared the autonomy of architecture and as such is entirely representative of this condition. Interestingly enough, each of his prominent disciples embodies and continues a period of Isozaki’s work: Makoto Sei Watanabe the technological by using mathematical algorithms and computers to generate form; Jun Aoki a purer modernist approach which combines formal reduction with playful elements rather than minimalist austerity; and Shigeru Ban re-evaluates and re-interprets traditional building methods with ecology and the use of subtle materials.

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Nakagin Capsule Tower (Kisho Kurokawa). © Ioanna Angelidou.

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Aoyama Tepia Building (Fumihiko Maki). © Ioanna Angelidou.

Coincidentally, it is precisely the effects of uncontrolled Japanese urbanization and the rapid worsening of environmental and urban conditions that led to skepticism over the Metabolist schemes. Again, this can be roughly divided into two approaches, pro-urban and anti-urban. This critical perspective led to two distinct directions that were to influence the generations that followed. Kazuo Shinohara shifted focus on the domestic everyday with his book A Theory of Residential Architecture of 1967, while Hiroshi Hara, notably also a Tange student, expressed doubts on the megastructure and its disregard of physical elements. According to Hara’s theory of the Porous Body (yukatai) the latter infiltrate the architectural process.5 Hara believed that the part is greater than the whole and conducted extensive research on vernacular non-urban settlements that included trips to African villages. His students each express an aspect of his research: Riken Yamamoto’s practice is based on re-analysis of every building’s purpose and role; Kengo Kuma’s on subtlety or what he calls “erasing architecture,” through which his work is divided into three periods deploying equal design tactics, that of fragmentation, transparency and filtering with patterning; and Kazuhiro Kojima (with his partner Kazuko Akamatsu and their office CAt) takes an interest in functional and design fluidity, a flexibility that incorporates the effect of physical phenomena.

Shinohara belongs to the Taniguchi line as he studied under Kiyoshi Seike, Dean and professor of architecture at Tokyo Institute of Technology. Seike was very conscious of domesticity and in his architecture used a methodical approach to adaptation and development (“I think while making”-1954), combining the modernist open plan to celebrate spatial continuity with elements from Japanese building culture to validate the latter. Shinohara’s primary interest, however, lay neither in functional efficiency nor beauty per se, but the capture of a spiritual aspect in architecture and urban chaos. Indeed, Shinohara saw the beauty of the city precisely in the fact that it was a manifestation of confusion. Toyo Ito, Itsuko Hasegawa and Kazunari Sakamoto were all students of Shinohara and, in an interesting twist, both Ito and Hasegawa eventually went on to work in the office of Kikutake. Thus the first generation hailing directly from the so-called “Shinohara School” branches out in two distinct directions, one more relevant to practice and the other to research. Hasegawa’s spatial layering comes across as un-modernizing collage whereas Ito’s transition from his early period of devotion to the electronic city and its wandering urban nomads appropriates perceptional space, often by touching upon the singular and atomized experience. Kazuyo Sejima-thus also Ryue Nishizawa and SANAA-borrows this desire for experiential affect from Ito, but translates it through a spectrum of collectivity and a sense of urban assembly. On the other hand, Kazunari Sakamoto continues Shinohara’s focus on research and the domestic scale with formal and functional analysis plus an added interest in structure and materials. Both Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima of Atelier Bow Wow were Sakamoto’s students, thus their empirical research on Tokyo’s hybrid urban buildings, typology of domesticated environments, scale and micro-events.

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One Omoesanto (Kengo Kuma & Associates). © Ioanna Angelidou.

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Tod’s Omotesanto (Toyo Ito & Associates). © Ioanna Angelidou.

Joining In

In a way, genealogy and the discussion over Japanese modernization, beyond ground for a critical interpretation of the evolution contemporary Japanese architecture underwent, offer a paradigm of intertwinement themselves. The relation of master and disciple fostered the acceptance of modernist principles as representative of progress and subsequent idealization of modern architecture. In turn, the discussion over tradition and adaptation nurtured an architectural culture of dialogical manifestation through a combination of practice and representation. However, in the second part of the period that followed, the catapult of Japan to an aggressively growing economic super-power was substituted by the restricting conditions induced by economic recession in the post-bubble era. This prescribed a shift in direction from an industrial to an information-based economy, a change which left its mark on architecture’s exchange platforms in the media-infested metropolis.

Periodicals, being ephemeral and easily reproducible, have early on acted as connecting matter between the vernacular and international tendencies and discourses. This comes as no surprise given that architecture is not only spaces and the design thereof, but a product of culture responding to concurrent needs and conditions, destined to fall in line with the milieu while entailing the potential of instant documentation. Shinkenchiku (New Architecture) is the oldest surviving architecture magazine in Japan, circulated from as early as the 1920s. Its bilingual edition, JA: Japan Architect, was first published in 1959 and acted as an international forum for local architects and young hopefuls, such as the Metabolists, to communicate their work and visions of a rapidly shifting Japan. JA’s editorial approach is not based upon text, apart from an editorial note describing the theme of choice and a conversation between two architectural figures (often a critic and a practitioner) that frame a relevant discussion and act as introduction to a series of case study projects that support the arguments posed. On the other hand, SD: Space Design was largely focused on critical debate. It is in the pages of this magazine that terms such as “Shinohara School” first appeared in 1979, interestingly enough in an article written by Kengo Kuma and Kioyshi Sey Takeyama who were at the time students of Hiroshi Hara at Tokyo University and embodied a perhaps not opposing but considerably different approach. SD, which was launched in 1963 by Kajima Institute as a social service of the large construction corporation Kajima, ceased publication in 2000.

Space Design was not the only publication affected by the deterioration of the Japanese economy during the last 25 years. Older magazines such as Kenchiku Bunka (Architecture Culture), established in 1946 and also the publication that first featured Maki’s text on the distinction between group, compositional and mega-form (“Collective Form” – 1967), stopped in 2004 after 674 issues. Smaller or newer journals like Telescope and TenPlusOne (10+1) were met with similar fates. They both focused on the city, which they explored through quite different aspects. Telescope was published between 1987 and 1996 by professor, curator and critic Akira Suzuki, and was the realization of a series of wandering issues. Indeed, self-described as a print city, this small independent publication’s contribution to the informal validation of the concurrent and constantly shifting urban condition was vital. On the contrary, 10+1 was published in print by giant sanitary corporation INAX from 1994 until 2008, at which point it took the form of a monthly online magazine incorporating critical texts, photographic documentation, speculative presentations of emergent tendencies revisiting historical dissections of the city (10+1 University) as well as broadcasts of archived relevant lectures (10+1 Radio). Each issue was thematic, drawing inspiration from the observation of the urbanscape with case studies and guest-edited issues by critics and practitioners alike. INAX continues its publishing activity with several series books and replaced its periodicals with a bi-annual publication of mini-monographs by young architects such as Atelier Bow Wow, Kumiko Inui and Sou Fujimoto. These booklets, entitled Young Architects Concept Series, are self-edited by the architects themselves and each time adopt a different concept to represent their work. In this token, the book is no longer a mere mediating device, but essentially a project in its own right.

Surprisingly enough, in this same era of financial halt a dynamic curatorial scene emerged. The public sector inevitably underwent a period of significant scarcity of funding and the crisis dictated a reconsideration of priorities. As a consequence, public museums in Japan entered a phase of introspection. The shift from exploring larger social issues to drawing on experience from everyday life and immediate personal concerns triggered the expression of individual diversity and a subsequent boom of private exhibition initiatives.6 Architecture seemed to gain from this, thanks to its functional aspect and many curatorial experiments undertaken in Tokyo from the mid-1980s combining architecture with art and/or taking interest in its interaction with the new media often utilizing critical narratives.

Those can be divided into corporate and private arenas. The former were developed by large corporations such as ICC by NTT, Artlab by Canon, INAX:Gallery by INAX, A4 by Takenaka Corporation, and Gallery MA by TOTO. Private initiatives are large collector museums with an international network like Hara Museum, mid-sized themed institutions like the Watarium and small family-run ones like GA Gallery, an exhibition space and publishing house (ADA Edita). The last one from each category is of particular interest, as they focus on architecture exclusively. GA was established in 1970, its distinctive building designed and built by its owners in 1974, with exhibitions started in 1983. Its activities are reciprocal, based on the circulation of the publications that concentrate on built work. Gallery MA, on the other hand, was founded in 1985 as part of a larger cultural project of TOTO Ltd. aiming to increase public awareness on modern urban life. Self-described as a place for stimulation, exchange and interaction, MA equally embraces realized projects and the unbuilt and, since the mid-1990s, has started TOTO Publishing to accompany its activities. Such curatorial initiatives and small galleries obtained the role of informal education and source of associations in a position to elevate work and processes exhibited to unquestionable acceptance of validity. As such, they permitted fragments of potentiality to flourish operating as a testing platform during the post-bubble period.

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GA Gallery venue (exhibition: Contemporary International Architects 2010). © Diego Lopez Arahuetes.

Zoom In/Out

One might wonder what comes after that, how has this architectural family tree developed, how this new generation perceives its position within the archi-genealogy as well as their view on the effect of architectural mediation and exchange. Approaching a group of young professionals under 40 to pose such questions, I had the chance to take a glimpse into the concurrent architectural kitchen in Japan. The selection was based on a body of substantial realized projects of varied scale within the Tokyo metropolitan area, in order to reflect the understanding of the urban informé.

As the relevant visual material might reveal, their work comprises equal amounts of—either realized or in progress—residential and retail projects. Both are urban commissions par excellence in Japan, especially Tokyo. But contrary to the group of Tokyoite architects preceding this generation, whose work almost entirely focuses on small urban houses, these younger architects seem to have been engaged considerably early in small yet public commissions, such as small shops, interiors, and sometimes even just facades. This detachment of architectural elements is not rare to Tokyo; one third of the city’s built structures are one way or another modified or replaced altogether over the course of a single year. Still, it marks a significant difference and evolution in the sense that Tokyo’s architects, after having observed the urbanscape and attempted to blur the boundary between inside and outside through their residential designs, have slowly started ‘domesticating’ the urban. On the other hand, the term “small” becomes relative when concentrating on inhabited natures. This generation shows a particular affinity to playful representation of themselves and their work through display projects and installations, which can be perceived as a tactic both modern and non-modern. It could also be described as elasticizing the Western notion of modernity by simultaneously employing concepts of total living and micro-landscaping, essentially creating a personalized environment. Positioning chairs and flower pots, arranging teacups and cake cases on tables, and immaculately crafted physical models are all indications of a sort of kawaii (cute) mini-urbanism that draws from the seminal modern notion of total design.

In regards to network opportunism and mediation, I was surprised to receive responses often critical of their sometimes superficial nature and skeptical of their constraints. Indeed, communicative projects like publications and exhibitions are perceived more as singular projects and are welcome as such. As for references in work and design approach, though all seemed very conscious of this reality and were overly respectful to their former sensei (masters), they strongly asserted the independence of their work. Could that be perceived as yet another kind of assimilation, a Japanese pattern of practice, or should it perhaps be recognized as a new occurrence? As one of them—incidentally the younger one from the group—pointed out in her interview, the architecture schools and lines seem to emerge and become more obvious nowadays. Indeed, it seems to be the case, as the constant branching out family tree growing from the older masters indicates. The artist Takashi Murakami has coined the term “superflat” to describe a similar condition, which he characterizes as devoid of perspective and hierarchy,7 one where all references exist equally and simultaneously. Instead, I understand it as a self-referential and thus customizable hierarchy, one that allows individualized events and design tactics to become immersive, if not subconscious.

The Questions

Architectural genealogy: discussion over modernism and its adaptation to the local context has eventually led to at least two distinct architectural groups that are continuously renewed and evolving also based on the Japanese tradition of acquiring knowledge and experience through the transition within an office hierarchy. How do you position yourself in this modern architectural genealogy and to what degree has it affected your personal approach to design?

Mediating platforms: in Japan, architecture often becomes a field of popular experimentation on both spatial and graphic levels. Numerous publications of ranging approaches offer young architects the opportunity to communicate their work. Furthermore, though Tokyo lacks a large institution to host architectural exhibitions for a wider audience, it is equipped with numerous smaller curatorial initiatives specializing in architecture. This exposure has acted as a catalyst in constructing individual approaches for young architects. How do you find it to be of effect to the broader architectural scene by means of cross-contamination and quality-management?


On architectural genealogy

When I was a graduate student, I was very impressed by Toyo Ito’s design for the Sendai Mediatheque, which was still a winning competition entry at that time. I was very surprised by the photos of the model, it was really interesting, really beautiful, so I went to his office and well, I actually worked there for eight years! So a lot of things must have happened there. I started by being a kohai*, which was really hard work. But still, I gained great experience this way, especially in international projects like the Bruges Pavilion in Belgium and then Tod’s Omotesando, so I was very happy at Ito’s. Of course I was very interested in Ito’s thinking, but at the same time was working very hard to make some sort of difference in his approach through the projects themselves. We came up with many new ideas during that period. The office was very creative. This generation of Japanese architects, like Ito or Tadao Ando, have a very clear approach and methodology. They speak of their concept in very clear terms. But I think the generations that follow tend more towards considering the conditions and surroundings, as well as explaining their architecture. This is already a new approach, but I believe I belong to the generation coming after the latter; I do not just want to describe a condition or explain the situation, but come up with a strong principle, make a sort of contribution of architecture which perhaps is a little bit like Ito-san’s generation. This sort of “animal instinct” in design which Ito refers to is shared by many Japanese architects, like Sejima. Of course, Sejima also worked in Toyo Ito’s office, but her instinct is quite different from his, even as she has been very much influenced by him. We might all share this sort of instinct, but I feel the differences are more important.

On mediating platforms

Well, yes, it is kind of positive, isn’t it? Actually, this really impresses me and I am very happy to discuss ideas with other architects from a different background. So I think in a way we are in a fortunate situation. Yet, at the same time, I hope that architecture will eventually gain more social power and effect, because people perceive architecture as a limited part within the field of design and disregard its social aspect. Architecture in Japan is not really social. For instance, it is very rare to see architects’ comments in newspapers or other everyday media outside the profession, the one that common people have access to. Scientists reach out to a broader audience and make public appearances in Japan and I very much hope that eventually architecture will also gain such an audience and influence by its own means. I believe architecture is very much related to social issues and people’s everyday, so why not have access to the media that refer to them?

* The lower position in the Japanese apprentice hierarchy, equal to intern or junior, gradually moving up to sempai (a tutor or intermediate) and eventually sensei (the master).

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Sarugaku retail complex, Tokyo. © Nacasa & Partners Inc.

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Gallery. © Akihisa Hirata Architecture Office.


On architectural genealogy

Be it traditional or contemporary, as far as architecture is bound to a specific style, it has no value for me. I perceive architecture as an embodiment of the most rational relationship between human and location, climate included. Architecture taking these elements into considerations is essentially vernacular and still entirely contemporary. For me, modernity is the intention or tendency to pursue rationalism and I do not place any value on modernism bound to a stylistic approach.

On mediating platforms

The media is a site in its own right and many Japanese architects seem to approach that field as of equal importance to actual built sites. Some (especially in my generation) may feel media have a deeper sense of reality than actual sites. I attribute this to the tradition of “Uki-yo”, a sort of floating world with unreal, idealized attributes. I adapt myself to the abstract sites of media while positioning the center of gravity on actual sites. Architectural media and their mediation are fleeting and ambivalent, thus it may be important for architects to avoid shortening their lives. That said, I do not mind people criticizing my work. I believe it is very important for the sake of cultural discussion that architecture stirs up criticism. However, it is better to be spoken or written about by critics than architects. The artistic aspect of architecture is to be determined by critics and not the architects themselves.

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Sakura,Tokyo. © Ryota Atarashi.

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Rainy/Sunny House,Tokyo. © Ryota Atarashi.


On architectural genealogy

Judging from the context and since I practiced in Jun Aoki’s office, I belong to the Tange School. However, I have not really been aware of these genealogies. Aoki has a very distinct approach, influenced by his presence in Arata Isozaki’s office, but I do not think that he was conscious about this, either. Rather, I believe these two groups are emerging now. More importantly, the generation gaps are becoming more and more apparent these days.

On mediating platforms

I feel that the whole publishing industry has decreased in strength and architectural publications are also losing vigor along with it. Lifestyle magazines are relatively active due to their nature; their editorial approach is more liberal. On the other hand, I am under the impression that specialized architectural publications have a somewhat outdated character. Time goes by fast and the world beyond architecture is also changing rapidly. However, the definitions in the architecture publishing domain remain very limited. Small and specialized galleries do function very well as hubs for the architects. Nevertheless, not necessarily referring to the architectural galleries, I somehow wish that there were more opportunities to hold an exhibition in a larger venue, where people can realize their installations liberated from size constraints.

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UrbanPrem (MinamiAoyama 385), Tokyo. © Daici Ano.

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“A House is Not a Home” exhibition installation, SCAI*The Bathhouse gallery Tokyo. © Yuko Nagayama.


On architectural genealogy

I like reflecting the vernacular nature of architecture in my projects. In that way, I can build something different and feed my curiosity and interests. I feel a sense of incongruity with the work of Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe, as several other architects do. Le Corbusier created this sort of architecture that can be built in any context and commercialize it. After WW II, such designs and schemes materialized within a period when the veterans returning from the war and their families were in immediate need of housing. I am skeptical of the evaluation of architecture concentrating on design per se, without consideration for the social of financial background. When I was an architecture student, Rem Koolhaas held up the keyword “shopping” and insisted that architects had to design recognizing the flow of capitalism and commercial principle. Upon graduation, I started working at the office of Kengo Kuma, who I considered to be one of the very few architects able to see architecture from the standpoint of economy. Three years after I left Kuma’s office, I started my own studio in a small deserted private house. I had no projects whatsoever and was at a loss when I suddenly received a commission to design the Lanvin Boutique in Ginza. A client of Kengo Kuma introduced me as an architect. Through this project, I met Mr. Alber Elbaz, Lanvin’s designer, who changed my life as an architect. He told me, “Clothes have emotional existence, why is it not so with architecture?” Indeed, we feel relaxed when we wear clothes made of organic cotton or luxurious when we wear clothes with embroidery and so forth. Fashion designers always consider the feelings of the people who wear the clothes they design. Yet, modernist architecture excludes feelings and decoration by dealing only with issues than can be logically explained and resolved. Design with emotion is a principle for Alber Elbaz and I was influenced by these words of his very much.

On mediating platforms

There is a tendency for Japanese architects to rely upon and barricade themselves in architectural academism or journalism. I am rather avoiding it. I just want to discuss with respectable people in a place away from such an environment. My second project when I started my own office was House SH, and it was then that I started considering that the ultimate purpose of architecture is to become something like an attachment. I wanted the resident to love the architecture itself. House SH also acted as a model for my book Architecture with Love. I gave this title to the book because I wanted to discuss architecture with common words and everyday language, not incomprehensible philosophies. Feelings are also triggered in people through the ambience of the space or the touch of its materials – and architecture can do that. When the owners of House SH smiled in their new living room, I was convinced that this was an idea all the most relevant. I could feel my goal—the design that can potentially sympathize with the person—take shape.

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Roku Museum, Tochigi. © Hiroshi Nakamura+NAP.

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House sh. © Hiroshi Nakamura+NAP.


On architectural genealogy

Within the family tree of Japanese architecture, I think I belong to the generation coming after Bow Wow*. In this generation, there are so many architects and each of us has a different background and approach. However, we may actually seem quite similar through a Western perspective. For instance, many architects – including myself – employ such elements as the gabled roof in their work. This is not some sort of post-modern symbolism, but rather due to the specific spatial character of the gabled roof as a shape. We use the angle of the roof in a rationalist context. By this token, we could perhaps identify ourselves as the generation bleaching out the color of post-modernism.

On mediating platforms

In Japan, there is this misconception that overseas architects enjoy fame and wide respect for their work. From my experience living in foreign countries, I do not see so much difference between Japan and abroad in this aspect. Indeed, many small publishing houses and exhibitions fostered by private companies have been cultivating unique approaches in Japan, which means that Japanese architects are not necessarily depending on a particular kind of media reference. However, this is a thing of the last decade and, more and more, it seems like the internet has become a medium of significant control for architecture. As for exhibitions, particularly those held in specialized curatorial hubs, I am afraid they are hardly visited by people outside the profession. In that sense, cross-contamination cannot be entirely effective. Moreover, the medium itself has been diversified, so we have exhibitions of architecture held in art galleries. Nevertheless, this sort of specialized media exposure has acted as a catalyst in constructing individual approaches, and of course it is a form of quality management. Architecture does not draw reference only from a singular context. Dialogue with fellow architects, even from a distance, always provides a stimulus for my work; sharing the same ideals means we are heading forward, it is a type of progress. On the other hand, our generation is often regarded as one not so motivated to share information through the traditional platforms like publications and exhibits. Compared with the generation preceding the one I belong in – that has indeed established its network through such media – we have a much easier way to share and circulate our work, and that is none other than the internet.

* the Bow Wow Generation, a term coined by architect and critic Akira Suzuki, refers to Japanese architects currently in their mid-40s who were most affected by the shaken construction industry during the period following the burst of the speculative bubble in Japan. As such, much like Tsukamoto and Kaijima of Atelier Bow Wow, had to revert to alternative modes of architecture as research, publications and exhibitions of speculative projects.

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Nowhere But Sajima apartments, Kanagawa. © Yasutaka Yoshimura.

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Bayside Marina Hotel, Yokohama. © Yasutaka Yoshimura.


Special thanks to all the architects who have kindly agreed to participate in the ongoing research project MicroTactics: Four Platforms for an Elastic Modernity, first conceived in March 2009 during an academic trip in Japan, initiated in New York and eventually continued in Tokyo throughout 2009-10. Thanks, also, to the staff members from all the offices for their effective overall assistance in scheduling and conducting the interviews as well as the preparation of relevant visual material. Translations from Japanese by Yukihiro Nagata.

1 Kazuyo Sejima interview in Architecture on Display: on the History of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, eds Aaron Levy and William Menking (London: Architectural Association Publications, 2010), 169. See also: Kazuyo Sejima, Introduction in People Meet in Architecture, ed. Kazuyo Sejima (Venezia: Marsilio Editori, 2010), 14-15.
2 Fumihiko Maki, Nurturing Dreams: Collected Writings on Architecture and the City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 180-189.
3 Ibid, 186.
4 Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-modern Architecture (London: Academy Editions, 1977), 40.
5 Hiroshi Hara, “La Théorie des Corps Troués” in >em>Anthologie Critique de la Théorie Architecturale Japonais: Le Regard de Millieu, ed. Yann Nussaume (Brussels: OUSIA, 2004) 332-334.
6 As described by the senior curator of Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art (MOT), Fumihiko Sumitomo – See Fumihiko Sumitomo, “Changes in Tokyo’s Contemporary Art Scene Since the 1990s” in Art Space Tokyo, eds. Craig Mod and Ashley Rawlings (Tokyo: Pre/Post, 2010), 28-33.
7 Takashi Murakami, Superflat (Tokyo: Madora Shuppan, 2000).