Resilience of Japan-ness

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I was one of the four guest speakers at SOAS EAST ASIA CONFERENCE 2014, which took place at the Brunei Gallery in London on 11th March 2014.

I began my lecture with a few questions, one of which was: how is the idea of Japan-ness in architecture preserved and how is it strengthened?

By showing many examples, I remarked at the end that the idea of Japan-ness in architecture comes in many shapes and forms, that it is not at all static but fundamentally fluid, being much more malleable that we think.

I was feeling a little emotional on that day, as it was exactly a year ago when I was traveling in Tohoku to report on the reconstruction efforts 2 years on from when the disaster struck the area in 2011.

By the way, I often use the word ‘Japan-ness,’ as in the title of this lecture. I like the sound of Japan-ness, it has an open-ended feel.

The word has been borrowed from Arata Isozaki’s book called Japan-ness in Architecture, published in 2006 by the MIT press, translated into English by Sabu Kohso. I also use it in the introductory essay of my book, New Architecture in Japan.

Lecture: Air as Architecture
Considering that my lecture clashed with Rem Koolhaas’ book launch taking place at the same building in the same evening (sorry, Rem, for not making your do!), as well as that my lecture room was tucked away on the 4th floor, where only two of the four main lifts could get up to (why?), we had a fantastic turnout of people last Monday.
For those of you who came to my lecture, thank you for coming. For others, I will give your a taster here. This is one of the photos I showed that evening - it’s a view out of Okoshikake or “Waiting Bench,” one of several garden huts found in the famous garden of Katsura Imperial Villa. Notice how the stepping stones that lead up to it do not stop at its threshold but continue on right through it and out. …These stones, in other words, whip us into motion.
This is just one example amongst many in which architecture is used to keep us moving in Japan, by circulating air through it, and ultimately transforming us, the users, in the process. One question was raised after my lecture, however, asking whether or not there was an inherent contradiction in Japanese architecture, as there was a move to keep it open and porous, whilst, at the same time, all the more efforts were made to try contain it and keep it locked away. I don’t think I managed to sufficiently explain then, but what I can say is this: the transformation that is expected to take place through the traditional Japanese spatial rendition - the journey through space as well as time - is still very much a prescribed one and I don’t see them as being necessarily contradictory; both are ways to exert and maintain some kind of control on our bodies and minds. In the modern era, we see all together different trends emerging but we should still consider what kind of control is being exerted and maintained.
…I think I could do a whole course on this - anyone interested in developing it with me?
Photo credit: Yoshiharu Matsumura

Lecture: Air as Architecture

Considering that my lecture clashed with Rem Koolhaas’ book launch taking place at the same building in the same evening (sorry, Rem, for not making your do!), as well as that my lecture room was tucked away on the 4th floor, where only two of the four main lifts could get up to (why?), we had a fantastic turnout of people last Monday.

For those of you who came to my lecture, thank you for coming. For others, I will give your a taster here. This is one of the photos I showed that evening - it’s a view out of Okoshikake or “Waiting Bench,” one of several garden huts found in the famous garden of Katsura Imperial Villa. Notice how the stepping stones that lead up to it do not stop at its threshold but continue on right through it and out. …These stones, in other words, whip us into motion.

This is just one example amongst many in which architecture is used to keep us moving in Japan, by circulating air through it, and ultimately transforming us, the users, in the process. One question was raised after my lecture, however, asking whether or not there was an inherent contradiction in Japanese architecture, as there was a move to keep it open and porous, whilst, at the same time, all the more efforts were made to try contain it and keep it locked away. I don’t think I managed to sufficiently explain then, but what I can say is this: the transformation that is expected to take place through the traditional Japanese spatial rendition - the journey through space as well as time - is still very much a prescribed one and I don’t see them as being necessarily contradictory; both are ways to exert and maintain some kind of control on our bodies and minds. In the modern era, we see all together different trends emerging but we should still consider what kind of control is being exerted and maintained.

…I think I could do a whole course on this - anyone interested in developing it with me?

Photo credit: Yoshiharu Matsumura

In less than a month’s time, I will be giving a lecture at the Barbican  on history of Japanese architecture from the perspective of…well, air.  I’m hoping that it would be an entertaining evening, nothing too  academic, as I flip the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami’s idea of  “Architecture as Air,” which is currently on show at the Curve, and explore,  instead, “Air as Architecture.”

In less than a month’s time, I will be giving a lecture at the Barbican on history of Japanese architecture from the perspective of…well, air. I’m hoping that it would be an entertaining evening, nothing too academic, as I flip the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami’s idea of “Architecture as Air,” which is currently on show at the Curve, and explore, instead, “Air as Architecture.”

I’m working backwards in time…here is the link to the talk / symposium I participated with the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto and others in 2010. It was organised by Architecture Foundation in relation to the Future Beauty exhibition at the Barbican. One of the most interesting comments made during the evening was by Fujimoto who said that Issey Miyake incorporated air into design, which possibly made his work very Japanese. I found a detailed review of the evening here.
Sophie Hicks (who is sitting next to me) and I actually made quite a contrast that evening because I was wearing a Mina Perhonen’s dress, which was black, thin & transparent, while Sophie’s Comme des Garçons gown from the 80s was white, very thick and well padded!

I’m working backwards in time…here is the link to the talk / symposium I participated with the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto and others in 2010. It was organised by Architecture Foundation in relation to the Future Beauty exhibition at the Barbican. One of the most interesting comments made during the evening was by Fujimoto who said that Issey Miyake incorporated air into design, which possibly made his work very Japanese. I found a detailed review of the evening here.

Sophie Hicks (who is sitting next to me) and I actually made quite a contrast that evening because I was wearing a Mina Perhonen’s dress, which was black, thin & transparent, while Sophie’s Comme des Garçons gown from the 80s was white, very thick and well padded!

Here is my review of the talk Kazuyo Sejima, one half of SANAA, gave at the Royal Institution, which took place last year. I had never met her before this but having spotted her cuffing away her fag outside the building before the lecture, I went up to her and introduced myself. Sejima said she was nervous about giving a lecture in English. To me, part of the charm of that evening was her broken English!

Here is my review of the talk Kazuyo Sejima, one half of SANAA, gave at the Royal Institution, which took place last year. I had never met her before this but having spotted her cuffing away her fag outside the building before the lecture, I went up to her and introduced myself. Sejima said she was nervous about giving a lecture in English. To me, part of the charm of that evening was her broken English!

My review of Tadao Ando’s lecture at the Royal Institution last week. After the lecture, I heard an elderly couple (I wonder who they were…) discussing how they were impressed with Ando’s sense of humour. I realised then that the general perception of Ando has been that he is a moody architect, with ferocious tantrums. I find him rather amusing, especially with his Osaka dialect. At 70, he appears incredibly youthful. Perhaps you lot (by that, I mean, ‘young’ architects) should take up some boxing to keep up with him?

My review of Tadao Ando’s lecture at the Royal Institution last week. After the lecture, I heard an elderly couple (I wonder who they were…) discussing how they were impressed with Ando’s sense of humour. I realised then that the general perception of Ando has been that he is a moody architect, with ferocious tantrums. I find him rather amusing, especially with his Osaka dialect. At 70, he appears incredibly youthful. Perhaps you lot (by that, I mean, ‘young’ architects) should take up some boxing to keep up with him?