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.

Japan After the Storm
The devastation in Tohoku area of Japan is still markedly visible two years after the disaster. The trip to the north was very different from the numerous other trips we have made in the past, as it was more about the deficiency, rather than excess of new buildings. People, their resilience, as well as communities lost and found, were the focus of our journey. I tried to find projects and other initiatives led by various groups of architects however small they were. You can read more about these projects in the article above, commissioned by Architectural Review.

Japan After the Storm

The devastation in Tohoku area of Japan is still markedly visible two years after the disaster. The trip to the north was very different from the numerous other trips we have made in the past, as it was more about the deficiency, rather than excess of new buildings. People, their resilience, as well as communities lost and found, were the focus of our journey. I tried to find projects and other initiatives led by various groups of architects however small they were. You can read more about these projects in the article above, commissioned by Architectural Review.

This is a rambling on what it means to have style.
The world is divided into two halves: those who have style and those who haven’t. It’s black and white for me. There is no fuzzy bit in the middle. The division goes across class, religion, gender, nationality and age. In another word, you can be filthy rich and have no style, or you can be poor but have style. You can be male and have style or be female and have no style. You can also be Japanese and still have no style!
It’s also important to remember that no one is born with style. You must acquire it. This is the critical difference with other types of divisions, such as class, religion, nationality, which unfortunately are all given at birth. Moreover, style is not inherited. So even if your parents had style, you yourself may not necessarily possess it. Not yet, I should say, because you may, one day. It is more a matter of choice.
Children naturally do not have style. They can’t. They are too young. Teenagers, very rarely, indeed. Style comes with a certain maturity, it requires both emotional and intellectual integrity. You can’t just copy someone else’ style. It’s about knowing yourself, knowing what suits you, what tickles you most, and making a statement about that. That knowing takes time.
In fact, it is not dissimilar to fine wine. It needs ripening, a rupture of some kind, a struggle even. A designer with style spends a long time thinking about what he/she designs. A fashion student with style spends a long time thinking about what he/she wears. Having financial security does help because that means you can free up some head space to think about such things, but time is more important. Neither a commercial success nor celebrity status will bring style, in fact, they may actually hinder it. Whether or not you are a famous architect or a senior designer, if you do not have the kind of maturity that goes with fine wine, you may still very much lack style.
Having style is not at all about having a large ego. That is the interesting thing about people with style. You cannot be self-obsessed and have style, because you have to think about others. You need audience. What kind of statement are you making? You must be able to de-clutter the junk in your head before you can have a clarity of vision that goes with style.
See the picture above, for example. That bag with a zip at the bottom of it was what got me started thinking about what it means to have style…Why would a person design such a bag? And why would a person buy such a bag? What annoys me is the mindlessness that went into the production & the possession of it…I felt strongly that I needed to write about this.
Am i being harsh? I tell you, the world would be a much better place if we had more people with style…

This is a rambling on what it means to have style.

The world is divided into two halves: those who have style and those who haven’t. It’s black and white for me. There is no fuzzy bit in the middle. The division goes across class, religion, gender, nationality and age. In another word, you can be filthy rich and have no style, or you can be poor but have style. You can be male and have style or be female and have no style. You can also be Japanese and still have no style!

It’s also important to remember that no one is born with style. You must acquire it. This is the critical difference with other types of divisions, such as class, religion, nationality, which unfortunately are all given at birth. Moreover, style is not inherited. So even if your parents had style, you yourself may not necessarily possess it. Not yet, I should say, because you may, one day. It is more a matter of choice.

Children naturally do not have style. They can’t. They are too young. Teenagers, very rarely, indeed. Style comes with a certain maturity, it requires both emotional and intellectual integrity. You can’t just copy someone else’ style. It’s about knowing yourself, knowing what suits you, what tickles you most, and making a statement about that. That knowing takes time.

In fact, it is not dissimilar to fine wine. It needs ripening, a rupture of some kind, a struggle even. A designer with style spends a long time thinking about what he/she designs. A fashion student with style spends a long time thinking about what he/she wears. Having financial security does help because that means you can free up some head space to think about such things, but time is more important. Neither a commercial success nor celebrity status will bring style, in fact, they may actually hinder it. Whether or not you are a famous architect or a senior designer, if you do not have the kind of maturity that goes with fine wine, you may still very much lack style.

Having style is not at all about having a large ego. That is the interesting thing about people with style. You cannot be self-obsessed and have style, because you have to think about others. You need audience. What kind of statement are you making? You must be able to de-clutter the junk in your head before you can have a clarity of vision that goes with style.

See the picture above, for example. That bag with a zip at the bottom of it was what got me started thinking about what it means to have style…Why would a person design such a bag? And why would a person buy such a bag? What annoys me is the mindlessness that went into the production & the possession of it…I felt strongly that I needed to write about this.

Am i being harsh? I tell you, the world would be a much better place if we had more people with style…

I am one of the eleven participants from MA Architectural History course to be in this year’s MArch + MA Exhibition 2011 at the UCL Bartlett. We have made a cool pamphlet that you can take home and read the bits from our essays and reports. Here is a little taster for you. Lots of great stuff to titillate your neurons, perfect for bed-time reading!

I am uploading here a section of what Professor Iain Borden had to say about our texts in the afterword of our pamphlet:

These texts by the graduates of the MA Architectural History programme cover an extraordinary range of subjects, ranging from buildings, construction elements and materials to discourses, representations and ideas. […] And while focusing their historical lens primarily on the last two centuries, they go back much further whenever necessary […] What we end up with, therefore, is not so much a set of answers – although there is of course much of value to be learned here – but a set of interpretations, speculations and challenges as to the way we understand architecture, produce architecture and experience architecture today. These graduates ask not only “how was it in the past?” but also “how might it be in the present (and future)?”

If any of you are coming to the opening party on 27th September (starting at 6PM), be sure to tap me on the shoulder and say hello!

MArch + MA Exhibition 2011 

Tuesday 27th September  - Saturday 1st October  2011
Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, Wates House, 22 Gordon Street, London, WC1H 0QB

MArch Urban Design
MArch Architectural Design
MA Architectural History

Opening Party Tuesday September 27th at 18:00 at Wates House

Opening Times:
Tuesday 18:00 - 21:00
Wednesday - Friday 10:00 - 18:00
Saturday 10:00 - 16:00

My article on The Cat House by Key Operation Inc. is published on Dezeen. Akira Koyama of Key Operation and I met working years ago at David Chipperfield Architects. Here our paths cross again, virtually.

My article on The Cat House by Key Operation Inc. is published on Dezeen. Akira Koyama of Key Operation and I met working years ago at David Chipperfield Architects. Here our paths cross again, virtually.