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

Air as Architecture Lecture - Discussion

This is a new section I have created in the hope of sparking off a pubic discourse about Japanese architecture. I am starting here with what Robert Torday has to say about the question he raised after my lecture regarding the contradiction or the “inconsistency” found in Japanese architecture. He raises an important point. Read on:

So - I think my point was this - your fascinating talk touched on the theme of an essentially ‘porous’ architectural ethos intended to be transformative and inherent in traditional Japanese society, stretching back over the centuries. Physical boundaries were deliberately blurred, or absent, perhaps to imbue in the traveller a sense of life as essentially transient, ethereal - the empty rooms at the long temple/shrine you used an illustration being a case in point. While I admire and am intrigued by this notion of absent architecture, I find the idea somewhat at odds with my perhaps misinformed perception of traditional Japanese society/culture, which to the outsider, despite the ad hoc espousal of Western values, seems intrinsically hierarchical and formal. Have you read de Waal’s ‘Hare with the Amber Eyes’? The essence of the book being a collection of netsuke, patiently fashioned over years by craftsmen with exquisite skill and taste, emblematic objects that although small and fragile are also strong, assuming a beauty through their considered detail and practical application. Emblematic in that they seem to capture a more general ethos of private, immutable study and contemplation that runs through all Japanese thought and society, with its compartmentalised perspectives, where a journey - physical or spiritual - is fraught with protocol and ritual, overlaid and constrained by social standing. This is the inconsistency I was trying to indicate, rather clumsily perhaps, on the night of your talk.

In other words, is the ethereal / airy nature of traditional Japanese architecture a conspiracy - a piece of subtle trickery to lull the pilgrim or explorer into a false sense of fluid movement or progress, when in fact real life was specifically designed to impede mobility through an impenetrable maze of social proprieties - from the Imperial family downward?

In a few days, I would like to put my response up. But please feel free to post your comments here…

Photo credit: Ayako Iseki