THE BUILDING IN TIME
In relation to the Renovation of the Shin-Fu Market in Taipei, you argued that while the 20th century was characterized by a logic of production, the 21st century would require an environment-based approach to architecture. What did you mean by this?
Economy driven, the 20th century was the era of production. Being a product and a symbol of this economy, architecture was part of this development. In recent years, questions of ecology and sustainability have brought a higher awareness of the environment— also most of the discussions on ecology or sustainability in architecture are dogmatic and still very much characterized by the productive logic of the last century. This recent shift is a great opportunity. But to be effective we must think the concept of environment in all its dimensions: historical, social, cultural, natural, etc. This all-encompassing understanding would allow architecture to take again a leading position in shaping the built environment. This is how we approached the renovation of the Shin-Fu Market, where we tried to give a contemporary signification to an old structure and by this to connect past, present and future.
What is striking for a European, and seems somehow in contradiction with the discussion we have had so far, is the short life span of Japanese buildings.
I know that, but I haven’t given up on the dream of eternity. I always try to believe that my buildings will stand for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, independent of personal wishes, a house or a building in general is always a relay between the past and the future. Obviously the duration of this relay is shorter in Japan than it is in Europe, but it still exists and has to be taken into account, and we have to think of how to formulate it.
But how to plan for one hundred years and at the same time take in account specific lifestyles, as you do for instance in your House in Kyodo, where the entire ground floor is dedicated to your client’s passion for mangas?
I doubt that standardized houses are not as much binding. This seems even more true if we take in account that the idea of a standard itself is always changing over time. On the contrary, there are some very specific solutions that endure. For instance the low ceilings of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, which are all but standard, are still very much appreciated. What I am interested in is to give through a very specific demand of a client, a response that could suit other inhabitants. The challenge therefore is to propose through a very specific spatial solution a universal one. Why should we choose between universality and individuality, if we can have both?
I don’t doubt. But there are different temporalities at stake: the temporality of the building and the much shorter time of the client’s specific needs, like the large working table that fills up the courtyard of your sister’s House in Sakuradai.
My sister is a teacher and needs a lot of space for her odds and ends. Thus I proposed this immense table on which she and my nephews can work, each in a corner. Sometime ago my sister called and told me that she may, when retired, transform this space with its huge table into a community space for the kids of the neighborhood. I was surprised, as honestly I had never thought about such an innovative interpretation. Indeed even a very specific solution holds an unknown potential for the future if it’s thought through. Some spaces can even stimulate the imagination of the inhabitants. This would not be possible by sticking to obsessive standards. It might seem a contradiction but that’s what I am looking for: a prototype with archetypical qualities.
In an essay you even argue that the perception of one and the same building by the same person may change through time or through different viewpoints.
Yes. It’s a beautiful experience, that space can be felt differently through time. Space is somehow living with us.
Unlike in a one-family house, where one can engage with a specific client, in a rental building this is not the case…
The advantage and somehow also the pleasure of renting is the possibility of choice, comparison, and even change. I am convinced that the possibility of choice has a great potential for design. Many architects underestimate the differences between an apartment for rent and one for sale.
Is this why you varied the floors plans from floor to floor in your Apartments in Okachimachi? There no apartment is the same.
Yes, and this is also true for the Apartments in Nerima, with its various balconies. Every apartment is different, a model that was very successful. In one week all the apartments were rented. But whereas in Nerima the apartments are just connected with a simple corridor, I tried in Okachimachi to emphasize the common interior spaces. This was all the more necessary because the neighborhood is noisy and unsafe. The articulation of this transitional space became the main topic of the project.