Another temporality is that of the design process. From a European perspective, designing in Japan seems incredibly fast and efficient.

I’m not sure if this difference really exists. The design of a house takes usually half a year, the construction another half-year. The building permission normally takes one month. In total, this makes approximately one year. This might seem fast, but the design process in my office is far from efficient. On the contrary, European interns always wonder about our inefficiency. And actually I think a good building cannot be the result of an efficient process. We need to struggle.

How does the design process work in your office? Do you do a field survey? Do you construct models?

I visit the site with my staff. I walk a lot in the neighborhood. In parallel, we do a close survey of it, measuring all the necessary details of the neighborhood buildings, like windows in aluminum or in wood. It allows us afterwards to construct very precise site models in the office. Models do not really serve the purpose of comparison; they allow me much more to investigate the possibilities inscribed in a program. Through the models, little by little, we discover a body of options that have to be integrated in the project: the climate, the particularities of a client, structural concerns, etc. The challenge is therefore to recognize the potential of each scheme. In the work of my office, the model consequently plays a key role. Sometime one overestimates the accuracy of a conceptual scheme. The model challenges its abstraction and materializes it. That is why I trust the model so much. I trust it much more than the realistic images of computer renderings. Of course, we use the renderings, but only for the presentation of the project, never during the design process. Designing is less concerned with the realization of an abstract idea. It occurs on a more pragmatic level, on how to find and realize an architectural idea.

And when is the project definitively fixed?

Never. Maybe this is quite uncomfortable for my staff. I do not like to be settling. I keep doubting, even during construction. Of course I don’t break down walls, but on the site one might discover mistakes to be remediated. Thus one could say I never stop designing until the building is finished.

But it is also the source of a series of misunderstandings. Japanese architecture is still very much equated with excellent artisanship, proper construction, pure form.

Indeed. Japanese architecture is often reduced to its formal qualities. Maybe in the West architects have an obsession with form, whereas form is only the answer to a specific way of life in a specific environment. Indeed. From this point of view, the best way to consider your projects might be to consider them as portraiture.