Travel blog: The Japanese art of assemblage
Tokyo, Kyoto, Japan
By Martin Søberg
Assembling diverse elements in configurations of greater or simpler complexity is the task of every architect. Arcspace went to Japan to experience the truly superior performance of this art at its most sophisticated level.
Visiting the cities of Tokyo, Ise, and Kyoto, I
discovered a country in which culture and nature are less
dichotomized than in Western thought. In which construction and
growth are contrasted but also endorsed by the disassembling of
totalities. Whether attending to the old or the new, the vernacular
or the skillfully designed, the constant presence of clever
assemblage - and its counterpart of destruction - attunes you to a
world in which every entity, every stone and every beam, is fused
into an animated whole.
Tokyo: construction and rupture in the modern metropolis
Outside and inside amalgamate in Junya Ishigami
+ Associates' Kanagawa Institute of Technology
Workshop (2010). This one-story building is set up to
allow students to undertake design projects on their own in an open
workshop equipped with various crafting tools and machines. The
workshop has no dividing walls, but 305 columns, almost all of
which have different sections, are unevenly distributed and placed
at different angles. These columns group in sections so that
certain spatial tensions are experienced throughout the otherwise
White paint provides the construction with a
certain airy lightness further emphasized by the floor-to-ceiling
glass panel façades. The roof consists of parallel bands of
skylights flooding the interior in natural light. Large green
plants contribute substantially to the nearly exterior atmosphere
of the workshop by creating luxuriant spatial focal points.
During the 1960s and 70s Japanese Metabolist architecture was highly inspired by nature's principles of structuring. Kenzo Tange's Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Companies Tokyo Offices (1967) in Tokyo's Ginza district consists of a cylindrical trunk-like core from which office spaces protrude like the pruned branches of a bonsai tree. Placed on a corner plot of only 190 square meters, the building rises 57 meters high above several busy streets, a highway, and a train line. The façade is clad in black aluminum which adds austerity as well as graphic definition to this sculptural landmark.
Read more about the Metabolists here.
The Metabolists' blend of natural structure and Space Age technology was pursued even further in Yoji Watanabe's New Sky Building No. 3 (1970) in Tokyo's Shinjuku area. Set between Koreatown and Shinjuku's cluster of rather dubious bars and love hotels, this 14 story apartment and office building displays references to modern movement architecture and its fascination with technology by conceptualizing the house as a machine, a spaceship or aircraft, rather than a traditional house.
The façade consists of a repetitive pattern resulting
from twisting constructional elements in order to allow more
daylight into the capsule-like apartments. A few years later, Kisho
Kurokawa developed the idea of the capsule apartment building even
further in his Nakagin
Capsule Tower (1972).
Deconstruction as the antidote to clear and rigid construction is the starting point for this project by Peter Eisenman and his Japanese collaborator Kojiro Kitayama. Koizumi Lighting Theater (1990) is a showroom and office building for a lighting equipment company. Until the 1980s, few Western architects - with the notable exception of Frank Lloyd Wright - had had the opportunity to build in Japan.
The façade is almost completely covered in a
grid of frosted glass panels, while twisted cubes interrupt the
upper Southeastern and lower Northwestern corners. This suggests a
sequence of movements and results in an interior of splits and
cracks that allow for a variety of lighting conditions. The
plastered intersecting elements were originally painted in muted
tones of pink and green, a color-scheme developed in collaboration
with American painter and theorist Robert Slutzky, yet today
unfortunately changed to white.
Assemblage may be taken rather literally as this
building by Kengo Kuma demonstrates. The Asakusa
Culture Tourist Information Center (2012) is situated
near the Sensō-ji temple in the lively historical Asakusa area in
Tokyo and facing its Kaminari-mon Gate. A stack of one-story houses
results in an eight-story high construction in which the roofs of
each house conditions the spatial configuration of the interior
spaces. On the 6th floor, for instance, a
terraced theater is created following the slope of the roof below.
To the exterior, the consequence of the stacking is a façade of
rhythmic zigzagging. The exterior is clad in wooden boards whilst
wood panels are also used inside to create shifting lighting
conditions and spatial diversity.
Ise and Kyoto: tradition and the assemblage of nature and culture
Building, demolishing, and rebuilding are
foundational aspects of Japanese architectural culture. This is
particularly visible in Ise in the Mie prefecture. The
Ise Grand Shrine is the most important shrine in
Shino culture and consists of Gekū, the
outer shrine complex, and Naikū, the
inner shrine complex dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu-ōmikami,
goddess of the sun.
The shrines are wooden constructions with
thatched reed roofs. This type of architecture dates back to the
Kofun era 250-538 C.E. According to tradition, the temples of this
shrine complex are rebuilt every 20th
year alternating between adjacent sites. The old buildings
are subsequently reassembled. This year, 2013, saw the
62nd iteration of the shrine complex. The
new temples had been built, but the old ones not yet reassembled
when arcspace visited the site. As a result, it was possible to
experience the old next to the new, a phenomenon which may only be
observed for a short period of time every second decade.
In the Kawasaki area, along the Seta River in the
Northern part of Ise, you will find some nice examples of
traditional Japanese urban architecture with intricate wooden
facades. The timber is often mixed with various other materials
such as more mundane metal plates, painted in subdued colors.
Even the simplest piece of furniture can be a
precise demonstration of the intelligent assemblage of elements: A
table standing in front of a house in Ise's Kawasaki area is
constructed by five rectangular wooden plates.
The Zen temple of Ginkaku in Kyoto was
originally constructed as a retirement villa. Its most striking
piece of architecture is the so-called Silver Pavilion - the
two-storied Kannon-den - the construction
of which began in 1482. The roof of the pavilion consists of wooden
shingles made from Japanese cypress tree. Each shingle is 30
centimeters long, but only 3 centimeters remain visible.
The Kannon-den pavilion is part of a large complex of temple buildings set in a lush garden on a hillside in the Northwestern part of Kyoto. The original garden is supposed to have been designed by the painter and landscape artist Sōami. An impressive sand garden was installed during the 18th Century, including the Ginshadan or 'sea of silver sand' and the Kogetsudai, a two-meter high sand cone, possibly resembling Mount Fuji: Natural materials shaped into exquisite abstractions of nature.
Last updated: September 19, 2014
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