Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA – In Memory of Helen Keller – The Endless Summer

Author: Yoshihiko Sano, President, Yasui Architects and Engineers, Inc.

三鷹天命反転住宅 西側から見た外観 撮影:中野正貴 画像提供:荒川修作+マドリン・ギンズ東京事務所 *のみ筆者提供

Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA Exterior view from the west side, Photography: Masataka Nakano, Photos provided by: Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office, Those marked “*” are provided by the author

The Path Reaches Mitaka

When Shusaku Arakawa (1936 – 2010) was 25, he left Japan and made New York the center of his work. Arakawa started out as an artist, and in 1963 he began “The Mechanism of Meaning” project with the poet Madeline Gins. His vigorous work led him to renewed questioning of the boundaries of art, and Arakawa carried on expanding the scope of his activities and thoughts. According to the art historian Yukihiro Hirayoshi, “The ‘Mechanism of Meaning’ series didn’t seek to bring ‘meaning’ into pictures. Instead, it must be understood as an endeavor to use the sensory forum of a ‘picture’ to take another look at the mechanism by which meaning is created and destroyed.” *1

Later, I visited the “Constructing the Perceiver – ARAKAWA: Experimental Works” exhibition, which took place in Japan in 1991. In the venue waited various expressions that re-questioned the observer’s aesthetic and tactile senses. It was fair to describe Arakawa’s works as “a tabula rasa open to a future that has yet to appear, not a wild dance of images that invite the perceiver to reach for ‘meaning’.” *1 In trying to clarify the relationship between human aesthetic senses and the world, Arakawa was already showing that it would not be unraveled by thought alone, and that there are limits to two dimensions.

Around that time, Arakawa was setting his works toward three dimensions, and he was moving away from exhibition spaces, as he widened his vision to practical efforts to create buildings and cities. Entering the 1990s, Arakawa led “Site of Reversible Destiny Yoro Park” (1995) to realization in Gifu Prefecture, challenging society with a venue for people to experience space. Next, in “Sensorium City” (1998) he made the theme the reorganization of cities. These works laid the foundations of the “Reversible Destiny” concept which was his lifelong theme. Arakawa was trying to create a place where buildings and cities built from a new perspective would shift communities and people’s destinies into positive directions.

His approach up to this stage could be described as coming from a landscape perspective. Then Arakawa dug even deeper. Arakawa’s concern was moving forward to the practical construction of homes, led by his perspective that as people experience the passage of time in a given space and time, the relationship between human aesthetic senses, their bodies, and the world can be grasped with more subtle detail. In Japan, he progressed to “External Gene House, Shidami” (Nagoya, 2005), and then to “Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA – In Memory of Helen Keller -” (Mitaka, 2005).

 

Vision Towards Buildings and Cities

志段味循環型モデル住宅 資料提供:名古屋市住宅供給公社

External Gene House, Shidami (2005). Material provided by: Nagoya City Housing Supply Corporation

Arakawa was given his chance in Shidami by Nagoya City, his birthplace. Shidami is situated on the northwestern edge of Nagoya City’s urban area, and was under development. Arakawa’s concept is that homes should be aggregate bodies, and that groups of them coalesce to form cities. The ecological perspective he incorporated into the idea coincided with the aspirations of Nagoya City and Nagoya City Housing Supply Corporation. What was actually built didn’t go beyond a group of three residential buildings, but it can be seen as an epoch-making scene that revealed a form accompanied by a message that clearly conveyed the essence of Arakawa’s concept. His effort in Shidami certainly paved the road to Mitaka.

Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, his next work, was a private-sector project for which Arakawa himself obtained funding. Seen from central Tokyo, Mitaka is out on the “edge” in the same way as Shidami, but it is different in having the individuality and history of the Tama region. Within the scenery of the area, and building height restrictions, the buildings achieved a complete and self-contained look with a smooth layout. This project clearly demonstrated the three-dimensional relatedness between the nine homes, in a way that could not be achieved in Shidami. This group of vividly-colored homes facing a heavily-trafficked road also carried a cutting message. The site could not provide more area than this, but it had a favorable location that gave a presentiment of further extension and propagation.

The basic form of the homes consists of one or two living rooms in the central zone, which holds the dining and kitchen functions, one spherical living room, and a bath/toilet room. The central zone has an irregular floor, a ladder-shaped metal pillar that resembles playground equipment, and other elements. These elements easily leap over social assumptions in bodies and sensibilities. Those who spend time there are encouraged to reach major awareness shifts through the mutual reactions between their bodies and sensibilities and the building. Of course, having a stable relatedness is not a bad thing, but there is also the question of whether a slackening of that relatedness would dull the body’s senses and aesthetic sensibilities. That is a question that should be pregnant with tension, and this space and its outer appearance are finished in a way that makes one feel a straightforward joy. Naturally, it is also superb as a sculptural form. Residents and visitors deeply enjoy the spaces provided by Shusaku Arakawa, as their tactile and aesthetic senses very naturally react to the free surfaces that surround their bodies.

Can we call Mitaka the crystallization, in a supple form, of a path by which Arakawa takes various opportunities to strictly question bodies and senses? Basically, Arakawa himself did not start with the aim of re-questioning how buildings should be, but the process of devising the Mitaka Project, and clarifying the mission that architecture should accomplish, naturally led him to the result in Mitaka. This is for the reason that a building should be something that hones the physical senses, and the mission is to transform people’s bodies in the right directions though properly-constructed buildings.

So, what did Arakawa see as “proper”? That would be consistency between deep thought, in words, about the right form to aim for, and building forms in practice. Arakawa started from making formative expression and words run side by side, and his modes of expression broadened from two dimensions to three, and on to buildings and cities. In the process, he stuck to the principle of making blood flow through dry words as he sometimes put forward forceful forms.

1.入り口のある北側から見た外観 2.住宅のエントランスから見た外観 (ともに撮影:中野正貴)

1.Exterior view seen from the north side, where the entrance is located. 2.view seen from the home entrance. Photography: Masataka Nakano

The Process of Materializing a Building

“Mitaka,” as a work of art completed in line with Arakawa’s concept, can be described and explained as above. But what’s important is the process for actually creating the architecture. For Arakawa to manifest his aims as a building, he needed to line up all kinds of things, such as securing the budget for construction, producing architecture within the constraints of economic rationality, designing buildings under the constraints of the Building Standards Act and building systems, providing the people collaborating in construction with proper motivation, and leading to the realization of concrete forms. Even if his very principle as an expressive artist was unshaken, for Arakawa, who was not an expert in architecture, to move the project forward, he had to unravel the meanings of the real walls that accompanied the work, and find cool-headed partner to realize the project in the process.

Arakawa had a previous connection with Yasui Architects and Engineers, Inc., which led to the firm assisting him from the construction stage of “Shidami.” The firm’s role was to translate Arakawa’s vision into the social form of drawings, and manage a project which appeared challenging at first glance. In that process, we solved what seemed to be houses made of solid shapes floating in space into orthodox moment frames, and planned the steps of an effective building production process. From the point of view of construction, this is an orthodox translation process. But once we got started, Arakawa’s sculptural forms became the driving force in overcoming the practical difficulties, bringing out the latent abilities of the people involved, and triggering chemical changes.

There is an extremely clear logic to the indivisible unity between the Arakawa who pierces to the essential nature of things and the Arakawa who aims to create places that make people feel joy. Experts working in construction have their pride, so it is critical to give them clear motivation to use their abilities to the full. For instance, the floor with the undulating surface might be a free, out-of-the-box concept to the people building it, but that clearly intersects with Arakawa’s intention. It reveals the essential nature which each architectural element should have. The process of dramatic perceptual shifts which also emerged in the construction process were probably the kind of “practical execution” that Arakawa had been long aiming for. As a result, Arakawa encountered the land at “Mitaka,” joined paths with society, and succeeded in moving people, which gave him a solid confidence in his own efforts. Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka became a novel phase that paves the way for Arakawa himself, but it also lay on the same straight line that extended from his “Mechanism of Meaning” days.

1.全部で66ピースからなるPCaユニットの取付工事が完了。球体・立方体・円筒を3層積み上げて一体化し巨大な柱に。コンクリートの柱は現場で打設した 2.塗装される14色を決定するため計6回の色校正、協議を行った。塗装は外壁だけでなく、内壁、共有スペースの階段、エレベーターに至るまで施されている 3.定例会議の風景。着席左端が荒川修作氏。となりは荒川修作+マドリン・ギンズ東京事務所代表の本間桃世氏。 4.3LDK:球体のスタディルーム、立方体の畳部屋と寝室、円筒のバスルームからなる。これらの部屋を真ん中でつなぐのはリビング・ダイニングルーム 2LDK:3LDKの間取りから立方体の畳部屋をなくしたタイプ

1.The work of mounting PCa units consisting of a total of 66 pieces was complete. Spheres, cubes, and cylinders were stacked on three levels and united to form giant pillars. Concrete columns were poured in situ. 2.A total of six color checking and discussion sessions were needed to decide on the 14 painted colors. Other than the exterior walls, the interior walls, shared staircases of the common room, and elevators are also painted. 3.A regular meeting. Shusaku Arakawa is seated farthest to the left. Next to him is Momoyo Homma, representative of Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office. 4.3-bedroom plan. It consists of a spherical study room, cube tatami room and bedroom, as well as cylindrical bathroom. The central living-dining room joins these spaces together. 2-bedroom plan. This type has the tatami-floored cube room removed from the 3-bedroom plan.

Shusaku Arakawa’s Efforts Still Continue

Arakawa died seven years ago, five years after the project was completed. Nevertheless, many have since picked up the baton of what Arakawa was pursuing with Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka. One example is the ongoing work by Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office to protect “Mitaka” and the rest of the Arakawa archive. As they manage this housing complex in great detail, they are also serving to convey its value as a work of art, and to present the issues it raises to society. Various highly able residents of “Mitaka” run an endless succession of workshops, tours, symposia, and other events*2. Another way Arakawa’s work is carried on is through academic research in the broad-ranging fields he was involved in. In addition to individual writings examining Arakawa’s investigations that led him to Mitaka, there are ongoing academic endeavors such as the Arakawa + Gins Examination of “Studies of the Architectural Body” research unit at Kansai University. These are important works that generate further progress in the ideas that Arakawa put forward. The third way his work carries on is through the very people who come from around the world to visit the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka. While enjoying the spaces there, but without idolizing Arakawa, each visitor confronts, and is touched by, the great issues which span the border between the body and the world. Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA continues to act as a core cultural site, spreading like ripples.

1.2007年3月17日〜4月7日 目黒区美術館からだのワークショップ@三鷹天命反転住宅 courtesy of Meguro Museum of Art, Tokyo+Sumiko Okagawa 2.2008年7月19日 早稲田大学課外授業(講師:塚原史、JOU) 3.2013年2月23日 天命反転トーク 鈴木健に聞く(聞き手:森田真生) 4.2015年9月27日 10周年記念イベント 天命反転トーク 小林康夫✕池上高志 5.2015年9月23日 10周年記念イベント たまちゃんのにっこり寿司 presents 『ネコは家に付く』こころのねこワークショップ 6.荒川修作+マドリン・ギンズ東京事務所の本間桃世氏と松田剛佳氏

1.Meguro Museum of Art, Body Workshop @ Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, March 17 to April 7, 2007 courtesy of Meguro Museum of Art, Tokyo + Sumiko Okagawa 2.Waseda University extracurricular lesson (Lecturers: Fumi Tsukahara, JOU), July 19, 2008 3.Reversible Destiny Talk, A Talk with Ken Suzuki (Interviewer: Masao Morita), February 23, 2013 4.10th Anniversary Talk Event, Reversible Destiny Talk, Yasuo Kobayashi and Takashi Ikegami, September 27, 2015 5.10th Anniversary Event, Tama-chan presents: Smiling Sushi Roll Workshop! “The Cat Joins the House” Heart Kitten Workshop, September 23, 2015 6.Momoyo Homma and Takeyoshi Matsuda of Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office*

*1: “Eternal Tabula Rasa” (“Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA – In Memory of Helen Keller -” Suiseisha, printed in 2008)

*2: See the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka website www.rdloftsmitaka.com

 

 

Yoshihiko Sano

Graduated Tokyo University of Science Faculty of Engineering, Department of Architecture. Completed Graduate School at the same University. President of Yasui Architects and Engineers, Inc.

Vice president, of the Japan Association of Architectural Firms, president of the Osaka Association of Architectural Firms, visiting professor in the Engineering Research Faculty of Tokyo University of Science, etc. Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Commendation 2011, 2016 Hon. FAIA ( Honorary Fellow, the American Institute of Architects). Written works include “Learning from Architecture” (Suiseisha) and “Tsunagu-kotode-Nanikaga-Okoru, Learning from Architecture II” (ArchiMediaSystem Inc.)

 

Originally published in Japanese in KENCHIKU Journal No.1273, December 2017 issue. Translated and republished here with permission from the author.

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