It is our first time in Asia. We are a group of three and although we decided to start with the most entangled part, we are well prepared. Our friend Katsushi gave us a list and very precise instructions, starting with how to get from the airport to Central Tokyo. He handed us an underground map and said: “You take the monorail until Hamamatsucho where you will change to the train until you hear on the speaker – with a manga melody as a background – Ba-ku-ro-cho, Ba-ku-ro-cho and then you get off.” Once in Tokyo we opened the map. It looks like the London one …but overlapped with the ones in Paris and New York; and of course, it is in Japanese.
Everything overlaps in Tokyo, especially tradition with avant-garde. In our colorful hotel the toilets have as much technology as an iPhone (actually it seems you can control them with one) but showers are still collective. Having common baths is an old Japanese tradition and, despite the obvious western shame and my silent face, my neighbors start a short conversation: “American? Yes, Peruvian … Peruvian? Oh, Fujimori! …Yes, Fujimori…” The limits between domestic and collective life are diffuse in Tokyo and architecture, namely spaces, is rarely going vis-à-vis with social changes.
Starting all over again
For many reasons that have leaded them to start over and over, Japanese have been constantly at the forefront of housing development. Following the idea that the main element of community is no longer based on family but on the possibilities of individual’s interactions, architects have got rid of the idea that living spaces should carry an inherent function. Lead by names like Riken Yamamoto and Kazuyo Sejima many of these architects think that “architecture should not necessarily follow the needs of society, but on the contrary, architecture should enable a framework that allows the formation of a new society”. In their housing projects, family is not the mediator between the subject and society anymore, but rather is the subject who decides how and when he relates with both.
Everything overlaps in Tokyo, 35 million inhabitants in a perpetual urban mat full of paradoxes. It’s intense but calmed at the same time. Our first destiny is not in Katsushi’s list, but it is in mine. It is located west, in a typical residential Tokyo neighborhood – horizontal, dense and narrow – where old houses intersperse with new ones and few others experiments appear on the urban landscape. The Moriyama House started with a commission where the house could be utilized either by a single family or as five independent units. It is an assemblage of ten small white boxes of different height and area. The set is not random at all; the windows, entrances and general arrangement of each element help to blur, but at the same time define, the boundaries between public and private, between interior and exterior. Ryue Nishizawa, its designer, follows the line of thought of his mentor and partner Sejima. The House is for both of them a small domestic lab which ideas are continuously explored in projects regardless their scale nor functions, projects able to work by parts or as whole at the same time.
It could be said that the house promotes an individualistic kind of life, but probably the architects would argue that it is precisely by strengthening the individual that the possibility of maximum interaction is assured. Maybe already used to it, or maybe jaded from their home’s fame, the current tenants overlap their daily routines in light of the architects roaming wanting to photograph the famous Moriyama. While one heads up to the rooftop to pick up the laundry and another is mowing the yard, they cross with a third one going out of the biggest box. Because of the precise arrangement of the boxes we lose sight of him, but given the 32°C of the Rising Sun, we guess he was going to have a bath in the smallest box; in this case a private one, of course.
Published in El Comercio the 26th of January 2013