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Key words: Space. Japanese tradition. Westernization. Liquefaction.


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by Enric Massip i Bosch

Sylvie Chirat interviews Kazuo Shinohara

by Ernst Beneder

by Enric Massip i Bosch

1. Space
When trying to understand the power of a piece of architecture, it is now a commonplace to refer to its spatial qualities. Architecture becomes a synonym of space. This has not always been the case, of course. Historically, architecture has been experienced, and designed, according to cultural patterns that change from time to time and from society to society. The idea of space as an architectural factor is in fact very recent.

Something similar occurs in Japanese tradition. Its buildings, erected using ephemeral materials according to open layouts, lack the idea and the intellectual elaboration of enclosure, permanence and geometrical construction so much related to the Western conception of space. In this sense, Japanese architecture is not spatial in nature. Which is not surprising if we take into account that Japanese language lacks a word for "space". The closest term would be "ma" which, being represented by the light of the moon entering through two half-opened shutters, conveys the idea of gap or interval, of "something between two objects". Again, not a concept in itself.

Since 1868, though, the adoption of Western cultural values has permeated to a certain degree all aspects of Japanese life, and architecture has been one of the most affected by this encounter. Not only affected, but arguably used as a westernization tool and measure for other aspects of society. "Westernization", strongly favoured by Emperor Meiji and his governments, equalled "modernization". By historical coincidence, Japan could start its industrial revolution at roughly the same time as Europe and America started theirs. Since then, both Japanese and Western economical evolution have gone hand in hand. The same can be said about modern architecture. Japanese architects adopted at the beginning training schemes and models from the West, and since Meiji period have thought about architecture in terms not different from their counterparts in Europe or America. This also includes the equation "space=architecture".

2. Uniqueness
Even though the basic modern concepts underlying both Japanese and Western architecture can be said to be the same, there has existed until now an impossibility or a resistance for a homogeneous architecture. This can also be said of the West, which is itself formed by different traditions that have integrated modernity in particular ways. The case of Japan, by its distinctive character, is nevertheless more readily perceived.

Kazuo Shinohara started his career as an architect seeking such unique characteristics in Japanese architecture. Since the beginning his work concentrated in certain qualities of architecture, namely the psychological (as opposite to geometrical) perception of space. His own account (1958) of his arrival to architecture after his preliminary studies of mathematics is quite explicit of the singularity of his approach:

"I once stood fascinated by the huge roof of the main hall of the Toshodai-ji Temple, 759, Nara, as waves of light impelled by the irregular rhythm of a passing shower, undulated across it. That was my first encounter with Japanese architecture, only a few years after the end of the war, when I was not yet consciously committed to architectural studies".

Shinohara's understanding of the qualities of architecture has remained unchanged since then. I will name the main feature of his interiors "solid space": space felt as a presence, like water is felt by a diver. But with a difference: whereas the sea is boundless, Shinohara's interiors are perfectly limited spatial devices.
His approach towards a re-understanding of Japanese traditional qualities of space first quite literally, later on more abstract earned him a reputation of "Japaneseness" unlike any other of his generational colleagues. And certainly it deeply influenced many of the current names among young Japanese architects.

3. Volumes
Since the mid 80's, with projects both bigger and more complex in terms of program, his work seemed to shift attention from the inside towards the outside. The originating impulse changed from perceptive feelings, experienced by an implication of all senses, into the visual qualities of intersecting volumes. The Centennial Hall (1987) would be the turning point. Shinohara's explanation of the original idea of this project (a cylinder floating in the air) expresses an exterior view that creates a feeling, not an idea of a space felt as a presence.

His work has since included significant spaces within these volumetrical compositions, but in a way that resembles his strategy of design for the Tanikawa residence (1974), that is, as detached parts within a whole. In a way, we could say that these "solid" or significant spaces are one more piece to be combined with the rest of the elements of the composition. In this sense, his recent method could be termed "un-Japanese", were it not that this sort of sociocultural distinction becomes more and more irrelevant in the current world's state of architecture and society as a whole.

4. Liquefaction
But Shinohara's new approach to design is not born from a different attitude towards architecture? In one of his early texts (1958), he comments:

"This golden pavilion [the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, 1398] was shimmering under a mid-winter afternoon sun. The surfaces of its gold-foiled walls appeared to be giving off a mysterious sheen in the midst of the dark groves surrounding it and the deep-colored pond waters. I had casually stopped to take a glance at the reconstructed temple, without any specific expectation, and when I perceived the sudden materialization of the golden temple in front of me, I was quite taken aback. It was beautiful beyond all logic or reasoning".

I like to think that his proposal for the Agadir Center (1994), golden and shimmering with a shape beyond all logic or reasoning, would have been beautiful like the Kinkaku-ji. And probably the intention behind this design is none other than creating a beautiful object, an object that derives its meaning from its own presence.

Nowadays processes appear to be more favoured than results, at least theoretically. It seems out of point to think architecture in finalist terms: final shape, final meaning, are left as an unwanted-for (and readily accepted) result of the application of a method. I term this sort of approach "liquefied" architecture as opposite to "solid" space, but its liquid qualities are probably inconsistent in more than one sense. In fact, this is the way unsignificant architecture has always been produced.

It is within this context where is relevant to see Shinohara's last works and, ultimately, try to figure out their possible value and influence. Take for instance his polemical proposal for the Yokohama ferry terminal or his project for Helsinki: they are shaped, beyond their functionality, by a will of form, strongly defined in completed compositions. There seems to be no room for external influences other than the ones decided by their designer at the beginning, be it a dream or an image. The idea of the project and the final result almost exactly coincide.

Is this the case of so many projects in Japan and around? Now that the craze for informatical processes is still high and so many projects are produced using a (pretended) sort of automatical decision-making, it seems an excentricity to define things "the old way", i.e., by clearly stating those personal choices inherent to a design. But being off the main stream, after so many years of individual pursuits, is something that probably doesn't worry much Kazuo Shinohara.

Enric Massip i Bosch

interview de Kazuo Shinohara par Sylvie Chirat

Kazuo Shinohara, architecte japonaise, théoricien et constructeur, est, père de la théorie sur la "beauté du chaos" dans le ville, il en explique sa signification au moment même où d'aucun l'interprète à tort et à travers. En découle une nouvelle théorie sur une biomachine architecturale.

Pourriez-vous nous rappeler brièvement votre concept de "machine de degré-zéro" qui fuit à l'origine de votre theorie sur le "chaos" et l'"anarchie progressive" des villes japonaises?
En 1960 je me limitais à la construction de petites maisons individuelles et concentrais ma recherche sur celles-ci. La Maison Parapluie, par exemple, avait un plan carré très compact et un toit unique trè simple pour unifier l'ensemble. Ce travail était en étroite relation avec l'esprit japonais de la composition des maisons. A cette époque, je désirais suivre cette voie, entrer dans cet esprit.
Mais en regardant ce qui composait l'environnement de ma vie quotidienne, je me suis aperçu qu'il était et est impossible de réaliser au Japon des villes pour le futur semblables à Paris ou à Vienne. Tokyo n'est pas ainsi. Si, au Japon, nous fabriquons une cité, c'est une ville chaotique: elle n'exprimera que des bâtiments chaotiques.
Plus d'un quart de siècle après, cette idée se traduit dans mes constructions par les concepts du "chaos" et de l'"aléatoire". Cequi est intéressant puisque cela rejoint les théories de la science pure ou des technologies les plus avancées.
Lorsque j'obtins mon diplôme en 1953, l'architecture japonaise était en plein période moderniste, totalement importée des Etats-Unis, de l'Allemagne de l'Ouest ou de la France. A ce moment, j'ai délibérément choisi de ne pas suivre cette voie. Et quand ma première maison, la Maison à Hanayama, fut construite, un éditeur anglais y avais souligné la double influence de Katsura et de Mies van der Rohe. Je ne peux qu'être d'accord avec lui car son sentiment correspondait au fait que l'esprit jeune du modernisme des années 20 existait encore. Plus tard, je me suis entièrement consacré à la tradition japonaise.
Puis, en 1970, pour mon "second style", j'ai abandonné les matériaux naturels et me suis éloigné de cette tradition japonaise en adoptant pour chaque enveloppe de mes projets un cube en béton et en travaillant sur le concept de "fissure". J'exprimais alors une plus grande liberté de composition.
Mais, bien que le cube avait été déjà utilisé comme concept de base par le modernisme des années 20, je l'employais alors dans une méthodologie beaucoup plus personelle. Mon cube était plus général, plus neutre et son concept était différent de celui de Le Corbusier tout en ayant la même silhouette. Mais l'un comme l'autre ont fini par intercepter le concept de "machine". 70 ans plus tard, cette "machine" avait un sens différent.
Et durant mon "troisième style", de 1975 à 1980, j'ai développé le concept de "machine de degré zéro". Depuis 1980, celui de l'"anarchie" s'est imposé a moi par l'existence même de la ville qu'est Tokyo alors que le concept de "machine" provenait de celui du "cube". Leurs origines sont distinctes, phénoménales. Maintenaint, je m'intéresse à la science pure et aux technologies avancées. En effet, quelques domaines d'analyses scientifiques utilisent aussi des concepts tels que le "chaos", le "bruit aléatoire" et l'"incertitude" comme éléments essentiels. Et c'est la confusion de Tokyo qui a suscité mon intérét pour ces concepts.
La construction du Musée du Centenaire de l'Institut de Technologie de Tokyo est achevé depuis 6 ans. Selon l'article d'un magazine trés populaire, les enfants qui regardent ce bâtiment s'écris tous: "un Gandan, un Gandan!". C'est le nom japonais des machines vivantes, héros des dessins animés télévisés. Ceci est pour moi très intéressant. En effet, je n'ai pas composé cet édifice comme une forme architecturale organique mais il semble pourtant directement, très fortement lié à un animal ou un être humain, bien que je n'avais aucune intention de ce genre. Le demi-cylindre et le cube constitue la composition de base, le corps principal. Le demi-cylindre flotte dans l'air et se juxtapose au cube de manière incidentale, ni symétrique ni monumentale. La juxtaposition est spontanée: un reflet de l'ambigu processus aléatoire. De cela seulement, les enfants ont fabriqué une analogie humaine. Les deux éléments, cube et cylindre, sont très primaires, mais ils expriment finalement nos manières. Ce bâtiment est le reflet de nouvelles activités dans l'espace architectural.

Comment définissez-vous ces nouvelles activités?
Je veux dire que cette activité est une valeur donnée par des méthodes aléatoires. Dans le quartier de Shibuya à Tokyo, sur lequel j'ai déjà écrit, il est possible de sentir certaines activités de la ville. Comme à Vienne il est possible de sentir sa composition baroque où toutes les surfaces des bâtiments s'unifient dans des règles classiques. Deux cets ans plus tard, cette ville est toujours magnifique, mais sa beauté est gelée, semblable à une sculpture. La structure de la société a changé depuis cette époque, spécialement depuis le siècle dernier, ou même depuis la première moitié de ce siècle. Cette belle composition, établie durant une période déterminée de l'histoire, reflétait certaines activités. Mais maintenant, elle reste parce que les gens l'apprécient alors que la société a complètement évolué.
L'architecture aussi doit évoluer et, dans le futur, la beauté des nouvelles villes inclut des structures chaotiques, aléatoires ou ambiguës. Les espaces d'autrefois étaient unifiés, simples. Mais si l'on reprend l'exemple de Shibuya, on peut y voir un paysage très désordonné. Attention: je ne veux pas dire que le chaos doit devenir l'étape suivante. Mon intention est différente et loin de cette puérile interprétation. Simplement, le futur du quartier de Shibuya sera une composition qui ne devra rien à une méthode unificatrice. Shibuya est un problème architectural et il faut être prudent. Je tente seulement d'abstraire un quelconque avenir de ce paysage urbain car maintenant le chaos, l'aléatoire et l'ambiguité sont les problèmes majeures dans tous les domaines.
Les éléments du chaos ne sont pas le produit de différentes méthodes mais celui de différentes types. Pour le bâtiment de Musée du Centenaire de l'Institut de Technologie de Tokyo, je n'ai fait que plier le demi-cylindre. Une méthode simple et essentielle reflète l'ectivité de l'espace.

Mais quelles sont exactement les analogies avec les sciences?
Dans les années 20, le modernisme était lié aux nouvelles données scientifiques comme, par exemple, la relativité. De même, la politique, la finance se sont aussi synchronisées sur ces théories; nous ne pouvons exister indépendamment. Et l'architecture est le domaine de l'ingénerie comme de l'art.
La pensée doit être reliée aux sciences et aux technologies de l'époque correspondante, l'architecture d'aujourd'hui aux techniques d'aujourd'hui. Les dernières années ont été particulièrement intéressantes car des changements de structures techniques ont eu lieu dans tous les domaines et soudain de nouvelles possibilités sont apparues. Maintenant, à l'aube de l'an 2000, les sympathies vont à l'homme et à la vie.

Est-ce là l'origine de votre biomachine architecturale?
Les ordinateurs sont de plus en plus souvent utilisés. Naguère, ils fonctionnaient avec la simple opération binaire 0-1-0-1. De nos jours, ils utilisent des éléments beaucoup plus complexes. Ils peuvent devenir subjectifs et cela constitue un nouveau problème. Un ordinateur pourra-t-il analyser la beauté, simplement choisir ce qui est beau ou non? Les sens de la machine se rapprochent petit à petit de ceux de l'homme en activité. Par exemple, le bâtiment de l'Institut du Monde Arabe de Jean Nouvel a une façade sud en claustra métallique dont les dessins arabisants s'ouvrent ou se ferment selon l'intensité du soleil. Dans un futur proche, cette machine sourira peut-être par quelque accident.
Si le public est important, elle sourira encore plus; s'il n'est pas "gentil", elle sera en colère ... Si nous sommes capables de réaliser des compositions dans cet esprit, ce seront des biomachines encore plus proches de l¡activité humaine.
Bien entendu, la machine est irrémédiablement différente de l'homme. Elle ne peut être un être humain exact. Mais regardons son nouvel aspect. Bien qu'elle se situe à l'opposé de l'homme, elle interfère parfois avec les activités humaines et il existe une certaine ambivalence; ce qui est un point important. La machine ne possède aucune similarité de formes, elle est composée très précisément selon une méthode avancée de fonctionnalité. Chaque volume et chaque espace est un produit de cette fonctionnalité tout comme l'assemblage des divers éléments. Mais, maintenant nous pouvons espérer que la machine va se rapprocher de l'homme bien que ses surfaces ne l'expriment pas (yeux, sourires, etc). Cette similarité là n'est pas essentielle à la biomachine.
Dans ce contexte, la ville représente aussi une biomachine. En 1953, j'écrivais, dans un article intitulé "Cités irrationelles", que la machine de futur la plus avancée sera la ville. Nous pouvons parler de cet avenir dans notre architecture. Les projets sont limités mais la ville peut en exprimer toute la structure, parfois rationelle, parfois irrationelle. L'aspect sera le résultat de cet énorme mécanisme de la cité.

Pensez-vous que ce point de vue correspond aux besoins des villes japonaises?
Je ne pense pas. Le concept provient de la cité japonaise, mais je ne veux dire que l'architecte japonaise doit représenter le chaos. Ma définition est une abstraction de l'essence de la cité. La situation exacte est différenre: il faut faire attention. Quelques architectes expriment des méthodes complexes, d'autres plus directes, mais tous montrent la scène de la ville. Pour moi, il n'est pas nécessaire d'utiliser un grand nombres d'éléments ou de moyens pour exprimer mes concepts.
J'aime les présenter d'une manière simple, compacte et basée sur la structure essentielle de la société ou du domaine organique.

Toute ces théories seraient-elles valables pour une ville comme Paris?
Paris doit être belle. A New York, c'est l'ordinaire définition de la beauté, mais à Paris il est possible la conserver si l'on prend soin d'elle. Par exemple, les immeubles ont essentiellement une fonction de logements et leurs rez-de-chaussées sont presque toujours occupés par des boutiques. Aux Champs-Elysées, les yeux rencontrent à leur niveau un nombre très important de vitrines de mode modernes ainsi que des panneaux publicitaires. Cet ensemble est limité au sol et les niveaux supérieurs qui font la célèbre "beauté de Paris" existent encore bien sur, la ville de Paris est limitée. Si un décalage important s'établit entre les nieveaux du sol et ceux qui leur sont supérieurs, le paysage deviendra chaotique et aléatoire. Chaque boutique ne pense pas à son environnement immédiat, aux commerces voisins, elle correspond plus profondément à sa fonction et cela entraîne la confusion. Heureusement, la bonne qualité des designers de Paris permet encore d'exprimer cette beauté qui n'a pas changé depuis les débuts. Mais, évidemment, si nous croyons aux concepts purs du modernisme, la contradiction entre logements et commerces est déjà étrange. Pourtant, elle reflète agréablement la vigueur d'une cité européene. La beauté et l'activité de Paris provient à la fois d'une forte tradition et d'un design de mode trés moderne; ceci inclu tous les matériels: vêtements, mannequins, passants dans la rue et automobiles. Devant la façade de vieux immobles, le stationnement de nouvelles voitures engendrent une beauté inattendue. Cette contradiction reste la base de la composition des belles cutés européennes. Au Japon, des bâtiments très dissemblables se cotoient dans la ville, et des diversités entre les espaces nous attendons une situation différente de celle de l'Europe. La scène et le drame sont autres. Je ne dis pas que les immeubles doivent représenter l'activité d'une situation chaotique. Chaque construction est à elaborer selon une méthode sereine. Déjà en soi, cela devient un élément aléatoire car chaque architecte ne peut copier le bâtiment voisin. L'architecture se différencie visuellement, mais sont principe doit être identique. Comme le poste de police que j'ai construit à Kumamoto: il est différent du Musée du Centenaire et de la clinique à Hanayama qui furent composés selon un axe. Indépendamment du site, il prolonge en un banal plan rectangulaire un vieux bâtiment ordinaire.
Pourtant extrêmement simple, il fut fabriqué à partir des mêmes concepts. La façade sur rue, tournée vers l'ouest, y est plus agréable, plus large. Le chaos et l'aléatoire sont des éléments essentiels de la plus avancée des technologies, et j'affirme clairement l'importance de la relation avec les sciences. Bien que cela comporte une part de jeu, c'est l'inverse de l'architecture-jouet. Je n'aime pas un projet sans structure. Sans cette dernière et les ingéneurs pour la réaliser, il est impossible de composer la machine.

by Ernst Beneder

Let us appreciate a certain irritation as Shinoharas work can sometimes hardly be labeled or related to practiced patterns of the discourse. Clever as pedagogue, Shinohara challenges the recipient to call his things by names. And surprise the talk is nothing else about but space, architecture and urbanism. Say, the potential of something "such" has set up whether in imagination or reality, directly leads to a kind of direct encounter of space, architecture and the city in their genuine notion. And there the symbolized is identical with the symbolizing: the space giving with the space being, the expressed with the expressing. What can be learned in his recent works is that this is not a question of scale, needless to say not of style, but still there is a continuous development in the cognition of space beyond current talk shows on architecture. And the conception of urban living is still progressing. The contribution to a potential future urbanized environment may be Shinoharas highest beyond his collection of aesthetic masterpieces. The following text is a basic approach towards Shinoharas interpretation of the metropolis, previous to a detailed discussion of his projects.

It is a well-known fact that in Japan there are no plazas or squares, no avenues, no spatial diagrams that guide us and leave open corridors, channels of movement and traffic. Instead, there is a delta whose bits of firm land are so fragmented that they can never be more than particles of the whole. As though in a picture puzzle, the whole the city transforms itself from the particle, the ideographs, the advertising logos, the individual "letters" into the endless white noise. A specific place is anywhere, wherever someone wants it to be and claims it for the moment. Places have no clear boundaries but are created by the effect of that which is significant in between, they are not arrayed alongside one another according to physical laws but interpenetrate as fields.
Only by feeling that he can develop space for himself in his own imagination does the individual manage to occupy space for himself that is not accessible to others and thus becomes his personal own secret space. This is different from adapting already existing space for oneself or conquering space as a "place for oneself", where it actually belongs to everyone and where the claim to possess it must inevitably lead to conflict.
What we are talking about here is thus a "potential" space, a virtual urban space that is based on the same idea as the threshold of a house that allows the fields of the interior and the exterior to interpenetrate and bestows its own auratic space to something that is actually a paper-thin seamline.
From a high-rise building in downtown Tokyo, one can survey the living space of twenty million people and perceive many images that trigger the unmistakable impulse "Japan". Thus it would after all only be the cultural pretext, the codices in the final analysis, the utilization of the whole that allows us to distinguish this living space from others, were it not for the typical Japanese concept and arrangement of "space". Is this space so persistent simply because we are constantly looking for it?
Today, the work of this metropolis is the specific landscape of Japan. Urban space the world of work and landscape is perceived in its unity by the Japanese. That results in peoples identification with the here and now in everyday living.
Living spaces that can today touch us emotionally as ideal landscapes are also the traces of a time when landscape and urban space were synonymous with the world of work and were shaped with a matter-of-fact carefulness and without any mannerist romanticism without reflecting on the theoretical classification that was carried out only afterwards. Despite the jack of traditional urban ciphers, the megalopolis of Tokyo gives rise to a familiar urban feeling not too different from that of mediaeval European towns, where work and life went one in one at the same place and in close spatial proximity. Does the modern city with its completely interrelated service-oriented society correspond again to the pattern of the mediaeval town of artisans and small tradesmen? Does Tokyo represent the model of a society constantly absorbed in itself in a continuous performance of services and interrelated role playing? In the clear dialectics of speech and response, does not he who accepts the service also perform work, while he who provides the service only plays his part in a strictly codified ritual?
The consumption- and sevice-oriented society of today leads to new social and spatial demands. Leisure space in the European sense, in any case, is far away and beyond research in Tokyo. The living area, including the sphere of work, is not juxtaposed with contrasting historic, scenic or narrative urban images or with unspoiled nature. The relationship between the world of work and the appearance of the city is free from any conflict. Where contrast is lacking there is no need for such definitions. There are no romantic idylls. And this gives rise to a feeling of relief.
Japans extreme topography makes access to nature more abstract for the Japanese. Unspoiled nature is of a symbolic clarity the sea, the steep valleys, the snow-capped cone of Mt. Fuji, while cultivated nature is strictly geometrised and equally inaccessible as e.g. the terraced paddies and the tea plantations. Japanese thus do not regard the landscape as a visual unity that they can walk into and traverse. In this regard, too, since they have no other choice, they fall back on the "particle": the cherry blossom or a weathered leave, and they create miniatures: bonsai, ikebana, and abstract gardens of raked sand set with stones, are inaccessible open-air spaces, small utopias representing a "kind of nature", a collage in the crowded hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Let us contrast this completely transformed Japanese environment with European landmarks and their visual weight, both in silhouette and as ideological mementos whose rhetoric upholds a matrix of past hierarchies. The fact that, in contrast to this, a conservative society such as the Japanese keeps a matrix of relative freedom and lack of precise determination open for itself, must be a challenge for any Western avant-garde. This applies equally to the traditional modular Japanese house with its tatami mats and rice-paper walls as to the Japanese recent advance towards the mediated world city: Japan-the-city.
It is a fact that in Japan space has always been a theme of illusion and that only as such it can achieve a density beyond its boundaries. Does space exist only where it is denied by all the world? In this flickering environment the city dweller is a nomad, he carries his world with him, projects "world" and "city" by mere hints. He can do this even where he does not find any "world" at hand. This constant searching and setting out tempts one into an aurea of the anarchic, into traveling without having specific destinations, as the secret longing of a bourgeois and, to speak plainly, mediocre society. Once realities can be called up at will, they cause a growing readiness for extempore role playing. Cultural pretexts become equidistant, the larger being the spectrum of stimuli. In the traditional picture of a cultural landscape, too, the borderline between medium and user was only a question of the spectators standpoint, and today as always in the past the symbolic character of the technological is located in a field of tension and formalism. Superficially, the technoid appearance guarantees the functioning of the whole. The whole, i.e. the city, is now an apparatus, a single traffic and communication machine, and no one doubts that the living space can now be managed only with the help of technology.
Consequently, the communication units necessary for this become the new centers. As the fulfillment of an urban way of life, traffic, not least in the pleasure of constant arrival and escape, is given a different, higher, almost spiritually based metafinality. The new urban spaces are the railway platforms, the terminals and those virtual collages visible from the windows of the suburban railway. Transit everywhere the same, being its use well-practiced and therefore becoming familiar offers points of support at the junctions with ones home essentially not being so very different from them.
Thus chaos is gentle, familiar and undangerous, while order is subtle and hidden. Believing oneself to be in the midst of chaos and order is in the final analysis not the subject of a collective feeling, but rather a personal perception of complex facts.
The apparatus-like scenarios, their idealized demonstration, as it were, in the urban space, invariably lead to a mannerism reminiscent of science fiction. Whether high- tech or deconstructivism, the building has to be built in any case, but the new technology remains invisible. It is only a remake of the first, i.e. mechanical industrial revolution. As stage sets, "backstage" of the city as stage, these contraptions take away the threatening aspect from the actual masses: the city and the urban space as an absurd performance. No matter that this environment is dispersed, fragile, random, chaotic or confusing, the knowledge of its constant change, its never being final, also results in ease and a lack of strain, while the lack of space results in consciousness and carefulness.
Amidst the overkill of visual stimuli, Japanese find their security in their codified behavior, in the rank of the individual within a group and in almost metalinguistic role playing, which in addition to the factual communication of information, also always provides an opportunity for a theatrical staging, and which invariably create space for a few moments, space that is secret and located somewhere in between.
Japanese are preconditioned for the indeterminate already by their very language. The coexistence of ideographs, allusions, indications of meaning and syllabary shapes Japanese thinking more laterally that linearly. A priori, language allows greater possibility for that which is seemingly indeterminate. Does this way of thinking harbor a greater chance of tolerance? For the enlightened person, such a state of affairs would have to be one of alienation, like a state of weightlessness, since the new possibilities of moving, of autonomy and freedom that it undoubtedly offers, first need to be discovered and learned. Lyotard speaks of a "decomposition of social ties", of an "atomization of the social aspect into loose networks of linguistic games" that he considers to be very remote from a "modern reality" (A postmodern condition, 1984). According to him, however much the self is thrown back on its own devices, it always represents a juncture in the communication cycle, whose inevitable occurrence gives rise to "space" almost as a by-product. This space of the momentary here and now every visitor to Japan may take home with him, although it can only be described in terms of that which happened "there".

Ernst Beneder
He has been doing architectural research in Japan.
Currently he is visiting professor in the Technical School in Vienna.

Web Architecture Magazine, Issue 01, July-August 1996. All rights reserved