Marc Treib: Dichotomies of dwelling (January 23, 1986)

Michael Rotondi introduces Marc Treib, the first speaker in a special series devoted to contemporary architecture in Japan. Rotondi notes the affinity Los Angeles architects between the ages of 30 and 60 have for their colleagues in Japan. He also notes the interest in both traditional and contemporary Japanese design.

Marc Trieb introduces his theme as “Dichotomies of dwelling.” He will point out the continuities and differences between the homes and gardens of 17th century Edo Japan and the current experimental building in Japan. He acknowledges these categories often blur and overlap.

Treib discusses the flexible, fluid, additive spaces of 17th century Edo architecture, and points out similarities and differences in the work of Hiroshi Hara and Tadao Ando. Treib discusses the work of Hara and Ando as based on walls, that disrupt traditional Japanese infinite space with finite divisions. However their work retains traditional cool neutrality, as well as dramatic effects of hiding and revealing views.

Treib discusses the traditional Japanese modular grid as a three-dimensional frame promoting a sense of calm. Hiromi Fuji’s obsessively gridded houses seem the opposite of calm. But when inhabited, his grid retreats into a background.

Treib reviews the history of gardens and parks in Japan, which is very different from anything in the West. Seventeenth century Edo gardens were heightened backdrops for recreation. Later Zen gardens were vehicles for meditation. The subsequent development of the tea ceremony encouraged the development of gardens that functioned as transition paths from the tumult of the world into retreats of calm, characterized by asymmetry, equilibrium, use of unfinished materials, and use of water. For public parks, the only Japanese equivalent would be the grounds of Buddhist temples. Currently, the closest analogy would be the public areas surrounding urban transportation hubs.

Treib points out the continuity from the 17th century to now, in the tradition of the home as “machine for show” rather than “machine for living.” He discusses current architects who employ strong formal or metaphorical themes, focusing on Shin Takamatsu, Arata Isozaki, and Aida Takefumi. Their work extends and changes the traditional forms and functions.

Treib discusses the traditional Japanese aesthetic ideal of shibui–refined but slightly dissonant simplicity–as merely half of the whole story. Besides simplicity, there is an equally strong Japanese tradition of emotionally-charged opulent extravagance. Among contemporary architects, Trieb presents Kazuo Shinohara as an exponent of shibui, and Kiko Mozuna as the current exemplar of Japanese exuberance.

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