Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's That Thing Up on Stilts? A Tea House!?

"Terunobu Fujimori has thrown a punch of a kind no one has ever seen before at 'modernism.'" (Kengo Kuma)
He spent most of his life as an architectural historian.  He did not design his first building until the age of 45. He uses traditional charred wood siding and plants pine trees and other odd vegetation on the roofs of his buildings.  His friends help him do things that no contractor would touch.  He has built a tea house situated precariously atop two rough-hewn stilt made of tree trunks and a study room, accessible only by ladder, cantilevered daringly off the peak of a small, rustic house.  He loves nature and traditional construction techniques and he constantly tries to straddle the line between the natural and the man-made.  He is funny and self-deprecating.  He has a pronounced respect for Le Corbusier's ideas.  He speaks English only through an interpreter.

Who is this guy!?

Last night, Kim and I went to a lecture at the Yale School of Architecture.  Though we had dinner plans at Ibiza to celebrate our 7th anniversary (a bit early) and the news that our petition to adopt four siblings from Brazil is most likely going to be approved (check out Perfect Provision for this story), we were able to catch most of Dr. Terunobu Fujimori's lecture.  

Though not well-known in the United States, Dr. Fujimori is apparently quite popular and well-known in Japan.  As an effort to remedy this disparity, perhaps, Dwell magazine actually just published a nice article about Dr. Fujimori in their May 2009 issue.

An eclectic mix of forms and materials, Dr. Fujimori's architecture is quite interesting to me on a number of levels:
  1. It tries to strike a balance between the Modern and the traditional.
  2. It is well-crafted, with a focused use of interesting, yet innovative, materials and forms.
  3. It attempts to respond to the genius loci, or "spirit of the place" by using traditional materials or techniques in new and innovative ways.
  4. It does not seem to take itself too seriously.  It is not overly self-conscious.  It is playful.
Like Dr. Fujimori's architecture, his lecture, too, was interesting and lively.  Dr. Fujimori himself was quite funny--even through his interpreter!  Regarding one of his buildings, a museum, he related that, "when I thought about how one would want to view the paintings, I felt that to be naked would be the best way.  But if everyone was naked, people would not necessarily be looking at the paintings, so people just take off their shoes."  (General laughter.)

At the same time that one might characterize Dr. Fujimori's architecture as playful, it is clear that he is trying to push the boundaries of architecture while remaining relevant within an overall architectural discourse.  I though it was interesting that his work seemed to straddle the line between architecture and nature, architecture and play, architecture and...and...I don't even know!  While showing one project in which he had planted both the walls and the roof with vegetation, he said, “you have to be very careful of that delicate line. If you go beyond that line, regular people like your buildings but architects just make fun of you.”  (More laughter.)  I just love his distinction between "regular people" and "architects" in that one!

But I feel his sentiment.  It is true that architects can be the harshest critics--quick to dismiss something that they do not understand.  And architects are sometimes especially quick to criticize something that "non-architects" might quickly embrace for one reason or another--as if "we" know better and "they" do not.

After seeing his lecture, it is clear that Dr. Fujimori is a different kind of architect.  Humble, funny, interesting, un-famous...

Who wants to be a starchitect anyway!?

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