Interview : EASTERN design office
Interview Date: 11-11-2009
1. How was Eastern studio born?
In 2003 Anna Nakamura and Taiyo Jinno cooperated to launch a new office in Kyoto. We work in a small office of four people (including staff members). At the time of its founding the office started with two projects: a private house in a small mountain village and a 10,000-person capacity design for the 2008 Beijing Olympic wrestling stadium(Light Thread). From the onset, EASTERN simultaneously designed buildings at the small scale and the extremely large scale. The private residence in the mountains (Horizontal House) was completed in 2007and the client moved into it, yet we still continue working on it as to make the house suitable for his taste.
2. The name ‘Eastern’ defines the final goal of your philosophy. How would you describe it?
Kyoto is famous for its historical and cultural assets of the East,・Asia. However, in reality it is a small-scale urban area with a relatively small population. In general terms, the heart of world culture is in Western Europe and America. The heart of Japan is Tokyo. Even though Kyoto is significant both internationally and nationally, it is not the center of either. We thought it is to our advantage, for there is a room to allow us to make architectures that stir the people of the world.
“EASTERN” has the meaning of “beginning” attached to it. The east is the direction where the sun rises and begins a new day. The east is the beginning of the sun, the beginning of light. The dawn of night, that also comes from the east. It is hope. Again, “EASTERN” also has the meaning of architects from East Asia. As an architect from the East, I want to spread the quality of eastern architecture beyond Japan and to the world.
3. Slits become a central element of your design concept. When did you decide to explore this method?
There are always site conditions and people do not always live in a beautiful landscape. Slits overcome shortcomings of the site. Taking advantage of unfavorable conditions, we contrived to change it attractive. The idea of slits came up when we were working on such an unfavorable site.
There are few instances where the sites on which we and our clients, who live in urban areas, build architecture are in completely beautiful landscapes. Located in today’s city, there are places where the nature that we should be looking at is not close at hand, the downtown has become crowded with small and mid-sized buildings, the perimeter is an infamously lonely wide parking lot. People have been living for generations packed in those areas. In the obscure corners of the city that has taken over the memories of that place, those people have defended themselves against development and nobody can look back any longer. Along the roads leading to the countryside where sons and daughters leave the city seeking work and do not return and among the people living there, there is poetry. The “drama of nature” is there. Is it possible to somehow return everyone to that? We think of place as very important. “Form” serves that function. Slits are that light. We proclaim this thought by thoroughly using that light. That is “Slit House”. Because we attach our hopes to the light that is common to the lives of all people around the world, that is the Light of light.
4. Most of your projects are in Japan and China. Which aspects of the city layout, culture and lifestyle contribute to the sculptural design for your architecture?
Even though we think about the plasticity of architecture, a more important element is scale. Our work in China was 30,000 square meter stadium with a 10,000 person capacity. The work in Japan has been private houses or, just recently, 1,000 square meter architecture at a medium scale. In accordance with this scale, the formative nature changes greatly. The nature of this difference cannot be touched here.
The relationship between the site and the street is one of the main factors to determine the sculptural aspect of architecture when building a Japanese house. The first place that every site and every person comes in to contact with the outside is the street. There are houses built close to each other, the paths which run both sides of the site, a small narrow alley passing through to the rear of the site. Those were built through the long history of daily lives of the people. Also there is a “communal alley”in a mountainous village, which we cherish most in our design and we sometimes build one in the garden when planning a house. The way medium-small scale of architectures should be has to exist in a form which is interwoven with the relationship between towns, people and ways.
5. How do you see your philosophy applied to the western countries? Do you think people will survive in a house without wide windows? Which adaptations could you possibly make?
We reference two things when creating architecture:
1. Form has its own necessity.
2. Architecture that makes you feel that you are a ruler of the entire worls
1. Why? From what reason was that form born? That origin is clearly understood. Along with that (because it is clearly understood), we choose a form and imbue it with an unknown poetic feeling.
2. “To have the whole world” depends on how you take architecture, your world, the space you are living in, without knowing the house at all, privacy, comfort without asking, ambition, independence, will, anger, alienation, perhaps familiarity with place and self. To become accustomed to the feeling that those kinds of things rule your own personal world.
As these two things can be commonly understood throughout the world and are our motive for creating architecture. For we can put this otherwise as follows: People would not think that they have attained their own world even though unfavorable site was changed to favorable one by designing a stylish house with a big opening, or tactfully glass is used. Who can open their hearts in a place where one’s sensibilities cannot be protected?
An example of things that we have made is the light that is made from 60 slits, each 14 centimeters wide. The moment that a wriggling wave of light passes through architecture via a small perforation-like round window, it creates a cross. The cross of light moves from hour to hour. Stripes of light and shadow dance like children chasing after a deceased spirit. An aperture as if you were living inside a tree. Slits long and thin enough to survey the mountains and the flight of the gods who live there. To be honest, these words (the feelings that come to mind when experimenting with architecture) describe a scene that anyone can understand. Some places to places are similar to all human kind. Like underground water that gushes from when you delve into something deeply rooted in the soil, it is possible to sense this in Japan, in Portugal, in the nooks of Tianjin(China), and even in the slums of Mexico. We seek out that kind of easily understood effect with the expression of architectural apertures.
Without making a large window, we create architecture (at this time) with only a slit, a round window, or a thin curve and imagine the interior of a hidden inner garden. That “other place” becomes detached from the rest of the world on the outside and, although paradoxical, becomes surrounded by the architecture on the interior. And thus, the empty space within oneself comes into reach and the movement of clouds and the direction of the sun are brought to the forefront.
6. In your architecture, inner living spaces are like poetry sculptures. Which elements are determinant for these spiritual atmospheres?
Inside our architecture there is subtly hidden space (beyond recognition to public eyes.) [JY1] In our case, the hidden spaces are often things like gardens or gaping openings to the sky. In those spaces, the client’s happiness or even solitude is gathered. Nature and light are gathered. From there, from the innermost courtyards, there are roads that leave to the outside. Those streets influence the plan of the house and create a connection to the rest of the city. The light that symbolizes the livelihood of the client shines onto that street.
1. For the “MON Factory/House”, the client’s work was the traditional Japanese craft of insetting “Mon”, (Japanese family crests) into kimono. All the complex patterns of crests are made from circles. It is the cruciform patterned round light that Symbolizes this.
2. In “Slit House”, the architecture portrays the subtle (-quiet) lifestyle of an 80-year-old woman living alongside an old country road. A series of finely changing lights of dawn, 11 in the morning, afternoon, dusk, and evening. A long corridor filled with the stream of lights that comes through the slits.
3. In the “Horizontal House”, we created a long, continuous horizontal aperture from which you can command a 360-degree view of village and mountains bounded by it.
4. Our “Villa Saitan” is located in an area that appears in the well-known Japanese novel, “The Tale of Heike, and the client’s thoughts were to have the building inherit the history of that place. That challenge is expressed in the plasticity of this architecture. The people living in this apartment complex will live without forgetting that they lived amongst sunlight filtering through trees.
5. “Stripes” is at the crossroads of a new residential area where mother and children, the elderly, intersect at this new facility. Because this design is for a hospital, any of the townspeople who visit this place can pass through, the opened streets of the city pass through the inside of this architecture. That place is full of flickering light and shadow that wavers through it.
6. “Slit Court” is the stage associated with the d Shitamachi, neighborhood community of downtown Kyoto. We invite a path into the ,architecture. The name of this town is “Sumizome”, named after the Sumizome Sakura(pale charcoal cherry tree), At the inner most of the path with Sumizome Sakura, a hidden inner court was created. It is hidden, but a librated space not to be lost by the development, but can be protected by individual people. Those curved slits make beautiful places
What events can occur in the street that passes through the architecture or in the secure courtyard?
It is neighborhood contact (neighborly ties). That is the custom of people and place. It is routine.
Perhaps, it may be a festival for the earth. That is a planned event. It is extraordinary.
There are subtly hidden (enshrined) courtyards in our architecture. There are hidden enshrined streets. A shadowed world of beauty exists in places that are there even though you can’t see them. That innermost place, that inner atmosphere, that inner hidden figure, that inner plan ought to show what it’s like to dwell in a cave, to contemplate the impression of similar to a rock garden built in obscurity in the mountains, to hold the atmosphere of a tea room, perhaps even, evoke the morning light streaming in from the east through a Gothic building, the direct light falling onto the entrance garden in the Moroccan city of Fes, to evoke the window of an African house built out of stacked stones, like the kitchen of a European country home, a farmer’s barn, to evoke the light that enters through an opening in a dull plank that falls onto the grass in a horse’s stable. The innermost things are oriented towards a common world. It is because of this that our architecture can be understood from all of the world’s people.
However, if you look carefully and deeply at the innermost court, you will find that there are three types:
1. The case where there is development in a town. (Horizontal House, Stripes, Slit Court)
2. The case where there is a completely open vacuum between completely separate people’s lives.(Slit House, MON Factory/House)
3. The case where there are roads connecting towns and houses instead of gardens.(MON Factory/House,Villa Saitan)
The people who are companions in a town come into this architecture. That is to say in the case of number three, when you make that kind of street or garden, at an apartment complex it is necessary for the client’s occupation to interchange with the town. When that is not the case it is the inside, the innermost space that is opened up towards the sky. People can know that the sky, the clouds, the wind, the sound, the scents that pass through, and a personal joyful times are all breathing in the city.
7. What inspires your daily life? Which architects and artists influenced your work?
Dining with someone and sense the aura created there while enjoying food and conversation with him. We find the idea of designing architectures in“festivals”that is cherished by the individual people. This may be an old wooden table made by the tree of the house before it is going to be torn down, or the scent of tea that someone has poured for you, or warming up soup. When that person leads a conversation, clears the dishes, picks out the air that isn’t filtered, looks at the cut flowers brought into a room, in shared breathing space. We think this is where we search to orient our architecture. We try to listen for space and kiss the place.
A place that I think I would like to see at least once is Alvaro Siza’s “Boa Nova Tea House and Restaurant. I think I would like to capture the aroma of the ocean there. I think I want to sense direction. In what way can the ocean be seen? I want to see. Also, I like Oscar Niemeyer. Furthermore, Kyoto’s old temples, tea rooms, and gardens. It can be said that in our architecture there is a vaguely Japanese space, but maybe it is because we are always looking at these types of things.
8. Which possibilities would you like to explore in the future and which projects are you developing now.
1. Molding existing ground level(Earth), earthwork architecture, moreover, I would also like to make a completely skyward architecture. I would like to come across that kind of place.
2. To give form to a plan that symbolizes the entire life of a client to perfection. If I can convey that person’s special tale, it will naturally be like conveying the plan of a building. To come across people who have changed like that.