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Monday, March 05, 2012

Book Review: 2G N.58/59

2G N.58/59: Kazuo Shinohara Houses edited by David B. Stewart, Shin-Ichi Okuyama, Taishin Shiozaki
Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2011
Paperback, 296 pages



Barcelona-based Editorial Gustavo Gili devotes a double issue of its 2G Magazine to influential architect Kazuo Shinohara's houses. This intensive survey spanning from 1959 to 1988 may have been released about five years earlier, but Shinohara turned down the editors' 2001 request, a sign of the control he exerted over the presentation of his projects both in graphic and literary terms. His death five years later opened the door to 2G, thanks to his heirs and to former clients willing to open their doors for specially commissioned photographs by Hiroshi Ueda. The result is a great presentation of 23 houses that trace the architect's "Three Styles" across three decades.


I would like the houses I design to stand forever on this earth. ... I intend to devote myself to attempting to inscribe eternity within spaces. -Kazuo Shinohara, in "Theory of a Residential Architecture," 1967
The above quote from Shinohara -- one of four essays collected by 2G in the Nexus portion at the end of the double issue, mirrored by three contributions from the editors and others at the beginning -- positions the architect within the larger context of Japanese culture and architecture by squarely opposing his buildings with the prevailing notion that architecture does not last for more than a couple decades. Yet when the reader confronts the First Style of his residential architecture in the Umbrella House (1959-1961), it is clearly rooted in traditional Japanese buildings, if in a way that is different to only the trained eye. Most striking in that house is the exposed roof structure, which prefigures the structural bravado of later houses. Near the end of his First Style, in the House in White (1964-1966, pictured above), a single columns stand in an otherwise bare white living area, a Western space inside an otherwise traditional-looking exterior.



The Second Style is marked by fissures or crevices, linear spaces -- sometimes exterior, usually interior -- that occupy the middle of basically symmetrical plans. These apparently insignificant spaces in that brief style are a step towards the Third Style, which started with the Tanikawa House (1972-1974), visible on the cover of the double issue. The view depicts a dirt incline capped by a pitched roof, a space of "no architectural significance other than simply to express this incline." The prominent columns and braces take on a strong presence and signification, recalling the roofs and columns in his First Style; soon they would become more disjointed, taking on a similar Tanikawa-esque form, but structured in concrete and in some cases impeding spaces. House in Uehara (pictured above) is a suitable example, given the dramatic presence of the diagonal braces inside and the disconnected top floor, a later addition Shinohara intentionally made different.

In the popular "small houses" of Tokyo and other parts of Japan, I see the influence of Kazuo Shinohara, particularly from his Third Style where complex spaces and structure congeal into forms that are as far from self-conscious as any. Shinohara strove from the beginning to treat the "house as a work of art." More subtle in the early years, by the 1980s, when he received larger commissions and therefore the residential ones trailed off, his houses resemble works of art. They find their meaning in their own being and how they interact with the city around them. They deserve attention, and this publication thankfully reveals Shinohara's houses to a wider audience.


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