Book Review: Behaviorology

The Architecture of Atelier Bow-Wow: Behaviorology by Atelier Bow-Wow, published by Rizzoli, 2010. Hardcover, 304 pages.

Japanese architects Atelier Bow-Wow are known as much for the books they produce as for the houses they design. The two outputs are inextricably linked -- the former researching the urban conditions of Tokyo, where the duo lives, and the latter a fairly direct product of such research on hybrid conditions, small buildings and so forth. Made in Tokyo and Pet Architecture Guide Book are the most well-known products of their research, structured like guides but presenting unique takes on the city they call home. Behaviorology collects most of Atelier Bow-Wow's built work, art installations and their research on architecture and urbanism. In its pages one can see how the houses they've designed for themselves and other clients in Tokyo respond to the unique characteristics of the city, from its irregular plots and zoning requirements to seismic concerns and the social dynamic of families today. As well it's clear the duo's talents are not restricted to the single-family house in Tokyo, as their recent commissions take them into more diverse building types within and beyond Japan.

Alongside the documentation of Atelier Bow-Wow's output are essays by Terunobu Fujimori, Yoshikazu Nango, Meruro Washida and Enrique Walker. Each focuses on a different aspect of the practice, be it their architecture, research or installations. Fujimori's text on how their research has informed their architecture is most rewarding, extrapolating the idea of "behaviorology" set up by the architects in their introduction. In it he recalls "modernologist" Wajiro Kon, an architect who observed the city to such a great extent he left the profession to devote all his time to inquiries into temporary shelters and other modern phenomena. The author also discusses his own Roadway Observation Society (ROJO), practitioners of the "eccentric gaze," which Atelier Bow-Wow certainly embodies. Yet the duo have managed to observe and design, something neither Kon nor ROJO could manage. When we look beyond Japan today we find a plethora of practices balancing design and research -- Interboro, LAR, MAS Studio, to name a few -- a sign of the complexity of conditions today and the efforts to make sense of even a small portion of them. What sets Atelier Bow-Wow apart from many of their research/practice contemporaries is their sense of humor, their ability to find and express the absurd inherent in the places they study and build.

What is missing from this monograph on the Japanese duo are their distinctive and highly detailed drawings found in both their research and design work. Focusing instead on a photographic presentation of their architecture, one needs to use Graphic Anatomy as a companion to Behaviorology; in many cases the photos actually coincide with views penned beforehand. While the presentation of their architecture is therefore incomplete, the photographs do a very good job of conveying the spatial qualities of the primarily residential work; the inclusion of inhabitants in the photos is particularly helpful and refreshing. The photos work well with the large-format of the book, a well-made document of a practice that will surely continue to surprise.