In order to keep living in popular cities affordable, we need to live more compactly and smarter, and not to see sharing of functions as a shortage, but as an added value for the individual home.

Apartment Tokyo

One of the qualities of the profession of an architect is that you may crawl into your client’s skin. To design a good restaurant you need to be a cook, a kind of professional voyeurism. The interesting thing of designing a residential building is that you are both designer and expert at the same time. After all you have been ‘living’ your entire life. When we were asked to think about a complex of small apartments, my thoughts immediately returned to an earlier Tokyo experience where I lived for two years. For the first few months, I lived in a spacious room in a quiet suburb two hours by train from the city centre. After six months, my girlfriend and I decided to leave our individual apartments and live together in a small apartment in the city centre. It was a conscious choice for us to live in small space in a big city than to live spacious in a small village.

Every time I look back to the floor plan of the apartment, the door seems to be too big. Nothing is less true, the apartment was that small: 18 m2. The apartment was nevertheless the place to live, to sleep, to give parties, but it also served as an office and guesthouse for visits from the Netherlands. In Japan, I learned that a well designed small space that can assume multiple functions is more valuable than a big space that is not good for anything. To give a small space a high quality, we need to design more than the walls, the ceiling and a few windows as an architect. We have to continue designing. The interior has to become an integral part of architecture. A nice example of this is the Tokonoma, a built-in closet with an elevated stage in the heart of the house, where the resident can put a vase of flowers, a candle or incense.

Traditional Japanese Tokonoma

To let the resident’s character speak, all specific possessions are placed on a pedestal. The kitchen, closet and bed are hidden. There is a clear separation between served and serving spaces. One best examples of this way of designing is the Nakagin Capsule Tower of architect Kisho Kurokawa in Tokyo, built in 1972. Each apartment is a prefabricated steel capsule with an internal size of 2.3 x 3.8 x 2.1m, complete with all built-in home appliances and furniture. The tower is a celebration of the individual and lacks a thought that Kurukawa would develop years later in his book Kyosei no Shiso (English: Each One a Hero, The Philosophy of Symbiosis) where he deals with the concept of symbiosis. In Greek, symbiosis means ‘interdependence’ and refers to a relationship between two different organisms that are beneficial or even necessary to each other.

Symbiosis is a radical different concept than harmony which is about mutual equivalence but also of mutual independence. Symbiosis emphasizes the differences between organisms and the dependence on each other. Think of the buffalo and the buffalo and oxpeckers. Kurokawa argues that differences, discussions between people and because of that an understanding for each other is necessary for connection. Symbiosis would therefore be the best form of society. In light of the latest political developments, I think Kurokawa made a predictive statement in his book from 1991. (…)


Article published on Archined 03.02.2017

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