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click opera - The house that fell to earth
February 2010
 
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Tue, May. 29th, 2007 12:22 pm
The house that fell to earth

Last January I wrote something about SANAA's Moriyama House. I also spent a long time working out exactly where it is, using the aerial picture on the cover of Brutus magazine and Google Maps.

Yesterday Hisae and I made the trip out to see the structure -- ten oblong white boxes rather than a "house" per se. We found it quite easily. It stands out and blends in at the same time, a beacon piece of architectural Modernism -- ostentatiously minimalist -- in a peaceful, tight suburban sprawl of demotic, cluttered, indigenous buildings.



Standing at the Moriyama House, I thought a whole bunch of things.

1. I felt that both the building and myself, its visitor, were extra-terrestrials. I'd arrived "from space" after staking the site out via satellite on Google Maps. The building had arrived from the minds of SANAA, who split the big site up so their structure would blend better with nearby structures. But while it might blend in volumetrically, it stands out stylistically from anything nearby.

2. I thought something I've often thought recently: that Modernism, like the Situationists' hacienda, is yet to be built. People may have "modern" houses -- in the sense that they have garages, aircon and flushing toilets -- but they don't generally have Modernist houses, houses that fit Le Corbusier's Five Points of Modern Architecture.

3. I made a mental note to go and see Le Corbusier: Art and Architecture -- a life of creativity, the big show at the Mori Museum just now.

4. I felt it would be intrusive to step onto the site itself, although it's open and there's nothing to stop you slipping between the boxes.

5. I noticed that the big open windows -- which I'd described, following SANAA's quotes in the Brutus piece, as being a radical deconstruction of the binaries public / private and inside / outside -- had mostly been draped by the people living in them with big sheets.

6. The one unit that could be seen into felt very raw and exposed. Somebody was sitting in it, a man who retreated to the interior of the complex when I approached his window, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

7. I noticed quirky details you don't see in the magazine pictures. The white walls are already beginning to be streaked, at the top, with dirty water marks, rainspill patterns. There are signs of the vibrant communal yard life the architects intended -- a barbecue grill, a Le Corbusier chair up on the terrace -- but also signs of decoration they may not have anticipated: the little garden gnome guarding a side door, for instance.

8. While we were gawking a party of foreigners came along the street, tall and serious greying men. They seemed to be American architects -- I heard them saying the wall-flush windows "are one thing on the computer screen, another when they're built". A young American was leading them around the complex, saying "My unit is over here". He was obviously one of the renters, and had arranged with the Japanese owner (presumably called Moriyama) to let the party see around the place.

9. And it occurred to me that this was a cross all residents of iconic houses have to bear. A constant flow of visitors, constant guided tours, people peeking through the window. To be too attractive is a form of hell.

10. Meanwhile, Japanese residents of the neighbourhood -- mostly very old people and children -- sauntered by absolutely oblivious. The Moriyama House belongs to others; to foreigners, to architects, to tourists. It's not really integrated at all. It's extra-terrestrial. The house that fell to earth.

32CommentReplyAdd to MemoriesShare


(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 04:07 am (UTC)

nice to see more images of this. i remember it caught my eye when it was on the cover of 'Dwell' magazine here in the U.S., and i had to dwell on the design of it for a long time--it was so interesting.

...houses as celebrities...

michael


ReplyThread
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 06:08 am (UTC)

Very decorative for being modernist architecture. I sat looking through Wikipedia's page on Modernism and Modernist Architecture. The Moriyama House is modernist in it's individual structures since they have no ornaments, but the concept of them/it are/is quite, well, decorative?


ReplyThread
hiljaaa
hiljaaa
James Blunt
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 08:21 am (UTC)

Incredible mess of electric wire there too. What is about the wires in japan.
I guess big windows dont suit so well in Japan cause people carefully guard their privacy with curtains. But still lot of big windows in Japan.
Thanks for the photos, looks really nice.


ReplyThread
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 07:08 pm (UTC)
Incredible mess of electric wire

if i recall Marxy doesn't like them either but i think when it comes to practical wiring or plumbing jobs the japanese open/modular system's advantages become evident.

it's also an expression of the genius loci. go to yokohama motomachi where they made a point of hiding the wires and you feel like you're in bondi junction.


ReplyThread Parent
pitcherthis
pitcherthis
pitcherthis
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 08:25 am (UTC)
its quite beautiful

that bike reminds me of the, um i think its de chirico? (surrealist painter, there was this painting of a passage/road of sorts & this one bicycle? unless ive morphed a few other things...)


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 08:49 am (UTC)

Modernism, like the Situationists' hacienda, is yet to be built. People may have "modern" houses -- in the sense that they have garages, aircon and flushing toilets -- but they don't generally have Modernist houses

That's an interesting point. Modernism, in architecture, has survived in institutional and commercial building (ie just about any new skyscraper or museum building can be traced back to modernist roots), but not really in residential spaces. Residential building had its modernist moment, in postwar council housing or places like the Barbican, but it appears now that this was something of a dead end. People, it seems, don't actually want to live like that.

Tangentially, I find it interesting how for some spheres contemporary practice there is an ancestral link to modernism and for others, modernism was a dead end. For example, you can always see the ghosts of the modernist ancestors in just about any contemporary art (or at the least the type of art that gets nominated for Turner prizes). You can't approach contemporary art without thinking about Duchamp or Rothko or whoever, it all relates. With literature, that doesn't seem to be the case. There was the 'modernist moment' - Woolf, Joyce et al. - but it was something of a dead end. It doesn't relate to Zadie Smith or Colm Toibin or all those other Booker-type novelists, who hark back to the 19th century as if modernism had never existed.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 01:44 pm (UTC)

Regarding literature and modernism, in the US at least (I'm assuming you're in the UK), the big authors of the day belong to some unreadable post-modern decadence - it's like the worst of the 70s on steroids, though it may be a little more preferable than Zadie Smith.


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 09:30 am (UTC)

It doesn't seen to stick out at all.
but then probably i've been there long enough for my attitude to be similar to those neighbours' .


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)

11. People are not goldfish.


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gorgol
gorgol
gorgol
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)

maybe really fancy windows with two panes of one-way mirrors, one facing in & one facing out, that alternated depending on whether the sun was out or a lamp was lit indoors would do the trick


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
People are not goldfish.

no, no, no no , quite the opposite, it's gold- or any kind of fish who are not meant to live in this kind of thing. humans, who can conceive and make them are, for better or worse, not unsuited for them.


ReplyThread Parent
lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:18 am (UTC)
Re: People are not goldfish.

Well, humans can conceive plenty of things not suitable for habitation--nuclear reactors, trash compactors, et al. This place doesn't look like it had any organisms in mind when it was being designed. Definitely nothing that eats, sleeps, shits, cries, argues, raises offspring, ages, lives. Tidy little mannequins, maybe.

I've seen far more inviting, successful designs in this vein. Besides, any house that a goldfish, cat, plant, etc. wouldn't be at home in is not a house. It's a design exercise; an imposition rather than a habitus.


ReplyThread Parent
lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: People are not goldfish.

That isn't to say that these things shouldn't be built--they should, but only if architects learn from their shortcomings by listening to the people who live in them. From what I've seen, though, architects tend to be extremely stubborn when it comes to putting the human being at the center of their design, which to me seems an obvious starting point. Instead thay get all Platonic with their perfect forms and squeaky surfaces. Human beings, like all animals, have needs and preferences that are neccessary for their wellbeing. Feeling secure and nestled is pretty high on that list. I get the sense that such a consideration is seen by architects as some sort of concesion to demotic sensibilities and pedestrian tastes--as if humans' overwhelming preferences could be expressed in any other way!


ReplyThread Parent
lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:30 am (UTC)
Re: People are not goldfish.

...which is another way of saying that many architects put other architects at the center of thei designs. And as we all know, architects are clearly not humans.


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 10:47 am (UTC)
Re: People are not goldfish.

Feeling secure and nestled is pretty high on that list.

thanks for elaborating. I don't think though secure and nestled ammount to the same thing.
the nomadic streak has been strong in human history and not always caused by trouble or necessity . Both life in tokyo, for many, and modern architecture have something nomadic about them .

not entirely off the point would be mentioning the cases of australian aboriginals being offered 'secure and nestled' homes by the government only to gradually 'deconstruct' them into something not dissimilar to the Moriyama house and live happily once the adjustments were made. (i used to live next door to such a house)


ReplyThread Parent
lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Thu, May. 31st, 2007 01:24 am (UTC)
Re: People are not goldfish.

They don't amount to the same thing, which is why I used both words.

The Moriyama house in the outback is a very different proposition, isn't it? Completely different context. Have you been to the aborigine holy sites of Uluru? Kata Juta? Both are rife with nooks and crannies that have been inhabited by aboriginals for over 30,000 years. Research has shown that humans, when given a choice, prefer their dwellings to be sheltered with a good vantage point. If you've been to southern Africa, not too far from Olduvai Gorge, you'll see that the landscape that gave rise to homo sapiens sapiens</i. provides just that--stands of acacia trees overlooking wide open plains. It's a constant within our species. And it's eerie how quickly you can feel comfortable in that savanna environment. I did, anyway.


ReplyThread Parent
flying_squid
flying_squid
flying_squid
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)

I like that it's white.

I also have this odd feeling that it'd be a much better place to live if it was near a semi-untamed park, somewhere with a lot of green, as opposed to other buildings.


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:36 am (UTC)

I agree. But then, that may be true of most dwellings.

Maybe it should have a semi-untamed park on the inside?


ReplyThread Parent
flying_squid
flying_squid
flying_squid
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 07:35 pm (UTC)

That'd be great! though I'd imagine it'd make the morning a little awkward, to wake up to a deer in your face, or say, a rabbit in your vegetables, a la Dr. Doolittle (the Rex Harrison version).


ReplyThread Parent
onigaishimas
onigaishimas
Lily Idov
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)

I still cannot figure out how it fits into the neighborhood. Does it occupy a square block, facing four streets, or is the whole thing on some sort of a back lot without real access to/impact on the immediate surroundings? Judging by the photos it does look like it just landed.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)

"For example, you can always see the ghosts of the modernist ancestors"

i like this -- specters of mods.

as for lit. harkening back to a pre-modernist style, lyotard forcasts this very thing in, i think, the postmodern condition, when he talks about the response to modernism being (ironically/paradoxically) a return to pre-modernist tropes -- allusion, the sublime, etc.

from what i gather, the house is more insulated from the streets, with only a side or two actually facing a street? not sure.

michael


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 09:54 pm (UTC)

Two sides of the site face streets, the other two abut other buildings.


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
how it fits into the neighborhood

like these guys always fit so well into european cities. i wish they'd leave them there sometimes so people can live and do things in them.


ReplyThread Parent
reflejos
reflejos
erasmo spicker
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 07:35 pm (UTC)

You can see here in Colombia a lot o modernist inspired houses and buildings. As you notices with the white walls, one of the biggest issues with modernist architecture is that it is not well prepared for time and use. They try to "think in advance" too much. And the people and time adapt and change the houses in ways that seem to be in contradiction with the architects master plan.


ReplyThread
lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:39 am (UTC)

Yes--the whole "cheap discarded toy syndrome" is a real problem with contemporary architecture. Three years in the elements and they look like hell.


ReplyThread Parent
vinylboy20
vinylboy20
Rupert Pupkin
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)

I saw this in Dwell magazine and thought it was really clever, but those blankets over the windows are very telling.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 29th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)
Blankets

I still love it though. I think it looks better with that pink-patterned set of sheets - just the right mix of male and female, of kid and grown-up...


ReplyThread Parent
pay_option07
pay_option07
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
demotic

Your images do them knoh justice. They are amazing solutions and they would be just as homespun in the Greco - Roman Empire!
However vulgar that might seem.


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 03:42 am (UTC)

Good King Momus, you've shown us a house that fell to Earth. Now show us a house that grew from Earth. Thar be the future, matey!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 09:34 am (UTC)

It hath already been done, yer Lardship!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)

I really enjoyed your critic to the sanaa project, i was reading the other day the enthousiastic review on an italian design magazine and i wasn't too sure about the integration of the structure and mostly of the idea. i prefer a more discreet bulding (yet minimal too) built by an architect in aoyama. can't remember the name or the exact location, i saw it once on jean snow's blog and i want to check it out very soon

www.flickr.com/photos/bizcarlito


ReplyThread Parent
lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Thu, May. 31st, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)

Gyarr!

http://www.earthship.net/


ReplyThread Parent