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.