House is a Feeling

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto on how his houses wrestle with space and convention

Written by Shiny Varghese | Published: February 15, 2017 12:05 am
Serpentine Gallery Pavillion in London. Serpentine Gallery Pavillion in London.

Sometimes, in order to understand architecture, one need not look out of the window; it might help to look under a potato chip instead. That’s what Sou Fujimoto showed when he lined up 40 found objects at the Chicago Architecture Biennale in 2015. On 5×5 inch ply blocks, he placed everyday objects — from nails to ping pong balls — with tiny people figures around these exhibits. His block of potato chips read: “It should be possible to make architecture like hills… layering of hills is architecture”.

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For this Japanese architect, who works more with feelings than brick and mortar, it is no surprise to hear him chant “nature” and “architecture” in one breath. “I was born and brought up in Hokkaido, an island filled with mountains and forests. When I moved to Tokyo to join the university, I could see the contrast between the artificial forest and the natural world. My challenge is to find a relationship between the two,” says the 46-year-old. Fujimoto is in Delhi for India Arch Dialogue, an FCDI initiative, and will be speaking at the India Design 2017 on February 17. This is his first visit to India, where he will be sharing his thoughts on his “visions for tomorrow”.

The youngest architect to design the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London in 2013, Fujimoto drew out a nimbus cloud grid of steel poles, which melted into the greenery of Kensington Gardens. With spaces blurring within and without, this apparition in white was an exploration of his idea of nature and architecture. The House NA in Tokyo was another experiment. Done completely in glass in a narrow plot for a young couple, it delinked ideas of privacy and relationships. “I wanted to recreate architecture not by building a box, but layering the volume into smaller spaces, where meaning and function blur. There is a lot of potential and hidden meaning to a space, and if you communicate with that space, it reacts differently,” he says.

His theory of Primitive Future goes back to the time when he began Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000. “After graduation, I didn’t have any projects. I began wondering about my vision for the future, and I realised if you think only about the future, you don’t have starting point. For architecture, it’s a good place to think of how people lived centuries ago. For thousands of years, something fundamental hasn’t changed, yet something has, and it’s in these contrasts that architecture lies. Future is not only change, it is also about roots,” he says.

His Final Wooden House in Kumamoto, Japan, is like a baggage tag for his theory, walking the mile between function and form. In this weekend home, he used one-foot thick timber blocks stacked organically, creating nooks and hollows, where the roof becomes the seat, and the floor becomes the ceiling. “It was my attempt to redefine scale and see what happens,” he says, assuring us that it’s not as uncomfortable as it looks.

His most recent project, Mille Arbres (Thousand Trees), in Paris, is a revitalisation project of mixed use development across 55,000 sqm, with commercial and housing projects, where nature and architecture co-exist. He continues to do small houses as well. “I enjoy the diversity and scale of these programmes. If we only do one kind of project, we don’t see the architect of a city as a whole,” says Fujimoto.

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