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non-typological architecture

Fujii Hiromii, Miyakawa Residence Interior, Toshi Juutaku 1971

(paper and presentation for the 5th Typology symposium organised by Pier Vittorio Aureli's Laboratory for the Theory and Project of Domestic Space (TPOD))


Non-Typological Architecture: Nothingness in the Work of the Japanese 'New Wave'

Terms like playful, innocent, light, free and sincere have often been used to characterise the work of the most famous Japanese architects of the 21st century. As evidenced in projects like EPFL's own Rolex Learning Centre, works from SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa) as well as Toyo Itō, Junya Ishigami and Sou Fujimoto have become crucial to architectural practice and cultural institutions beyond Japan. The early 21st century influence of these architects is evident in the sheer volume and popularity of exhibitions, magazine, and book publications, and in the awarding of the profession’s highest accolades. Why is it the case that these works became so important for educational, corporate, and cultural institutions in the United States and Europe at the turn of the millennium? Perhaps the philosopher Alexandre Kojève was right when he prophesised, after studies of and a visit to Japan in 1969: that the interaction between the West and Japan would lead to a “Japanization of Westerners”[i] rather than the other way around.


But despite their haunting enchantment, the uncanny works of these architects cast a dark shadow back into Japan’s history and in particular, its tethering to the destinies of the United States and Europe since the mid-19th century, and especially following the Second World War. In 1970s Japan, several architects including Hiromi Fujii and Takefumi Aida, as well as the young Itō, later referred to as the New Wave, proposed and built a series of houses that were radically blank. In their composition (or lack thereof), houses like Fujii’s E-2 or Todoroki and Aida’s Annihilation House, not to mention Toyo Ito’s own early projects like U-House rejected Japanese and Western historical ritual and cultural associations and rejected modern architectural entanglements with the alliance between progress, technology and production.[ii] Moreover, via what I will call a 'non-compositional' method, they also rejected an attempt to soften the shock of a historical encounter with nihilism so visible in popular culture at the time. Fujii, Aida and Itō’s practice therefore, can be said to tend towards the non-typological in the example of several of their houses. In tending towards an absence of subdivisions or orders of space, programme, and symbolism their houses tend, instead, towards absolute type or form.


The term non-typological architecture is proposed here to read and theorise practice through a series of examples of architecture that tend, in a way that is self-evident, towards blank containers of empty space. A sequence of chaotic events - the bombs, Japanese cities reduced to a ‘blank page’, the American occupation, and the enshrining of the rapid reorganisation, and ordering of life for perpetually increasing economic production – all set off a chain reaction. The first quarter century since the end of the war saw deadly labour struggles and pitched political battles that threatened industry and American Japanese capitalist and geopolitical power. After defeats and suppression of many movements, the Japanese productivity machine faced new challenges in mass nihilism and escapism. By the late 1960s Japanese industry had become desperate, and then sophisticated enough to begin increasingly drawing in creativity, resistance, nihilism, and adaptation as production’s most powerful resources. As much paralleled the heralding in of a newly emerging preeminent Japanese culture industry especially surrounding computer, electronics and for instance gaming.


The implications, aesthetics, and space of Aida and Fujii’s practice and work are highly ambivalent. In the most advanced modes of production, nihilist subjectivity must be approached, but also constantly avoided or kept superficial, lest one make decided use of a 'poverty' (or even find joy in it). A tendency towards a non-typological architecture in Aida and Fujii's practice, and their simultaneous search for a means to overcome it, might offer insights into our own limbo at the gates of nihilism.

other presenters: 

Emmanuel Christ, ETH, Zurich

Sophie Delhay, EPFL, Lausanne

Maria Shéhérazade Giudici, Royal College of Art

Marson Korbi, EPFL, Lausanne

Christopher C.M. Lee, GSD Harvard

Enrica Mannelli, Architectural Association

Gili Merin, Technische Universiteit, Vienna

Davide Sacconi, Syracuse University, London

Alfredo Thiermann, EPFL, Lausanne

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