Viewport width =
October 11, 2010 | by  | in Features |
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Bowowow Yippie Yo, Yippie Yay

In Japan, a country with a land size comparable to that of New Zealand and a population some forty times greater, space is certainly at a premium. Land values are incredibly high and property owners have to work to wring the most value they can out of impossibly small plots. The Tokyo-based architecture practice Atelier Bow-Wow has achieved close to cult status around the world for their clever and innovative manipulation of space at a micro-scale. Momoyo Kaijima, one half of the husband and wife duo, will be presenting some of their work and ideas about compact living when she gives a presentation tonight (11 October) at the School of Architecture and Design.

In 1992, Kaijima, along with her husband and collaborator Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, created the practice Bow-
Wow (a play on the peculiarities of translation—in Japan the dogs go “wan wan”). The firm rapidly gained a name for itself as an innovative practice that confronted the challenges of designing for the dense urban environments of Tokyo with eccentric uses of minimal space and an undying faith in the small scale as an arena for meaningful intervention. Their self-styled ‘micro-architecture’ tackles some of the most compact living scenarios possible while simultaneously addressing the wider urban context that establishes the
character of their work.

Presently Momoya is conducting a design studio at the Auckland University School of Architecture and Planning in her position as the International Architect in Residence for 2010. The programme is a new initiative by the school that “allows a wider national community the opportunity to interact with a globally significant architect,” presenting radically different approaches to the shifting role of the architectural profession.

Doctor Andrew Barrie, Professor of Design at the University of Auckland School of Architecture and Planning
says: “Atelier Bow-Wow have been globally influential in re-establishing the importance of small-scale urban patterns and daily life in architectural design.” Labelling them ‘rock stars’ in their field, Barrie praises the way the ouble act observe the city around them “using their discoveries to inject joy and drama into the everyday activities that take place in the buildings they design.”

Because picturesque pastoral landscapes are simply not possible in the large Japanese metropolis, architects
and designers must carefully frame fragments of nature and urban objects such as adjacent roof tiles in order to make something of a given situation. In their own house and studio (2005) an entire facade of the building is glazed, one metre away from the flat plane of a neighbouring concrete wall. Their justification for what would normally be considered a rather unsightly detail is that the glass wall ‘borrows’ the texture neighbour’s wall as ‘wallpaper’ while allowing indirect light to bounce off the rough concrete surface and illuminate the interior—talk about flipping the bird at a world of suburban real estate agents hawking taglines that promise ‘million-dollar views’.

Besides winning numerous accolades for some of their more adventurous projects, Bow-Wow has also contributed artwork to a number of famous biennales including Korea, China, Italy and Brazil. Their built work is heavily complimented by a significant research output as a result of the pair’s positions at a number of well-established architectural universities both in Tokyo and around the globe. For Kaijima and Tsukamoto the crossover between research and design is natural for the practice, with each aspect of their work often overlapping. Their research primarily addresses the urban conditions of Tokyo and the realisation of their projects provides a means of directly testing their ideas about hybrid conditions and small buildings.

Their two most well known publications Made in Tokyo and Pet Architecture Guide Book are ordered like guidebooks that re-present a new outlook on the city in which they live. From their adventures around the streets of their hometown they bring together examples of inexplicable combinations of function that are purely Tokyo. Take, for instance, the supermarket that has a driving school on its roof, the taxi stand which shares its spaces with a driving range or the ultimate in architectural
oddities—a rifle-range-cum-cemetery. Each of these are examples of the kind of ‘dirty realism’ the couple extols and their study of these hybrid forms and fragments presents us with a new way of thinking about the quotidian. Bow-Wow’s sense of humour and ability to find the illogical—inherent in their city—sets them apart from their contemporaries who are more inclined to look to the classically celebrated examples of modern architecture for inspiration.

Here in New Zealand, where space is still abundant, the practices of Japanese architects who work with conditions so dramatically different may appear to have little application, but to cast aside their insights as novelty would be amiss. There is undoubtedly something we can gain from the mindset of thinkers such as Kaijima and Tsukamoto whose work with modest means has presented exciting new ways of condensing and
hybridising space that will prove ever more useful as we continue to see an increase in our urban populations. Perhaps we aren’t quite conditioned for life in a three-metre-squared box but it is undeniable that there is significant scope for reducing our physical footprint.

Whether the admiration of small space is something grown out of the very real spatial restrictions in Japanese culture is uncertain. However, Atelier Bow-Wow is surely be a practice that will continue to surprise and delight with each project and we can only hope that Victoria has plans to extend invitations
to resident professors of similar acclaim in the near future.

Momoya will be speaking at the Victoria Architecture and Design Campus tonight at 6pm with drinks from 5.30pm. Cost $10 ($5 SANNZ members) Fundraising for Student Japan Scholarship.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

  1. An (im)possible dream: Living Wage for Vic Books
  2. Salient and VUW tussle over Official Information Act requests
  3. One Ocean
  4. Orphanage voluntourism a harmful exercise
  5. Interview with Grayson Gilmour
  6. Political Round Up
  7. A Town Like Alice — Nevil Shute
  8. Presidential Address
  9. Do You Ever Feel Like a Plastic Bag?
  10. Sport
1

Editor's Pick

In Which a Boy Leaves

: - SPONSORED - I’ve always been a fairly lucky kid. I essentially lucked out at birth, being born white, male, heterosexual, to a well off family. My life was never going to be particularly hard. And so my tale begins, with another stroke of sheer luck. After my girlfriend sugge