A clever simile has it that when one undergoes some dramatic experience it is like waking from a dream. I recently came across a scene which – I’m not exaggerating - gave me a sudden sense of conscious awakening. At such moments, human beings seem to instinctively glance suspiciously around them as if they had just awakened from a bad dream. But everything around them is arranged neatly in its proper place, reassuring them that what they are witnessing is without a doubt a part of real life. A typical reaction people should take when confronted with this sort of situation is to ignore its excessive stimulation by turning their backs and nonchalantly blending with the scenery.
This building, a company-owned apartment for employees (shatahu in Japanese), suddenly sprang up in a most radical, unexpected way in a quiet suburban district still dotted with farms. But the huge mass, which resembles recently-unearthed ruins more than it does the usual shataku, a unique feature of Japan’s corporate society, exudes an aura of heterogeneity bordering on the shocking. Despite its muscularity, the building as a whole leaves only the vaguest impression; its contours are so irregular that it gives one a feeling that a certain perspective has just collapsed. If the budding were compared to an animal, we might say that its various joints are so dislocated that the thing might fall apart at any moment.
However, it does have a sense of balance since its irregular spaces are skillfully designed to enhance each other’s effectiveness with their respective merits compensating for each other’s demerits. Accordingly, the building comes to feel more stable than it appears at first glance.
The place possesses enough of the aura of ancient relics that it causes its tenants to believe they have “dug up” interesting rooms. This suggests that traces of human life can be felt there from the very outset. The tenants have to familiarize themselves with those “traces,” and their furniture will probably have to be partially reshaped as a “sacrifice” to such “traces.”
This apartment is, its designer says, the final answer to the question he has been asking himself for years: “What’s the most important thing for human existence?” The architect and his client, we are told, hit it off and gave shape to a certain philosophy with no difficulty at all. This could be done precisely because the work was entrusted to a construction company that has for years devoted itself to pursuing the answer to the question “What should the ideal apartment be?” It’s too real to be a mere experiment. The families who have been picked to live in the place probably have no inkling that they may be serving as a sort of guinea pigs. In the worst scenario, the place could very well turn out to be a veritable prison. I’m not really sure, but the tenants must have looked a bit baffled and embarrassed when they first moved in. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to an of them. At a time like that, one should stop being patient or bound by anything. If the tenants can do this, they’ll be able to begin building the artifacts of their own lives. To live in a place means to leave artifacts of one’s own life as witness.
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1994/7