Table of contents:
In praise of light. Notes on the architecture of Kazuhiro Kojima by Peter Ebner
Works and Projects:
Space Block Kamishinjo, Osaka
Hakuo High School, Kurihara
Himuro House, Hirakata
Tsuda Veterinary Clinic, Hirakata
Space Block Hanoi Model, Hanoi
SOHO Villas, Beijing
Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, Tokyo
Liberal Arts & Science College, Doha
Ota House Museum, Ota
Gunma Kokusai Academy, Ota
Space Block Nozawa, Tokyo
Toyo Ito Visiting Mihama Utase School
Mihama Utase Elementary School, Chiba
Jetty Cabin, Fujisawa
Project Murayama, Tokyo
University of Central Asia, Naryn Campus
Space Block Tainan, Tainan
Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture
Fluid direction by Kazuhiro Kojima
Excerpt from the introduction:
'In praise of light. Notes on the architecture of Kazuhiro Kojima
Misunderstanding as a form of understanding
I believe that we can never completely understand another person, and that this has neither to do with the language we use to converse with nor with the cultures we come from. Therefore, when we hear and speak so much today about understanding other cultures, religions and peoples we should always bear in mind the hermeneutic boundaries to understanding ‘the other’. What is decisive for our culture, and for whether we will have a peaceful or bellicose future, is not, then, a total understanding of other cultures or another person but the images that we form of ‘the other’ and how we deal with these. Do we see it as an enrichment of or a threat to our status? Do we wish to resolve what we perceive as a threat through dialogue or do we wish to move in the direction of conflict? Can we allow ‘the other’ to remain as it is, or do we attempt to eliminate it? I introduce these sceptical reservations at the start because we are obsessed today by the idea of trying to understand everything and, I would almost say, are tyrannised by a total incorporation of abstract knowledge. The blessing of the electronic media has brought with it the curse of an excess of information and converted abstract knowledge into the contemporary creed. Today, entire doctoral theses are copied from the Internet. It makes practically no sense to demand written work from students because checking the pilfered or incorrectly quoted passages that have been cobbled together—with varying degrees of skill—from somewhere in the World Wide Web (a most unsuitable term, incidentally, from the traditional world of handicraft) is an almost impossible task.
The situation in terms of design concepts and ideas in architecture is no different. It is almost impossible to tell what is original from what has been copied. That just at this moment the ‘power’ of architecture and its genuinely creative force is growing is the justification for this process. I would like to illustrate this with an experience from 2005 when Kazuhiro Kojima held a design seminar at my chair at the Munich Technische Universität. The students were immediately impressed by his concept of Space Blocks, which I shall describe in greater detail later. The ‘copy and paste generation’ is incredibly quick at grasping and appropriating new ideas, concepts and models. Kojima’s reaction to the works presented to him was critical, clear and disarming. He asked just one question: ‘Can you build like this in Germany?’ What he meant was whether these presentations reflected the mentality of the people, the climatic conditions and the relevant regulations and norms. This simple question, however, touches on the entire cultural horizon in which architecture occurs. In a flash one learns from the architect how the model of the Space Blocks, which seems like an abstract geometrical process, reflects the qualities of a place, its climate and its cultural ties.
For the students, Kojima’s brief question made the difference clear between the virtual form of the concept, of the design process, and the real form of the physical world, and a discussion ensued about what it means to develop a concept or just to copy it.
Today, architecture, like the rest of life, has become far ‘faster’. We design faster, we build faster, we reflect upon and reject the latest developments and trends faster. We travel around the world faster than ever before and we see the latest buildings even before they’ve been completed. None of this existed in the past. The Japanese architect Noriyuki Tajima has concluded, ‘Architects and planners must design their squares, node points and meeting places in the city in such a way that they can function as extensions of the virtual agora (that is, the Internet, mobile telephone systems and all their electronic branches).’
I’m not sure whether, as regards the European city and its character, this statement is not perhaps too radical, but its essence is true. It conveys to us how virtual and physical space meet and interlock in a new way. Kojima’s question refers to one of these new interfaces between virtuality and reality. He has searched for the proverbial needle in a haystack and has found precisely the point where chaos can be ordered.
In recent times Kojima has designed several projects using very different approaches. For example, the design for the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture has features that are not typical of many of his earlier buildings. Organically amorphous forms, overlaid like DNA spirals, open up entire new architectural worlds. I follow with great interest the way in which he integrates, here, new processes from the world of biomorphology. Through their internal relationships, intertwining, amoeba-like objects form exciting spaces. As these designs are, in part, still at the planning stage I do not wish to go into them further here but rather to concentrate below on the buildings that I know from having visited them myself and on those conceptually related to them.
Plan libre, Raumplan and Space Blocks
In terms of its origins, the system of the Space Blocks is an abstract process used to organise spaces and spatial relationships. Kojima showed this most clearly during his Munich lecture by using a sketch: using a simple grid he divided a rectangle into small squares of the same size. Two, three or more layers were placed over each other. From the two-dimensional grid structure a spatial one was created that can be depicted using a simple computer programme or can be easily worked on using the appropriate model blocks.
As the surfaces assume a third dimension as a result of placing them over each other, the possibilities offered by Kojima’s approach are quickly revealed. This cube with sides of a certain (but essentially variable) length forms the module and already refers to its design strategy. This module, integrated in the system of a large cube or square, is both the scale for the dwelling and for the entire object.
In a further illustration he showed how these modules could be grouped. Viewed purely geometrically, three cubes can be arranged in only two different ways, in a row or diagonally. Four modules offer 8 variations, five modules 29. This is an important observation as it shows the difference between abstract stereometry and real physics. For in reality, in our existence on planet Earth, which is subject to the law of gravity, there is an essential difference between arranging three serially connected cubes vertically or horizontally, between grouping three cubes at right angles on a plane or stacking them spatially. What seems initially like a game of Go5 not only receives a spatial dimension but through gravity acquires an above and below and, to continue the game, an empty and a full, a closed and an open.
From this observation we discover the aesthetic dimension in which Kojima thinks of space. He first defines the abstract form without reference to a place, just referring to the order of the grid and the cosmic rules of numbers. He then gradually inscribes this structure into concrete spatial conditions—living rooms, outdoor spaces, certain functions and relations. As a result he succeeds in some mysterious way in connecting infinity with the built space of a house. Kojima seems to lead us to something that we tend to suppress in the West: space is infinite and when we attempt to grasp or define it, we break it down to a human scale. The space of a house can either create the impression of this endlessness or destroy it. Kojima’s strategy gives me an idea of the infinity of space, despite the finite quality of everything that is built.
Independently of such universal reflections, Kojima can also achieve very different results. The space in the Space Block is not presented in any hierarchical order, although the spaces are neither all of equal value nor monotonous. Suddenly, even before we have picked up a pencil, the subdivisions in a dwelling in the way we usually think about them are not applicable. What is a hallway? What is a lift shaft, what is a corridor, a WC/bathroom or a kitchen? One recognises immediately that as Kojima introduces a spatial logic that produces this openness in every spatial direction the allocations of function and the hierarchical order lose their relevance.
Kojima pursues the idea of the equal importance of the three dimensions of space and has translated this idea into a modern housing project. This understanding includes something of Le Corbusier’s notion of space as presented in the plan libre, and also something of Loos’s Raumplan. It seems (and this is something I would like to put up for discussion) as if Kojima’s concept represents a brilliant linking of these two opposed approaches. He succeeds in uniting in a single system the sensual quality of space found in Adolf Loos’s work with the beauty of Le Corbusier’s pure geometry. Whereas in the area of housing, modernism has, since the 1960s and 1970s, exhausted itself through boring repetition, the spatial characteristics exemplified by Loos’s buildings have been reserved for an elite minority. With his Space Blocks Kojima suggests a way in which the serial can be reconciled with individuality through the context of the third dimension and its incorporation in a spatial whole.
I connect the idea of Japan in a completely self-evident way with the work of Kazuhiro Kojima. The question as to how far this is actually true and whether as an architect who works globally Kojima can be inscribed in the narrow framework of a national identity is in fact a moot point. To create a distance and to quickly discover models and stylistic affinities to historic Japanese architecture I have therefore attempted to approach Kojima’s architecture by means of a roundabout route; that is, through a text written over 70 years ago by a Japanese writer. I have in addition picked out a few buildings and described just a few aspects of Kazuhiro Kojima’s work. Only in this way has it been possible to traverse his architectural inventions without losing one’s footing.
Here, at the end of this essay, I must point out that I have not explored certain aspects relating to materials and material quality. I am of the opinion that they are of secondary importance in Kojima’s work, which in no way means that they are not important to him. If one looks at the precision with which his buildings are made then the importance of this aspect becomes very clear. I mean, rather, that he successfully distances himself from postmodern material aestheticism and that the implications of his architecture do not lie in its material quality.
If Junichiro Tanizaki defines the shadow as the essence of Japanese spaces then I believe that Kojima places the people who live in his buildings in just this kind of light. Then even a spot of colour underlines the beauty of a face and a simple activity is given a ceremonial significance. I believe that Kojima’s art derives from the fact that he understands how to combine the individual with the general. His architecture refers less to the material character of existence, the transience of history or the genesis of a location and more to the universal principles of nature.'
Copyright of the text: the authors
Copyright of the edition: Editorial Gustavo Gili SL