Giorgia Cesaro / House in Tateshina

House in Tateshina

Kazuo Shinohara's Transformational Space

Giorgia Cesaro

Doesn’t have nothing
my winter hut.
It has everything.

Matsuo Bashō

House in Tateshina, entrance elevation

House in Tateshina, entrance elevation

House in Tateshi­na, Kazuo Shinohara’s lat­est project began in 1985 to end, unre­al­ized, with his death in 2006. The idea of a hut in the moun­tains of Nagano Pre­fec­ture is the project of a small space (46, 24 m2) devel­oped over a very long time (21 years).

Kazuo Shinohara, House in Tateshina, first design sketch, 1985 / Giorgia Cesaro personal archive

Kazuo Shinohara, House in Tateshina, first design sketch, 1985 / Giorgia Cesaro personal archive

Like much of what is intense­ly Japan­ese, the first draw­ing of the lat­ter project drawn up by the hands of Shi­no­hara is a map of signs; and if this map is cor­rect­ly read it does not lead to the dis­cov­ery of a hid­den trea­sure but turns out to be a trea­sure itself. These first traces of the spa­tial com­po­si­tion of House in Tateshi­na, indeed, offer the pos­si­bil­i­ty to observe the schemat­ic find­ing of a first lan­guage, an ele­men­tary gram­mar (whose terms seem to be con­ju­gat­ed in appar­ent­ly mean­ing­less sen­tences), but through which it is pos­si­ble to grasp and learn to assim­i­late a lan­guage. Although for the final struc­ture of the project there is a more direct prece­dent in sub­se­quent draw­ings, this sketch of House in Tateshi­na is cer­tain­ly an indi­ca­tion of the impulse val­ue that this organ­ism so dis­tant from the architect’s aspi­ra­tion to spa­tial uni­ty and the plas­tic con­ti­nu­ity of the enve­lope, but so method­olog­i­cal­ly explic­it in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the con­stituent ele­ments of the spa­tial dis­course and in the exper­i­men­ta­tion of their com­po­si­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties, may have acquired for Shi­no­hara. It seems right thus to assign to this mod­el at least the func­tion of recall­ing sim­i­lar exper­i­ments that can be found in the final project draw­ings, and on which we will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to focus later.

Cer­tain­ly, the fea­tures, the dri­ves, the qual­i­ties of the lines and colours of this first draw­ing do not reflect the har­mo­ny of Japan­ese cal­li­graph­ic art, but from the point of view of the pur­pos­es and mean­ings they seem to recall it any­way. This sketch of House in Tateshi­na is very sim­i­lar to a kan­ji, because kan­ji are essen­tial­ly images.

The ideogram sui [水]traced with a brush.

The ideogram sui [水]traced with a brush.

Between the real world and the artis­tic world, the notion of image’ can reveal a spe­cial way of under­stand­ing the rela­tion­ship between sen­si­tiv­i­ty and per­cep­tion: in Japan­ese, the notion of [象] indi­cates both the image’ and the phe­nom­e­non’, thus spec­i­fy­ing that in the Japan­ese hori­zon of the sense inter­act­ing with images, shap­ing or pre­serv­ing them, con­tem­plat­ing or pro­cess­ing them, means inter­ven­ing direct­ly on the real, i.e., on the world of things and their infi­nite uni­verse of ongo­ing process­es.[1]

High­light­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ty between the first image of House in Tateshi­na and the char­ac­ter sui [水], as well as renew­ing the appeal for a com­par­i­son between the com­po­si­tion­al signs of archi­tec­ture and those of ideo­graph­ic writ­ing, is use­ful to show the order of move­ment’ that the archi­tect intends not only to test, but also to con­vey through these steno­graph­ic signs of a cre­ative impulse. The ideogram sui [水], which means water’, liq­uid’ or flow’, is in fact the ulti­mate prod­uct of a series of signs that indi­cate the action of flow­ing.[2]

Accord­ing to what the Japan­ese notion of [象] indi­cates, each cal­lig­ra­phy that rep­re­sents the ideogram sui [水] not only shows its own and unique rhythm of exe­cu­tion, but also refers to a spe­cif­ic one and equal­ly unique expe­ri­ence that has as its con­tent the object – but it would be bet­ter to say the process – called flow’: the flow of things in images, of emo­tions in thoughts, and why not, also of bod­ies in space.[3] Dis­tin­guish­ing these move­ments in the draw­ing of House in Tateshi­na, grasp­ing the graph­ic struc­ture and trac­ing back to a pos­si­ble mean­ing of the form by observ­ing in it those signs that, even today, retain in their struc­ture the reflec­tion of an ancient mes­sage of knowl­edge, can be a seduc­tive, albeit unusu­al, way to inter­pret the com­po­si­tion­al lan­guage of the first draw­ing of House in Tateshi­na as that of a sign that wants to make the spa­tial­i­ty of the house a ver­bal­iza­tion of an action or a progression.

At this point in the dis­cus­sion, how­ev­er, one might won­der if see­ing in the draw­ing of House in Tateshi­na the graph­ic tran­scrip­tion of the ideogram sui [水] is actu­al­ly able to ren­der the dynam­ic qual­i­ty of the ide­al spa­tial­i­ty of the project: the sign, even when it has no pho­net­ic basis, isn’t it always, and in any case, a geometriza­tion of a chang­ing real­i­ty, a stiff­en­ing of the dynam­ic process­es it wants to rep­re­sent? Isn’t it also for ideograms, as for the char­ac­ters of a pho­net­ic-based lan­guage, the impov­er­ish­ment of a real­i­ty that would like to be inter­wo­ven with facts, actions, process­es, dynam­ic events?

It is pre­cise­ly in cor­re­spon­dence with these legit­i­mate ques­tions that the art of the dynam­ic ren­der­ing of the space of House in Tateshi­na is sit­u­at­ed. Indeed, it could be said that this first mod­el max­i­mizes the rep­re­sen­ta­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of a writ­ing already deeply con­nect­ed to the dynam­ic qual­i­ties of things and events. If ideo­graph­ic writ­ing had the typo­graph­i­cal form as its only pos­si­bil­i­ty of expres­sion, the advan­tages it would present with respect to pho­net­ic writ­ings would be con­sid­er­ably reduced.[4] The dif­fer­ence there­fore lies pre­cise­ly in the prac­tice of calligraphy.

The move­ment from the cal­li­graph­ic sign of the kan­ji to the space of the draw­ing can then be read as the sim­ple pas­sage from one rela­tion­ship struc­ture to anoth­er, from one scale to anoth­er. As hap­pens in the cal­li­graph­ic prac­tice of kan­ji, the sketch of House in Tateshi­na can con­tain a dou­ble ref­er­ence: on the one hand, to a phys­i­cal enti­ty, on the oth­er, to an abstrac­tion, i.e., to an enti­ty thought philo­soph­i­cal­ly and poet­i­cal­ly. Hence, archi­tec­tur­al design can be used to sug­gest a seduc­tive mys­ti­cism, or to spec­i­fy clear inten­tions of struc­tur­al dynam­ics. In this, in my opin­ion, Shi­no­hara was very pre­cise. Extreme pre­ci­sion implies an intrin­sic rela­tion­ship between the draw­ing and the design idea. Under­stand­ing this rela­tion­ship we can iden­ti­fy the essen­tial lines of the com­po­si­tion – lines which, how­ev­er, are quite visible.

Observ­ing the inter­nal vol­umes of the house pro­ject­ed into the plane, it can be seen that the lat­er­al axis of the first rec­tan­gle, the cen­tral axis of the sec­ond and the diag­o­nals of the third, meet at the cen­tre of a cir­cum­fer­ence and, form­ing angles of 45°, divide it into equal parts.

Optical convergences inscribed in the structure of the first sketch of House in Tateshina

Optical convergences inscribed in the structure of the first sketch of House in Tateshina

These lines are cer­tain­ly a reflec­tion of the architect’s per­son­al ded­i­ca­tion to ele­men­tary geom­e­try. By stat­ing this, how­ev­er, only a par­tial expla­na­tion of the sig­nif­i­cance of the con­fig­u­ra­tive design of the house would be offered. The mean­ing of these lines is to place the human body at the cen­tre of the space. This pres­ence is of course some­thing invis­i­ble, which how­ev­er can be sensed in these lines that fluc­tu­ate through sug­ges­tions of mate­ri­al­i­ty and empti­ness. The lines seem, indeed, to have been traced by Shi­no­hara, rather than for the con­struc­tion of the design, to make an ide­al user per­ceive a cer­tain spa­tial qual­i­ty. Imag­in­ing a per­son with­in this space, it can be seen how his move­ment iden­ti­fies a sort of force field deter­mined by the inter­ac­tion with the enve­lope which, thanks to the use of accel­er­at­ed and slowed per­spec­tive, i.e., ampli­fy­ing or con­trast­ing the opti­cal con­ver­gence of the reced­ing lines in per­spec­tive, alters the spa­tial per­cep­tion, thus giv­ing the sen­sa­tion of an envi­ron­ment more or less deep than reality.

In the final draw­ing these lines of force’ will then be hid­den and reduced to the extent of oth­er lines of sight. Their fore­shad­ow­ing inten­si­ty is imag­ined hav­ing been replaced by con­struc­tion prac­tice. How­ev­er, it is pre­cise­ly in this sac­ri­fice that the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the space inscribed in the plan and in the final sec­tions of House in Tateshi­na will be defined and pre­served, and Shinohara’s cre­ative impulse will acquire strength and integrity.

In 1984, the year before the first for­mu­la­tion of the House in Tateshi­na project, Shi­no­hara – as Eero Saari­nen Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor – was invit­ed to lec­ture at the Yale Uni­ver­si­ty School of Archi­tec­ture.[5] Before show­ing his projects, before his real­iza­tions, he pre­sent­ed the urban struc­ture of Tōkyō, his city. He explained that the atmos­phere that per­vades the every­day life of its inhab­i­tants is very dif­fer­ent from that which he had per­ceived dur­ing his recent vis­its to the great Euro­pean cities, informed by the ancient fires, the places of coex­is­tence of the Greek and Roman tra­di­tion, and ordered by mod­ern urban axes, large tree-lined avenues and pedes­tri­an paths. He also said that he rec­og­nized in Tokyo – where the the­o­ry of the mod­ern city seems so far away from the dreams of the urban­ists”[6] – a typ­i­cal beau­ty of its own, which he demon­strat­ed in the vital­i­ty of its growth and expan­sion, in the free­dom of the com­bi­na­tion of the most dis­parate build­ing types and in the visu­al cacoph­o­ny of the shapes and colours of the signs of the shops and busi­ness­es that pop­u­late its streets.

Visual cacophony of the city signs, Tokyo, 2017.

Visual cacophony of the city signs, Tokyo, 2017.

With respect to this spe­cial vital­i­ty of chaos”,[7] which, speak­ing of the urban con­text of Tokyo, the archi­tect had exalt­ed in an almost parox­ys­mal way by call­ing it the pro­gres­sive anar­chy”[8] of the city, Shi­no­hara had explained that, accord­ing to him, the only log­i­cal answer could be the con­struc­tion of a new qual­i­ty of domes­tic­i­ty, from which to start again to give mean­ing to the com­po­si­tion­al ges­ture. He had argued, in fact, that since the illog­i­cal gap between the ordered space and the dis­or­der of the city is what nour­ish­es the vital­i­ty of chaos”[9], any build­ing that pur­port­ed to be only a part of this chaos would nev­er be able to deal with the anar­chy of the city.[10]

To high­light the idea that had informed his new the­o­ry of res­i­den­tial design, in which the con­cept of archi­tec­ture direct­ly inter­sects with the sit­u­a­tion of urban anar­chy”,[11] dur­ing the con­fer­ence, he quot­ed the words he once read in an arti­cle writ­ten by a biol­o­gist for a sci­en­tif­ic journal:

For any sys­tem – whether it is a com­put­er or a bio­log­i­cal sys­tem – if it has no capac­i­ty to accom­mo­date ran­dom resources, then noth­ing new can be pro­duced by that sys­tem.[12]

For an archi­tect wor­ried about not being a mere copy­ist of tra­di­tion­al forms, his­to­ry had to be con­sid­ered impor­tant more than for the prob­lems solved for those left open, for the expe­ri­ences that have not proved their pur­pose and still pos­sess the val­ues of free­dom. In fact, the effort to see an order, or rather, a struc­tur­al method with­in a chaot­ic and wild urban nature is an indi­ca­tion of Shinohara’s com­mit­ment to dis­cov­er­ing a new prin­ci­ple of expla­na­tion for the art of building.

The lat­est draw­ings of House in Tateshi­na are not devoid of that vital­i­ty’ that he saw per­vad­ing the city of Tōkyō: they seem to re-present it, com­press­ing and con­dens­ing it into a com­po­si­tion of sim­ple geome­tries, under­lined by the light­ness of their vol­umes and from the echo of their spaces.

House in Tateshina, axonometry of the last conformation of the project.

House in Tateshina, axonometry of the last conformation of the project.

As clear and lin­ear as the final lay­out of the House in Tateshi­na project is, in fact, inside it lines of move­ment’ com­pli­cate the com­po­si­tion­al aspects, as if to remind us that the architect’s main con­cern was to inves­ti­gate the degree of com­plex­i­ty, or of chaos, com­pat­i­ble with the appar­ent sim­plic­i­ty of the form.[13] While favour­ing reg­u­lar com­po­si­tions and bal­anced pro­por­tions, Shi­no­hara had often shown that he was able to use dis­tor­tion to pro­duce unex­pect­ed effects. In my opin­ion, the last floor plan of House in Tateshi­na is a mas­ter­ful exam­ple of this, as it is played on the del­i­cate rela­tion­ship between sym­me­try and asymmetry.

House in Tateshina, floor plan and section.

House in Tateshina, floor plan and section.

Although in plan the shape of the house is a rec­tan­gle of 4, 9 m x 7, 5 m, the walk­ing sur­face has been reduced by the intru­sion of a floor that fol­lows the slope of the land on which the house insin­u­ates its foun­da­tions. In this way, the shape of the house appears per­fect­ly rec­tan­gu­lar and sym­met­ri­cal, a sym­me­try that Shi­no­hara had con­tra­dict­ed by using this and oth­er sim­ple solu­tions, i.e., by insert­ing dynam­ic com­po­nents with­in the reg­u­lar­i­ty of the form capa­ble of mak­ing the vital­i­ty’ of the space evi­dent. The com­plex­i­ty of the city was thus sum­ma­rized by Shi­no­hara in a few ges­tures made of rig­or and asceti­cism, where the pure lines of Euclid­ean geom­e­try are con­fused with the equal­ly pure ones, albeit full of asym­met­ri­cal ten­sions, of the city areas full of hous­es irreg­u­lar­ly placed, or with a neigh­bour­hood sub­ject to unpre­dictable devel­op­ments. This agi­ta­tion of forms always has as its pur­pose the ele­va­tion of our con­scious­ness, the emerg­ing in us of latent emo­tions, keep­ing our atten­tion and vig­i­lance awake, even in the obses­sive rep­e­ti­tion of dai­ly ges­tures, to com­pose and recom­pose order and disorder.

Imag­in­ing cross­ing the thresh­old of House in Tateshi­na, the small space of this hut appears in its entire­ty: three win­dows illu­mi­nate it, two placed in the cen­tre of the trans­verse axis and a third can­tered on the lon­gi­tu­di­nal axis of the vol­ume. Cor­re­spond­ing to this last win­dow there is the entrance door which, how­ev­er, is locat­ed on the right side of the axis, thus giv­ing those who open it an imme­di­ate impres­sion of sub­tle imbal­ance. This per­cep­tion is accen­tu­at­ed by the vol­ume of earth that pen­e­trates the inte­ri­or of the house, and by a sec­ond vol­ume which, fol­low­ing the shape of the first, is sus­pend­ed over the space cre­at­ing a mez­za­nine, acces­si­ble by a steplad­der. Sym­me­try there­fore gov­erns the com­po­si­tion, but it is the asym­me­try that insin­u­ates itself into spe­cif­ic parts of the whole that dynam­i­cal­ly trans­forms the sta­t­ic struc­ture of the project.

The method and pur­pose fol­lowed by Shi­no­hara seem to have been ani­mat­ed by the desire to pro­duce a per­spec­tive accel­er­a­tion effect towards the back wall which, by cap­tur­ing the dis­tant land­scape in its wide open­ing, aims to fix a few priv­i­leged points, or to open the build­ing towards the land­scape to bet­ter enclose it inside.

For this dou­ble move­ment Shi­no­hara had relied on the incli­na­tions of the dif­fer­ent floors, through which the shad­ow, and above all the reflec­tions of light that prop­a­gate in it become an excep­tion­al means to break the dynamism of nature into the deep­est lay­ers of the house.

Thus, intro­duc­ing into the reg­u­lar perime­ter of the hol­low space the per­spec­tives gen­er­at­ed by the dis­tor­tion of the vol­umes and the light that fol­lows the incli­na­tion and the trend, one can imag­ine that Shi­no­hara want­ed to bring the view­er to par­tic­i­pate in this adven­ture of move­ment’, invit­ing him sub­lim­i­nal­ly to cross the house and look towards the entrance wall.

House in Tateshina, floor plan and section.

House in Tateshina, floor plan and section.

The vision altered by the tight­en­ing of the seen, i.e., by a decel­er­at­ed per­spec­tive elicit­ed by the stag­ger­ing of the two lat­er­al bod­ies with respect to the lon­gi­tu­di­nal axi­al­i­ty of the main vol­ume, now makes the space appear as an inte­ri­or which, clos­ing in on itself, shrinks with respect to its actu­al size. By imag­in­ing a per­son inside the raised vol­ume, one can imag­ine how the eye, fol­low­ing the trans­verse axis of the house, can see the out­side through the open­ings on the wall of the raised vol­ume and the shell of the house.

A sys­tem, that of House in Tateshi­na, of a dis­arm­ing sim­plic­i­ty. Yet, this sim­plic­i­ty enclos­es and secretes an inter­lock­ing play of one room with­in anoth­er, of a space with­in anoth­er, of a point of view that encom­pass­es oth­er points of view. In the clear geo­met­ric reg­u­lar­i­ty of the pro­por­tion­al sys­tem of the project, Shi­no­hara, com­pos­ing the space in its inter­nal bonds and con­nec­tions (i.e., in the strug­gle and in the space machine’ of which he had always spo­ken about: a mod­el of space’ [虚空, kokū] i.e., where all things can be every­thing with­out obsta­cles’.[14]

As Harold Rosen­berg wrote about the min­i­mal­ist work of art that instead of deriv­ing prin­ci­ples from what it sees, it teach­es the eye to see’ prin­ci­ples”,[15] so the project of House in Tateshi­na high­lights that even when Shi­no­hara thought the project out­side from large urban cen­tres at least an idea of the Japan­ese city was still present in its archi­tec­ture. More pre­cise­ly, he pro­pos­es a call to vital­i­ty’ even in an iso­lat­ed project on the side of a moun­tain. The ref­er­ence to the recourse of chance’ or for­tu­ity’ [偶然, gūzen],[16] that is to the con­tin­gency of what grows and expands spon­ta­neous­ly, can, in fact, man­i­fest itself both in the urban con­text and with­in nature’ [自然, shizen].[17] There is sim­ply the prob­lem of how to act in it, of inter­act­ing with spon­tane­ity, and with its con­tin­gency to build a place of con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. Mak­ing nature and cul­ture coin­cide there­fore means seek­ing in them a prin­ci­ple of com­mon under­stand­ing’ [理会, rikai] that acts as a uni­fy­ing ref­er­ence’, or what is called in Japan­ese aes­thet­ics kiai.

Karesansui [枯山水, “dry garden”] of the zen temple Daisen-in (XVI sec.), Kyoto, 2017.

Karesansui [枯山水, “dry garden”] of the zen temple Daisen-in (XVI sec.), Kyoto, 2017.

The term kiai [気合] lit­er­al­ly means: union’, meet­ing’ or agree­ment’ [合, ai] of ki [気], i.e. of ener­gy’ or vital breath’. Kiai is then the meet­ing of the breath’, under­stood as har­mo­niza­tion through a syn­chro­nous breath­ing between two enti­ties, e.g., as between painter and land­scape. Ulti­mate­ly, there­fore, kiai is har­mo­ny’, but also atten­tion’ and sen­sa­tion’. This term is, in fact, used both to indi­cate an affin­i­ty’, an inter­per­son­al sym­pa­thy’, and a deep con­cen­tra­tion’ with which one ded­i­cates one­self to an impor­tant task’ [機会, kikai]. In an artis­tic sense, kiai there­fore involves the abil­i­ty to har­mo­nize the artis­tic ges­ture with the chang­ing and super-per­son­al rhythm of the exist­ing.[18]

But how to find this prin­ci­ple of intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty, of har­mo­niza­tion with nature, in some­thing that devel­ops in an unpre­dictable or casu­al way, and man­i­fests itself in an irreg­u­lar way?

To iden­ti­fy the prin­ci­ple of kiai, what reg­u­lates this para­dox­i­cal har­mo­ny of ran­dom­ness’ can help the images described through the kakekota­ba [掛詞, piv­ot-word’]: i.e. rhetor­i­cal fig­ures, pecu­liar to Japan­ese poet­ry, based on the super­im­po­si­tion of two or more images through the homopho­ny of the words. For exam­ple, the word shi­rana­mi [白波] which lit­er­al­ly means white-crest­ed wave’, or the white trail behind a boat, can sug­gest to a Japan­ese the word shi­ranu [知らぬ] which means unknown’, or nami­da [涙] which means tears’.[19] From the point of view of the intel­lec­tu­al con­tent it seems that there is no log­i­cal con­nec­tion between these words, yet these sim­ple ver­bal asso­ci­a­tions, from the point of view of the emo­tion­al mean­ing, allow the emer­gence of emo­tions which, in a poem, can be offered as a per­fect­ly coher­ent total­i­ty. It is not dif­fi­cult, in fact, to under­stand how a poet can cre­ate a poem from these three images: a boat goes into the unknown, a woman in tears looks at the white-crest­ed wave left by the boat of her beloved. A famous exam­ple is the Fuji­wara no Teika’s tan­ka:[20]


Kiewabinu utsurō hito no aki no iro ni mi o kog­a­rashi no mori no shiratsuyu.

Two very dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions can be giv­en of these vers­es. Thanks to the chain of kakekota­ba they can, in fact, mean at the same time: Alone and sad I hope for the end, and I tor­ment my heart to see how incon­stant her love is. I slip away, like tears of dew” but also The white dew already dis­ap­pears, in this for­est where the colour of autumn changes, and an icy wind blow”. The image of a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non and the image of the end of a love match per­fect­ly because in the mind and in the word of the poet there was a con­tin­u­ous shift from one order of images to anoth­er. The ten­den­cy to per­ceive the con­nec­tion between words even only with­in their kiai, i.e., with­out con­sid­er­ing the log­i­cal con­nec­tion of their con­cep­tu­al mean­ing, ensure that the image of the dew, which will be soon car­ried away by the autumn wind, melts and becomes one with the image of the woman who was aban­doned by her lover, sat­ed of her. Indeed, the word dew’ was not used as a sim­ple metaphor­i­cal expe­di­ent to describe a woman’s state of mind, or to recall the idea of her tears; rather, as can be seen from the sec­ond poet­ic image, it has been used in its com­plete and prop­er mean­ing as a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non. The author’s inten­tion was that the two inter­pre­ta­tions were accept­ed and received at the same time, so that the two dif­fer­ent mean­ings, com­plete and autonomous in them­selves, are indis­sol­ubly enclosed in each other.

Although not all Japan­ese poet­ry always reveals such com­plex­i­ty, nev­er­the­less the har­mo­ny of ran­dom­ness’ seems to be a char­ac­ter­is­tic of Japan­ese, which is cer­tain­ly one of the most evoca­tive lan­guages in the world, as revealed by its sen­tences in which every­thing they want to say always seems to tend to van­ish in doubt, in inde­ter­mi­na­cy or in the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of pos­si­bil­i­ties: maybe’, who knows?’.

The House in Tateshi­na project is also exem­plary in this sense, where the coex­is­tence of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, their mul­ti­plic­i­ty, inscribes dynam­ic sequences in the space that make a fun­da­men­tal­ly sim­ple and uni­tary sys­tem com­plex and artic­u­lat­ed. In its clear geo­met­ric orga­ni­za­tion, in fact, a mea­sure is already evi­dent at first glance, yet we are unable to dis­cov­er a rule that forms its basis. It is kiai: one can only grasp it intu­itive­ly, know­ing that it is not pos­si­ble move any of its parts elsewhere.

In this long-stud­ied com­po­si­tion, Shi­no­hara then seems to have con­cen­trat­ed more on sit­u­a­tions than on facts, more on rela­tion­ships than on objects, on the dis­ci­pline of the process­es of spon­tane­ity rather than on that of the def­i­n­i­tion of space, as is per­ceived by observ­ing the way in which he orga­nized the envi­ron­ment through land­scapes that allow us to pass from place to place in an almost sen­su­al way; a prin­ci­ple that seems des­tined to become the lega­cy of his way of designing.

House in Tateshi­na there­fore speaks of a world with­out hier­ar­chies, where dif­fer­ent spaces come togeth­er, each with their own incli­na­tions, each play­ing their role while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the uni­ty of the whole.

In a space that enhances the inter­minable suc­ces­sion of brief moments of the present, the stim­u­lus is drawn to think of archi­tec­ture as some­thing alive, based on the flow of emo­tion, of what is per­ceived here and now.

By cre­at­ing residues of mean­ing, in this lat­est project, Shi­no­hara has man­aged to present space as a pend­ing ques­tion, raised to the most phys­i­cal stage of fragili­ty. On this occa­sion, indeed, the archi­tect seems to have sought that sub­tle point of bal­ance where the sense of space is brought up to where it is no longer pos­si­ble to ask oth­er questions.

  1. 1

    Cf. Mar­cel­lo Ghi­lar­di, Arte e pen­siero in Giap­pone. Cor­po, immag­ine, gesto, (Milano: Mime­sis, 2011), 11.

  2. 2

    Cf. Edoar­do Fazz­i­oli, Carat­teri cine­si. Dal dis­eg­no all’idea, (Milano: Mon­dadori, 1986), 197.

  3. 3

    Cf. Gian­gior­gio Pasqualot­to, Yohaku. Forme di asce­si nell’estetica ori­en­tale, (Pado­va: Ese­dra, 2001), 97–121.

  4. 4

    Ibid., 103–104.

  5. 5

    The lec­ture giv­en in 1984 at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty was tran­scribed and pub­lished two years lat­er. See: Kazuo Shi­no­hara, A Pro­gram for the Fourth Space”, The Japan Archi­tect 353 (1986): 28–35. For ref­er­ences to the city of Tokyo see: Kazuo Shi­no­hara, The Con­text of Plea­sure”, The Japan Archi­tect 353 (1986): 22–27. See also: Kazuo Shi­no­hara, Towards Archi­tec­ture”, The Japan Archi­tect 293 (1981): 30–35.

  6. 6

    Shi­no­hara, The Con­text of Plea­sure,” 22.

  7. 7


  8. 8

    Shi­no­hara, Towards Archi­tec­ture,” 32.

  9. 9

    Ibid., 33.

  10. 10

    Ibid., 32.

  11. 11

    Shi­no­hara, A Pro­gram for the Fourth Space,” 29.

  12. 12

    Ibid., 34–35.

  13. 13

    Ibid., 29.

  14. 14

    Cf. Kazuo Shi­no­hara, Kai­hotek­ina kūkan to iu imi, Nihonkenchiku no seikaku” [開放的な空間という意味、日本建築の生活, The Mean­ing of Open Space, The Nature of Japan­ese Archi­tec­ture”], Papers 57, (1957).

  15. 15

    Harold Rosen­berg, The de-def­i­n­i­tion of art: Action Art to Pop to Earth­works, (Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1972), 56.

  16. 16

    The term gūzen [偶然] lit­er­al­ly means: what is’ [然, zen] acci­den­tal’ [偶, ]. This term there­fore cor­re­sponds to chance’, but also has the val­ue of con­tin­gency’, under­stood as coin­ci­dence’, that is, what hap­pens in a par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stance’. For a deep­er under­stand­ing of the con­cept of case-con­tin­gency’ in Japan­ese phi­los­o­phy see: Shu­zo Kuki, Gūzen­sei no mondai, [偶然性の問題, The Prob­lem of Con­tin­gency”] (Tōkyō: Iwana­mi Shoten [岩波書店], 1935).

  17. 17

    Under­stood by Japan­ese aes­thet­ics as what is start­ing from itself’, or spon­tane­ity’. See: Ghi­lar­di, Arte e pen­siero in Giap­pone. Cor­po, immag­ine, gesto, 73–76.

  18. 18

    For a deep­er under­stand­ing of the con­cept of kiai [気合] in Japan­ese art and cul­ture see: Tet­suro Wat­su­ji, A Cli­mate. A Philo­soph­i­cal Study [風土——人間学的考察], trans. Geof­frey Bow­nas, (Tōkyō: Iwana­mi Shoten [岩波書店], 1935).

  19. 19

    Cf. Don­ald Keene, Japan­ese Lit­er­a­ture. An Intro­duc­tion for West­ern Read­ers, (Lon­don: John Mur­ray, 1953), 4.

  20. 20

    Fuji­wara no Tei­ka (1162−1241) was one of the great­est clas­si­cal poets of Japan­ese lit­er­a­ture. His poems were col­lect­ed with­in the col­lec­tion enti­tled Shinkokin­shū [新古今集, New Col­lec­tion of Ancient and Mod­ern (Japan­ese Poet­ry)”], the eighth impe­r­i­al anthol­o­gy of waka poet­ry com­piled start­ing from 905 AD. and end­ed with the Shinkokin­shū around 1439. Togeth­er with Man’yōshū [万葉集] and Kokin­shū [古今和歌集], Shinkokin­shū is one of the most influ­en­tial poet­ic antholo­gies in the his­to­ry of Japan­ese literature.

  21. 21

    Shinkokin­shu, XIV:1320.


Fazz­i­oli, Edoar­do. Carat­teri cine­si. Dal dis­eg­no all’idea. Milano: Mon­dadori, 1986.

Rosen­berg, Harold. The de-def­i­n­i­tion of art: Action Art to Pop to Earth­works. Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1972.

Ghi­lar­di, Mar­cel­lo. Arte e pen­siero in Giap­pone. Cor­po, immag­ine, gesto. Milano: Mime­sis, 2011.

Keene, Don­ald. Japan­ese Lit­er­a­ture. An Intro­duc­tion for West­ern Read­ers. Lon­don: John Mur­ray, 1953.

Kuki, Shu­u­zo. Gūzen­sei no mondai [偶然性の問題, The Prob­lem of Con­tin­gency”]. Tōkyō: Iwana­mi Shoten [岩波書店], 1935.

Pasqualot­to, Gian­gior­gio. Yohaku. Forme di asce­si nell’estetica ori­en­tale. Pado­va: Ese­dra, 2001.

Rosen­berg, Harold. The de-def­i­n­i­tion of art: Action Art to Pop to Earth­works. Chica­go: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1972.

Shi­no­hara, Kazuo. Kai­hotek­ina kūkan to iu imi, Nihonkenchiku no seikaku” [開放的な空間という意味、日本建築の生活, The Mean­ing of Open Space, The Nature of Japan­ese Archi­tec­ture”], Papers 57, (1957).

Shi­no­hara, Kazuo. Towards Archi­tec­ture,” The Japan Archi­tect 293 (1981), 30–35.

Shi­no­hara, Kazuo. A Pro­gram for the Fourth Space,” The Japan Archi­tect 353 (1986), 28–35.

Shi­no­hara, Kazuo. The Con­text of Plea­sure,” The Japan Archi­tect 353 (1986), 22–24.

Wat­su­ji, Tet­surō. A Cli­mate. A Philo­soph­i­cal Study [風土——人間学的考察]. Trans­lat­ed by Geof­frey Bow­nas. Tōkyō: Iwana­mi Shoten [岩波書店], 1935.