This is the first of three posts Jack and I will be writing that focus on the book ‘Anti-Object: The dissolution and disintegration of Architecture’ by Kengo Kuma which is an AA publication that came out in late 2008. We feel it’s a pretty important read, posing some interesting questions about the current state and future direction of contemporary architecture. So, the first of these posts will take the form of a review of the material in the book – so all of you following along at home are in the know – and the next two posts will be responses to this content by Jack and myself.
Firstly, let me start by saying that this book has left me with many questions about just what exactly an ‘object’ in architecture really is, and if an architecture opposed to this concept is truly necessary and important for our times. Kuma most definitely thinks it is, saying:
“The individual is not an autonomous, solitary object but a thing of uncertain extent, with ambiguous boundaries. So too is matter, which loses much of its allure the moment it is reduced to an object, shorn of its viscosity, pressure and density. Both subject and matter resist their reduction into objects. Everything is interconnected and intertwined”Kuma wants to create an architecture that breaks away from dividing subject and object, and bring about an architecture that works with the subject and operates almost as an open-ended, ambiguous filter to help connect them with the landscape of a given site. Kuma calls this filter a layered ‘feild’ or a ‘wilderness’ where the user engages with this landscape as a ‘body moving in time’. This is architecture as a temporal and vulnerable entity that becomes experiential in nature.
How, you might ask, does Kuma propose we go about making this inclusive field or ‘wilderness’? Well the answer lies in two interconnected directions – first, Kuma believes that it is not the framed window / wall, but rather the floor that mediates and creates positive relationships with the user and the outside environment, and second, by scrutinising material and building dimensions and their relation to the specifics of a given site - or as Kuma calls it ‘breaking down into particles’.
Kuma's own project "water / glass".
For the first point Kuma has this to add “All physical beings return to the floor form because they have to stand on a floor. Therefore, almost all possible relationships between the world and the subject are merely variations on the floor form”. The floor form is thus seen as more innate and also more flexible in how it allows people to engage with the landscape – it does not offer just one static and contained view of nature. Kuma explores this concept further in his work ‘water / glass’ through the use of a veranda ‘made of water’ that flows out into the sea and blurs the boundaries between the lower and upper planes of water, forming one continuous surface extending out into the landscape. The impacts of weather, time of day and wind all shift and modify this relationship so the architecture is seen as “responding to the changing moods of nature”.
"Detail of wall, the stone is cut into slices nearly as thin as wooden slats." The best way I can find to explain Kuma’s idea of ‘breaking down into particles’ is by relating an experience he cites in the book, one in which he experiments with extracting stones one by one from a masonry wall. What he found as he kept subtracting from this wall was that that the coherent mass of the ‘object’ / wall “wavered between being and representation, between its essential heaviness and its apparent lightness, between its opaque attribute and its actual transparency”. The wall is dissolved through "particlisation", with this being indicative of what Kuma hopes to achieve on the small scale of the material and also on the larger scale of the enclosure itself. It is within this dissolving that Kuma sees a rhythm, within the sparse subtraction of material / enclosure that a force tantamount to music is created and activated by its changing and multi-faceted relationship to the user and the landscape.