Michael Rotondi introduces Riichi Miyake. He was born in 1948, graduated from the University of Tokyo with an undergraduate and masters degree in architecture, studied in Paris at the Sorbonne and the École des Beaux-Arts. He currently teaches at the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo. Miyake has a unique point of view as the product of two cultures, and is considered one of the leading architectural writers and critics in Japan.
Riichi Miyake presents some ideas about Japanese architecture, focusing on postwar housing. While he agrees that Japanese ideas of space and architecture are different from Western views, and that Japanese architecture reflects traditional approaches, he fears that over-emphasizing this leads to over-simplified, exotic notions of “Japanism.” He stresses that, in Japan, modernism in architecture is linked to modernization in society. The relationship between public and private space is a defining issue in Japanese architecture, where large open public spaces are not valued.
Miyake discusses a house built outside Kyoto in 1932 by Koji Fujii that is one of the earliest examples of sophisticated Japanese use of European avant garde themes. He discusses postwar housing which responded to the earlier avant-garde using industrialized materials to create basic units of space. The architects for these projects tried to eliminate walls in order to make the spaces as open as possible. Western style furniture such as tables and chairs which are not traditional in Japan, are placed in traditionally small rooms making for a strange combination of Western and Japanese elements.
Miyake discusses the idea of inverted urban space, analyzing a concrete house designed by Toyo Ito for his sister in 1976. It appears to be a fortress with no link between the interior and exterior spaces. The only opening in the façade is a small slit for the entrance that leads to a room that is completely enclosed in concrete except for a small slit for light in the ceiling. This project represents a period of Japanese withdrawl from public space, and a search for an alternative to the traditional Japanese garden model.
Miyake presents a house in Kyoto by Yuzuru Tominaga which, at first glance, appears to be low-cost, vernacular housing, not informed by architectural thinking. Using materials like plywood and paper as finishes, the cost of construction was very low. The architect’s own house is three stories in an area that forbids wooden structures taller than two stories, by using book shelves as steps to the third level. This third level is intended to be a suspended tea house, but cannot be considered legally as a third level because of the lack of stairs.