Probing the Secrets of Contemporary Japanese Architecture and Design
I am happy to share the news that Princeton Architectural Press recently published my new book Matter in the Floating World: Conversations with Leading Japanese Architects and Designers. The book represents the culmination of a five-year effort to research, assess, and interview 20 of the most fascinating material innovators in contemporary Japanese design practice (the initial count was over 30, and these additional conversations will appear on the book's website).
I had several goals for this book: first, I simply wanted to learn how the best Japanese architects and designers "pull it off"—how Tadao Ando has perfected the art and science of cast-in-place concrete, for example, or how Kazuyo Sejima has eschewed the bulk and complexity of building in favor of dematerialized, atmospheric containers—and share this knowledge with readers. Second, I aimed to construct intercultural bridges between East and West, since communication between the two is often "lost in translation" due to the culture and language gap. I should add here that I have lived in Japan on several occasions, and minored in East Asian Studies in college—so this topic has been a lifelong interest. Third, the increasing energy and resource challenges we face demand fresh solutions, and the Japanese people have historically been incredibly effective in the use of limited resources. Japanese buildings and products often reflect this resourcefulness in terms of their efficiency, lightness, durability, and craft.
Matter in the Floating World is organized according to four major themes: lightness, atmosphere, flow, and emergence. For me, these simple yet insightful topics form the conceptual basis of Japanese architecture, which integrates both concrete and abstract qualities of design. To give an example, one of my favorite conversations for the book took place with Kengo Kuma, an architect who once declared his desire to "erase architecture" as a way to reduce the mass and opacity of buildings. During our talk, Kuma held his teacup slightly above the table to demonstrate a point. "What I like is when something real is hovering just a little bit," he said. When I asked why, he explained: "If it is a little unreal, there is a little bit of a surprise. If there is no surprise with something, it is not real, because it goes unnoticed. It might as well not exist."