There's an interesting article on contemporary architecture in the latest edition of Metropolis. The picture above from the article is the new Nezu Museum which I will try to visit this winter break.
Just as Tange’s attention-grabbing style set the tone for the late Showa period and influenced countless lesser architects to design their offbeat office buildings, puerile pachinko parlors, and ludicrous love hotels, the present generation has found its guiding light in Kengo Kuma, a kinder, gentler architect whose ideas and growing international renown are exerting an influence far beyond the handful of buildings that he has designed in Tokyo. While Tange and his cohorts expressed the madness of a frenetically growing Japan, so the 55-year-old Kuma and his followers reflect the saner, more somber mood of a post-Bubble—and now post-credit crunch—Japan.
The key points of this new, unselfconsciously Japanese style can be seen at Kuma’s latest building, the redesigned Nezu Museum, located at the front of a large traditional Japanese garden at the far end of Omotesando. The first impression is rather dull—all you can see from the outside is a large tiled roof, surmounting a thick hedge of bamboo. But this effect is entirely intentional, as the architect explained in a recent sit-down with Metropolis.
I came across an interesting article by Bruce Wallace in The LA Times about a Japanese architect, Tadanobu Fujimori, who uses natural materials like mud and grass to make his designs:
Fujimori says his inspiration springs from his knowledge and love of history. He argues that the 20th century was actually the second era in which architectural style was internationalized. The first occurred several thousand years ago when people in traditional societies in different parts of the world set about building shelter for themselves and all came up with about the same style of architecture: roughly speaking, the hut.
"I finally realized that if you go back far enough everywhere in the world, whether Japan, Europe, native America or sub-Saharan Africa, people were making pretty much the same thing," he says. The search for the primitive in Japan sent him back before the age of tatami and bamboo to the Jomon period that began more than 10,500 years ago, a time when some of the world's first sedentary peoples lived in pits or small above-ground buildings.
Fujimori says his interest is piqued by what followed that primitive stage: the local variations in building styles that emerged when different peoples "came out of this native phase to the start of something more sophisticated." The result is a body of work that could spring from Tolkien's Middle-earth, influenced by such diverse abodes as the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux, France, a treehouse in Shropshire, England, a Portuguese stone house and the sun-dried mud bricks of the Great Mosque in Djenne, Mali.
He is especially influenced by mud. Fujimori loves mud. "Mud blends into nature," he says.
When Fujimori received his first commission, the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum on the grounds of a Shinto shrine in his hometown of Chino City in Nagano Prefecture, he sought out traditional artisans, including a retired craftsman living in a rest home whom he describes as the last man then alive who knew how to split wood by hand. He still describes the finished museum as his best work from a purely architectural perspective.
That was followed by teahouses, where his only adherence to tradition is that the rooms are small, have low entrances and a fireplace to boil water. One sits in the corner of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, with an arch in the garden in tribute to Le Corbusier. Another, designed for a former Japanese prime minister, is covered in cedar bark and sits independently in the woods.
Muji is sort of like The GAP before it became a brand, that is if The GAP sold stationary, furniture, kitchen appliances, bicycles and that sort of thing besides clothes. It is one of my favorite stores in Japan-I ususally buy stationary and home furnishings there. This article from Slate discusses the beauty that is Muji, which is on its way to New York and beyond:
The rabid excitement over Muji is very much deserved, but the most innovative aspect of the company's products isn't the quality of their design; it's how fundamentally they redefine the idea of the design object. While other companies apply design to a product to get it noticed, Muji designs a product to be, essentially, invisible—so useful and so natural that you don't realize that it's there. More than 2,000 of the company's impeccably designed objects will arrive stateside in the next few months, and they are our best shot at being set free from design rather than tyrannized by it.
Slate's Seth Stevenson sings the praises of boxer briefs, and I agree with him. And like him I experimented with boxers in high school and college, but boxer briefs are the only way to go for these reasons listed as advantages by Stevenson:
Support. The obvious, yet oft-unspoken flaw with traditional boxers is their lack of cuppage. They are useless for athletic events, and can even be a hindrance. (An acquaintance refers to the "tunnel" created by wearing boxers under soccer shorts. Via this tunnel, one's testicles can gain sudden and direct access to the world outside.) Boxer briefs hold your goods in place and out of sight.
Stability. Traditional boxers never sit still. They are forever riding up above the waistband of your pants, or slipping down below it. That loose fabric tends to twist, and bunch, and wedgify. Constant realignments are required. (This is especially true with the "bubble-butt" cut of boxer, which uses a spinnaker-like central back panel. The idea is to avoid having any seams line up with the butt-crack, but all that extra cloth just crawls up in there anyway, to disastrous effect.)
Containment. That simple slit of a fly on traditional boxers encourages a phenomenon I will term "flop-out." Some boxer shorts seek to rectify this with a button enclosure, but a button is the last thing you care to deal with when you urgently need to urinate. Boxer briefs use the much more effective and user-friendly Y-front.
Aesthetics. My unscientific polling suggests that ladies dig 'em. While it has all the comfort, support, and fit of a knit brief, the boxer brief's full-cut thigh lends it the modesty of a traditional boxer. And that thigh is functional, too—its snug, ribbed cuff serves to hold the garment in place. This prevents the boxer brief from riding up or (worse) burrowing into one's posterior cleavage. (The Calvin Klein boxer brief is particularly well-tailored, and is my personal choice. I own one pair of boxer briefs from 2(x)ist, bought at the little store in my gym when I forgot to bring a change of underwear, but I find they take an overly presentational approach to the genitalia. Sort of a push-up effect.)
There is some cool design going on in Tokyo and here's a good example of it in my old funky neighborhood, Harajuku, from The Japan Times:
Black monolith rises in Harajuku
By MARTIN WEBB
Tokyo is famed for its haphazard layout, with tatty old two-story structures nestling up against ultra-modern constructions, and areas seemingly designated for one type of business that are punctuated by anomalous residential or industrial premises.
hhstyle.com/casa's awe-inspiring edifice dominates its low-key surroundings on Harajuku's famed fashion drag Cat Street.
Interior-design product retailer hhstyle.com's glass-and-steel flagship store is a case in point. It occupies a prime spot on Harajuku's Cat Street, the spiritual home of Tokyo's street-fashion subculture, and is surrounded by ramshackle shops peddling punkish clothes to supposedly angst-ridden teens -- few of whom could afford most of the stuff being sold by hhstyle.com.
As one of the first "clicks and mortar" online/physical combination retailers in Japan, hhstyle.com has reaped the rewards of a surge in Internet use and an "interior boom" since it was established five years ago. Although a significant portion of sales come from its catalog and Internet divisions, its physical manifestation has long since drawn design enthusiasts into the heart of this otherwise apparel-oriented district.
In April, though, this odd juxtapositioning rose to a whole new level of glaring incongruity, with the unveiling of hhstyle/casa next to its existing store. A mammoth Tadao Ando-designed stealth bomber-style black box, it stands in stark contrast to its neighbors in terms of surface texture, scale, color and contents.
This light chair and the silver chair below are recent additions at Cafe Pause, a cafe where I usually have my Japanese lessons in Ikebukuro, and I thought they were pretty cool designs, but I don't want to have to sit on them.
There was an intersting article on Tadao Ando, one of my favorite contemporary architects (the others being Rem Koolhaus, Frank O. Gehry, and Norman Foster), in The Daily Yomiuri. Here's an inspirational quote:
"Life is full of distractions that threaten to sap your passion," Ando goes on. "There are ups and downs in your life. If you work hard only when things go right. Or you don't work hard when things go wrong. That's no good. Whether things go right or not, you should maintain your pace and continually try to get better."
There was an interesting interview in The Japan Times today about British deisgner Sir Terence Conran, the man behind the Nissan Cube. He has an interesting take on design:
"My definition of intelligent design is 98 percent common sense and 2 percent aesthetics.
You can design something that works very well and is perfectly good. That glass [he picks up a drinking glass from a table], for instance: Perfectly nice glass, nothing wrong with it, works well, cheaply produced. But it doesn't give you that extra 2 percent. It hasn't got that magic ingredient in it that makes you say, "Ah, that is a very beautiful glass."
A really good designer would be able to take this glass and make something about it that makes you say, "Ah, that's a really lovely glass." Do you see? I mean, a small twist that just can take a perfectly ordinary object that's full of common sense and just make it special."
He also has a store in the Marunouchi Building near Tokyo station, of which most items are out of my price range.