Architecture After Architecture

architect Sou Fujimoto
project House Na, Tokyo, Japan
written by Alan Kostrenčić

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The body is a Bodhi-tree
The soul a shining mirror:
Polish it with study
Or dust will dull the image.


Bodhi is not a tree;
There is no shining mirror.
Since All begins with Nothing
Where can dust collect?

Zen koan[1]


Regardless of the fascination we Westerners often feel for Japan, it is probably very hard, almost impossible to understand the root of thoughts and reasons, why this culture is created in its own way. Again, from our position, Japan, as well as its contemporary architecture, seems like images from the future. It is interesting that Sou Fujimoto, one of the most prominent young Japanese architects, sees this future as ‘primitive’[2]. Or, more precisely, sees the future in the return to the simplicity of proto-architecture, simply coded in his book as the nest and the cave[3]. Regarding form and organization in an abstract way, it is possible to set the past and the near future in a parallel relation, the level on which Fujimoto finds inspiration in the ‘primitive’. His architecture is not founded on high technology; actually, it could have been created in times past, but the daring simplicity of his concepts, resulting in a completely new and complex appearance, is what creates this future.


His recent project, House NA, is simultaneously ‘primitive’, primarily in construction and materials, but also absolutely ‘futuristic’ in the daring, formal expression, organization and the way of life in it. It was designed for a two-member family in a densely populated housing area in Tokyo, in only 75.79 m2. The principal concept originated from an almost infantile and simple, but poetic idea of living in a tree, where every branch is a unique place, yet linked with all the others.[4] However, this seemingly naive idea resulted in an extremely complex spatial structure, with house contents organized on various levels, resembling more the organization of cupboard shelves than the floors of a house. The rooms, actually, do not exist as separate spatial units, but are interconnected, mutually defining themselves through people moving around them, just like climbing tree branches.[5] This feeling is additionally emphasized by the materiality of the house – the multi-level construction was built with thin plates resting on, for us, an unbelievably thin construction of square steel profiles of only 65 mm for beams and 55 mm for posts. The ‘floors’ seem to hover in the air, differentiating use and ambiences with different heights, offering ever new images and relations as the users move through the house. The experience is physical and emphasized by the ‘sparseness’ of space which is, according to its proportions, more similar to a giant cupboard than a small, ‘ordinary’ house. This ‘sparseness’ is compensated for by the membranes/walls mostly made of glass, opening life inside the house to the city, but on the other hand allowing the city and streets to be a part of the house.


It is hard not to be fascinated by this architecture, perhaps also because it is impossible to understand it as ‘real’. However, despite its ‘irreality’, from organization, construction to the total transparency, the house is incredibly physical and impressive. As Fujimoto says, ‘Both the experience of space and the concept are important. Only by regarding the concept and the experience from equal positions, is it possible to create something new.’[6] The novum is what makes this house irreal. This novum radically changes the experience of the house, both of the users inside and the observers outside, but also its interior organization. Everything that represented architecture in its traditional sense, especially its materiality: the walls, ceiling, etc., has been reduced to the minimum and disintegrated in its essence. Western thought, especially on architecture, is still like the first koan from the beginning of the text, ‘gathering dust’ due to obsession with the ‘object’. Fujimoto is hard to understand fully, except to be purely fascinated and amazed, we do not reach the point of the second koan, the one that perhaps directly illustrates the point of Zen – claiming that Bodhi (true wisdom) is not material – since it is non-existent, where does the dust gather? In a similar way, architecture is primarily a relation, the relationship between objects and people. It is a Nothing, the centre (and instrument) of the organization of Everything. This radical shift from understanding architecture as an ‘object’ towards architecture as the relationship between ‘objects’ and users, should grant a new paradigm to architecture. That is why House NA is the architecture of the future, liberated of itself, complex in its extreme simplicity and reduction. Nothing remains of architecture but the experience and the ‘relation’. At the same time, and as the reason such architecture is impossible to ignore, this is architecture after (or before) architecture.


[1] Zen Buddhism, The Peter Pauper Press, Inc., Mount Vernon & New York, 1959

[2] Sou Fujimoto: Primitive Future, INAX publishing, Tokyo, 2008.

[3] Ibid, ‘Nest or Cave’, pp. 22-25.

[4] ‘To live in a house is akin to living in a tree. There are many branches and each is a pleasant place to be,’ ibid, p. 67.

[5] ‘From one’s respective positions as one climbs this proverbial tree, another branch may appear or may fade away from view,’ ibid, p. 67.

[6] Julian Worrall: ‘The significance of Sou Fujimoto’, 2G, N.50 Sou Fujimoto, Gustavo Gili, 2009, p.21.