Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Look Back at Leek House

The first time I lived in Japan, a world away in Chiba, I used frequently to go to Yokohama, or Sakuragicho more precisely, to the excellent Yurindo bookstore there. They carried lots of English books on all sorts of topics, not just the linguistics and language learning that you found at so many of the Tokyo area shops.

I remember flipping through an architectural magazine there one day and pausing on a spread of the work of Terunobu Fujimori and his Leek House, a building constructed out of Douglas fir logs and stucco, the roof having hundreds of holes punched in the boards for growing leeks. I remember being pleased by the seeming simplicity of the design as well as the incorporation of greenery into the structure.

Interestingly enough, my mother, on the other side of the world, came across the same or a different magazine featuring the Leek House and cut out the article and sent it to me. (I probably still have it in storage somewhere.)

I did recently come across an old article in Axis magazine (November, December 2001) entitled Parasitism and the Control of Greenery, highlighting both the Leek House and the samurai-looking (and misnamed) Dandelion House. In the article the author wanted to see how the houses and architect (and his thought) were faring four or five years on.

There does seem something outlandish, even foolish in trying to incorporate plants into the very structure of a dwelling. Plants are never just plants. They are communities of organisms that grow and change and die. To maintain a discrete distance between dwelling and nature seems not only to be sensible, but depending on what kinds of critters might be showing up, indispensable.

The architect himself seemed to be a bit confused by the role plants should play. For on the one hand he takes aim at his fellow Japanese for being "afraid of greenery" and wanting to "half kill" the very plants they nurture; he himself makes sure in both Dandelion House and Leek House to seal off the plants entirely from the inside, relegating them to tiny boxes. However much the architect wanted to incorporate plants into the design, in the end he had to make sure to control plant growth by hanging boxes out away from the actual structure of the house (in the case of Dandelion House) and having a second roof under the leek roof to keep out the elements he's trying so hard to promote.

二ラハウス or Leek House 1997 (Axis 94)
There is a growing movement toward something called living architecture in which designers attempt to use some of nature's tricks in creating more responsive, less energy consumptive dwellings.

But I don't really know exactly what's happening right now in the field. Maybe some of my readers can educate me. I do think though that in fifty or a hundred years, Fujimori's building will appear quaint and not quite so radical as when they first arrived on the scene.


Postscript: The other day I was in the local bookstore here in Niihama and came across a recently published Collected Works of Terunobu Fujimori. It seemed that his more recent work has been quite a departure from the above pictured. Much more whimsical, almost cartoonish. Perhaps I'll take some time to look at it a little more closely in the coming days and let you know what I think.

No comments:

Post a Comment