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AOKI JUN’S OMIYAMAE GYMNASIUM

It is easy to walk around the two oval blocks of this new district level sports facility by Aoki Jun. You see it in parts and since the perimeter streets are narrow, you always see it in perspective as part of the surroundings. There are no fences, walls or boundaries between the compound of this new community facility and the largely residential neighbourhood. Sometimes their senses even overlap: a public bus stop, a small entrance park with several tall preserved gingko trees, a neighbourhood police notice board, and round concrete benches within its grounds encourage people to come closer or stay longer. Sports halls and swimming pools are in the basement and at street level the new volumes are kept low and their facades articulated into smaller segments. Many different materials and textures are applied to the floor, ceiling, walls and other elements such that the inherent large scale of such a building type with big volumes is broken down into a more intimate scale that joins it back to the adjacent residential character. The spirit of the detailing also allows people from the neighborhood using these facilities to relate more to it, making it feel like it is already a part of the scene.

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PARTS AND WHOLE #2

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Jiyuan Resort:
The large site slopes gradually down from a chain of high hills towards the village below. In former farm plots, these are terraced and retained with rubble stone walls. How to get away from fixed known typologies of resort hotels? How to make a kind of resort that is more pliant to, more closely connected to the specifics of site?

The new buildings in this resort are organised with an array of curved walls forming a loose maze growing from this topography. The grouping of parts make up the whole and reciprocally the whole subtle-ly inform the manipulation of parts. These curved walls are experiential, not merely compositional. You move around and occupy the spaces in between. Gaps between walls encourage a close relationship with the natural landscape outside. The variations of types of curve, distances between them, and the sloping topography and terraces make the bodily experience in these buildings much more complex. A large spectrum of experience from very open to very private can be manipulated in this simple and consistent way. This strong but subtle architecture has to be experienced by and played along with, by each unique person who engages it:

“… there is another sort of knowledge that obtains only by undergoing experience. It is fittingly called an ‘understanding.’ This is not to say that understanding requires no perspective and horizon in which to obtain, but that perspective shifts as one stands under it, experiencing, and the horizon expands and changes as one engages one’s thinking and living. And the subject himself undergoes appropriate changes.”
(Wu Kuang-Ming, Chuang Tzu: World Philosopher at Play)

For this particular project, the programme and size of each building are also subjected to many changes due to technical uncertainties, requirements from authorities, changing brief of the client group, demands of the resort management team and sales team. The flexible geometry of curves allow changes to be made more readily while maintaining the overall feeling of the architecture.

PARTS AND WHOLE #1

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In an old popular izakaya of dark timber in Tokyo’s Yanaka neighbourhood, two ladies dressed in traditional kimonos sit at the counter. In contrast with the bright colours and universal fashion of other customers, the dark blue and brown, texture and shape of their clothes fit into the scene of the izakaya perfectly. Seated side by side, when they talk sometimes they would turn to face each other, sometimes they would face front. Their bodies and faces do not confront each other. It is a softer way of relating; a measured cadence of directly relating to as well as allowing each other to preserve their own space. The loose shapes of the kimonos seem to take over their characters. Unlike the Western idea of fitting clothes to body (clothes must fit the body), the kimono do not reveal the specific conditions of the bodies behind them. They do not leave very strong expressions of individuality. Nothing in the clothes or manner of these ladies are too strong or too extraordinary. Yet within the confines of the standard kimono style, within the perceived restrictiveness of “tradition” or “group-think”, through their own choice of colors and fabric, and with their unique body movements, we can sense their more subtle ways of expressing their individuality. This is group-think and individualism working together; each defining the other, each inextricably bound to the other. Individual parts both define and are defined by the constituted whole. They are unabstractable.

SELF-MAKING IN CONTEXT

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Self articulation, self-formation: ‘In the Western tradition, the process of becoming a person has often been characterised in terms of the realisation of ideals of a transcendental sort. The classic advice, “Become what you are,” has been most influential in characterising the acitivity of realising personhood.’

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Confucian self-making: ‘The process of dissolving the barrier between the self and its social environment involves disciplining the ego-self and becoming a person-in-context. This process can alternatively be described as the objectification of self in that it recognises the correlative and coextensive retationship between person making and community making and ultimately world making.’

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‘The personal self wo (我) that discloses yi (義) (both a self-construing identity and what one does) … is a self-realising person-in-context. It is objectified in that, no longer asserting merely one limited perspective in its interpretation of experience, it does not make any final distinction between self and other in construing the world. To express this another way, the person-in-context understands “self” as a dynamic and changing focus of existence characteristically expanding and contracting over some aspect of the process of becoming, the interpretation of which is grounded in and involves reference to the environing whole.’

All quotations from David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius, SUNY Press, 1987.

Images from exhibition of works by Kadena Shigehiro at the Gallery Sekka, in Yanaka, Tokyo.

AMBIENT SENSE

These days, when designing resort hotels, clients will insist on rooms having good views. Guest rooms must be planned to face any available beautiful view. Even the bed must face unobstructed view. The better the view, the higher the room price. That is the current code. Resorts in turn attract you by selling you views. Dining spaces must have views. The pool must face a view. Spa rooms must have views, never mind the fact that you spend most of your time facing the sheets. There seems to be an overarching need to feed eyeballs everywhere you turn.

In this too-obvious, too-easy set up (the malaise of contemporary design), you are the subject, the framed scenery out there the object of your view.

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In a typical traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring resort), subtlety and delicacy reign, as if there is a silent voice whispering, “not too much” behind your ears.

A veranda-like sitting area wedges between an inner tatami room and the view. In this case here, with a view towards other rooms. There is a kotatsu (blanket rimmed low table with heater below that warms your legs), on which the swift, quiet attendant arranges your meal — an array of small plates in various colours, textures, smells and tastes. When it is time to sleep, the kotatsu makes way for the futons on the tatami. Light filters softly through papered panels, leaving the option for a small little view out through different layers of aged windows. In this small room you feel softly ensconced in a private sensual world, not too bright not too clear, even without being able to look out. And what will omnipresent views do, if after all, you have journeyed here up the mountains through coniferous forests covered deep in snow and crisp leafy air. You can already feel these all around you. They envelope you.

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Even in the hot bath the view is limited. You soak in the hot timber pool dimly lit only by standing lamps; relishing the heavy and light shadows as Tanizaki would put it. Looking up, high small openings, the falling snow. Your body soothed by the hot spring pool, skin against darkness, but linger you do not. You come back again the following morning for a brief dip before you leave. You stay only a night typically. It is enough. Savour everything in bits. Not too much. The mountain says I will be here. The forest and the hot spring say we will be here. It is never only about you. As some will say, subject and object, self and scene, mingling together.

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