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The Space of Power vs. The Power of Space

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Design the “gap” between individuals and the State!

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  • “Boundary” as a spatial concept
  • Worker housing
  • The space of “society” feeding off the space of “the world”
  • Standardization = the space of bureaucratic supervision and control
  • “Civil authority” as opposed to “elected autocracy”
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The “no-man’s-land” of the Ancient Greeks and that area considered by Hannah Arendt has completely disappeared from contemporary cities. If architects around the world were to read and understand Arendt’s major writings, then the problems of the dwellings and cities in which we live will made apparent, and we will be able to see the shape of the cities for our future. In order to live happily, we must resist “The Space of Power” and will [into existence] “The Power of Space” that is ours.

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Born 1945. Architect. In 1971 received a Master of Arts in Architecture from Tokyo University of Arts. After spending time as a research student at the Hara Research Laboratory of the Production Technology Research Laboratory at Tokyo University, he founded his practice, Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop in 1973, and from 2002–07 was professor of the Graduate School of Kogakuin University, Department of Architecture, and from 2007–12 was professor in the Graduate School of Architecture of Yokohama National University. Representative works are Saitama Prefectural University, Hakodate Future University, Yokosuka Art Museum, Fussa Municipal Offices, etc. as well as collective housing in Tianjin, Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, and other cities. The Zurich International Airport Mixed-Use Complex is scheduled for completion in 2018. Awards include the Japan Institute of Architects Award in 1998 and 2002, the Mainichi Art Award in 1998 and the Japan Arts Academy Award in 2001. Major publications include “Theory of Dwelling” (Heibonsha Library), “Modeling the Local Community Sphere” (LIXIL Publ.), “Riken Yamamoto Architecture” TOTO, etc.

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Chapter 1: “Threshold” as a spatial concept
1 What is “no-man’s-land”?
2 The spatial structure of polis and the spatial concept of “threshold”
3 Town and Village Survey I – The appearance of the outside
4 Town and Village Survey II – Housing with a “threshhold”

Chapter 2: Worker housing
1 Albert Cottages
2 The experience of worker housing – something intimate
3 Separated housing
4 The public housing system
5 The concept of “materialization”

Chapter 3: The space of “society” feeding off the space of “the world”
1 Is labour actually labour or is it something to live for?
2 The universality of work
3 From world to society
4 Workers as free as birds
5 How is society managed?

Chapter 4: Standardization = the space of bureaucratic supervision and control
1 A bid of ¥1
2 Authority comes from below
3 Bureaucratic governance is spatial governance
4 Standard space
5 The aesthetics of standardization
6 The “One House = One Family” system
7 It’s not the workers who are squeezed

Chapter 5: “Civil authority” as opposed to “elected autocracy”
1 Housing for sexual phenomena
2 Eggs from chickens at model farms
3 Feelings shared throughout the world
4 Resident-participation housing design and those that oppose it
5 The political space of community
6 The authority of those opposing elected autocracy
7 How the sphere of local community thinks

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Housing is private space and we live in that private space which is an intimate space for a household and not even a person of power can infiltrate it. We say this private space has “privacy”. Privacy is freedom. It is the freedom to be in a private space and we pay large amounts of money for it. In fact, we pay the greater portion of a lifetime’s income for it. We must use money to purchase that space of freedom and persons who can’t pay the money aren’t able to have a stable space for freedom.

Freedom lies inside our private space. On the outside is the urban space covered by a net of infrastructure – a net that has been made by public authorities, and is ceaselessly managed by them. A public authority is a bureaucratic system of power and that infrastructure is managed end-to-end by a finely planned bureaucratic mechanism. There is transportation infrastructure, logistics infrastructure, information infrastructure, energy infrastructure. There are infrastructures for flood prevention, landslide prevention and fire prevention, as well as for crime prevention. And so on. Public facilities are the end terminals of this infrastructure that is either always increasing in quantity, or having new types of infrastructure added. Bureaucratic mechanisms finely divide infrastructure in accordance with administrative systems and the resulting administratively divided spaces are public space.

Housing is private space and cities are public space ruled by a bureaucratic system. Private space and public space are meticulously divided and each of these two divisions works to reject the other. The bureaucratic mechanism that manages the public space does not contribute to private space, and does not enter it. The public authorities are extremely concerned with “protecting” the freedom of the private space despite the private space having no influence whatsoever on the public space. The only freedom is that inside private space. In other words, freedom is locked inside private space. The space designed to contain that freedom is the space of housing. What we call privacy is essentially a state of separation and enclosure.

We are received as a matter of course into space arranged and controlled by a bureaucratic system but are we sufficiently satisfied living in these separated houses? Are we comfortable living in urban space ruled over by a bureaucratic system in this way? Why do we accept this? This is all largely related to how architectural space is made.

We who live inside that spatial arrangement aren’t aware of it as managed space. In fact, despite living in it we are unconscious of it even as space. The reason for this is because we think of that space as nothing more than space that has been functionally arranged, and believe that space has been created in response to function. Architecture is made in response to function but the meaning of function is to be of use, and this means it uses our wants and needs as the basis for a faithful response to them. Architecture is made in response to society’s needs and those needs always have an objective. This is why we have architecture as a means to realize those objectives. Architecture is a means to achieve an objective and making those means is the job of the architect. When we think off how to achieve those objectives, I wonder if we aren’t thinking of how functional something is despite us wanting to faithfully respond to those wants? We pay no attention to functionally made architectural space.

It is only since about the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that architectural space has come to be thought of and made in this way. Until then, the object of architecture was the person and the objective was how to make the outer appearance as beautiful as possible and things called styles were the means to create this beauty. Architects were conversant with the architectural styles of the past and used them as references for beauty. There were beautiful buildings related to local climate and culture.

It’s said that function rejected those styles and that it was important for function to reject the beauty of appearance created by these styles. Architecture freed from those past styles was also detached from its relationship with its surrounding environment and this detachment from its surrounding environment was the beginning of the modern architecture movement. It was the beginning of the mistake twentieth century architects is said to be.

Hannah Arendt (1906–1965) was severely critical of the mistake this was. Functionally made architecture makes architects powerless and homogenizes the society made by that architecture. Local communities are destroyed and this is a dangerous thing. We who live in homogenized societies have no understanding of what this danger means.

Its meaning doesn’t reside in an architecture made in accordance with society’s requirements. When society’s needs are realized as architecture, we can see how much of those needs are realized. We can see the degree of objectivity in society’s needs (directives) by architecture’s realization of them. Even if those needs are, for example, only simple personal needs (directives), realizing them as architecture means they can still be seen as the realization of societies needs. They are objectively visible. Hannah Arendt called this mode of architectural being materialization. Architecture becomes a thing. This is materialization. When materialization becomes a means for social needs (directives), a relationship is formed between the needs (directives) and architecture made in accordance with (submission to) those needs (directives). Arendt says it is this that gives objectivity to society’s needs (directives). This is the foundation to the underlying logic of materialization.

I would like to talk about architecture that has become a means, about the architects made powerless by it, and about the local communities destroyed by homogenization. I would like to talk about architecture in relation to all this.

Architectural space is not a means. It is not simply space made in accordance with the needs or directives of society. Architectural space must be made through the will of the people who live in it and in their local communities.

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  • In line with the comments above, your text is enjoyable and looking forward to the following post.
    I’m coming from a perspective of down a rabbit hole of self inquiry (call it spiritual), with my architectural eye seeing the house and then city as an exponential extension of the interior space. I see the freedom within the private intrinsically related to the notion of ownership, which is itself rooted in the notion of separation of my Self from others. The way we perceive our selves and what is ours dictates our boundaries and the extent of the private space vs the public shared space we are comfortable with. A collective agreement on the degrees of separation, constantly negotiated in both home and street.
    Much respect for your work and voice.

    • says:

      I think we (Yamamoto, you, myself, others) are all thinking about a dwelling and a city and how they relate to each other. Some of the questions I feel this book will raise are “When does privacy become separation? Isolation?” “Is privacy possible without isolation?” If so, how would that work? Another important question you ask is how “we perceive our selves and what is ours dictates our boundaries and the extent of the private space vs the public shared space we are comfortable with. A collective agreement on the degrees of separation, constantly negotiated in both home and street.” This, I think is the crux of the matter. I don’t know if there will be one solution for everybody, but it will probably not be the one solution we have without even knowing what the problem was to start with. Thanks.

  • I’m in the process of designing something for local riches and I tremble at the thought of nourishing their community. Thanks a lot for translating! Your Japanese must be better than you think. Your text is easy to read.

    • says:

      Thanks Alia! I’ve been reading ahead and, not next installment but the one after, there’s some discussion and plans of Ancient Greek houses showing the space for men and the space for women, and how only the space for men connected to (and was a part of) the city. It reminded me of how majilis function. One important difference is that Ancient Greek men went from (male) space to (male) space by walkling through the city and not by 4x4s. All the best for your design!