After a short walk in the soft city lights, blended in the bright atmosphere of the Tokyo sunset, I was received in the meeting room of Tezuka Architects’ office; a big room where library and models of the most famous projects were exhibited just next to the table. Then Takaharu finally arrives.
I immediately start counting the blue objects surrounding him, from his bicycle to his phone, from his socks to the title of his monograph. Takaharu, who always wears the blue colour, is the principal of Tezuka Architects with his wife Yui, who always wears red. They have one daughter, who dresses in yellow, and a son, in green. This particular aspect of their public image aroused my curiosity ever since I attended , for the first time, one of their lectures. Of course, Tezuka-san wears a bright blue t-shirt under a blue navy coat. Finally, in front of a cup of hot green tea, I have my chance to solve the mystery.
Red and blue, then yellow and green. I did many researches, but I couldn’t find the answer. May I ask you the meaning of the colors of your family?
There is not so much I can say about the colours. There is no hidden meaning. The blue just happened. You know, I used to work for Richard Rogers, and, if you look at a picture of him in one of his books he’s always wearing blue. Then, some people in his office started to wear his colour, so Rogers decided to change it, but we couldn’t follow him because we had already bought our clothes and we couldn’t turn blue into pink! Then I got married with a lady, my partner in the office, and she had had a lot of red stuff since she was young. So one day we decided to formalize our colours. Nothing else behind. In 1994, we decided to buy a yellow car, the one we still drive today, and that became the colour of what we share. That’s all. I’m sorry, maybe you were expecting me to say something more!
Ah ah, It’s ok. Now I can see why I’ve never found anything specific about the colours. My second question is: who were the main architects who influenced you in your work and education experience?
I can’t tell you just one person. I learnt from many. I graduated from University of Pennsylvania, and there I learnt about Louis Kahn’s works, of course that study influenced my architecture quite a lot. So whatever I do is based on the study I made in Pennsylvania. Then I started working for Richard Rogers. Many people think Rogers is an architect of high-tech style, but I learnt more about his lifestyle from him. We used to have a nice office in front of the Thames river. There was a warehouse, called Thames Wall studio, and he transformed that warehouse in his accurate and relaxed office. He also used to have a restaurant called River Café, the office was like a family room at that time. When I started my own job, I decided to be like Rogers. I don’t know about the development of his Office now, because it became bigger. These two are my reference points, one is dead, one is still alive.
Experiencing western Architecture what did you learn?
I learnt a lot from western architecture. When I was studying in Pennsylvania or working for Rogers in London I had to be rational in many ways. Because of that now I am capable of understanding Japanese Architecture more than I used to. If you live in a small village you can’t see how it really looks like, you need to see also the surroundings. I believe in the continuity of education, so I keep learning.
In you works, human activity is a focus concept for the creation of space. Can you explain why you have a particular attention to every day life? Do you try to influence it with your design?
I think that I take this attitude from Richard Rogers. As I said before, many people think he just designed details, but it’s not just this. When I was in London I spent many weekends, riding a bike to Richmond park with my wife. We used to sit in a nice café, looking at the valley, watching what was happening down there. What I learnt there, is not concerned only Architecture, it is about how people can live, exactly what Rogers talked about. Even if people have different thoughts about him, for me he’s a kind of master. When I came back to Japan I found out that the cities were not in a good condition. Someone thought Tokyo was a good city because it was safe, but for me something was going wrong. Japan was losing Japanese-ness. At the same time I thought there was not enough quality in lifestyle. I wanted to design a city where to spend good time. When I opened my office, at the beginning of my career, our first project was a hospital. I designed an hospital where patients could look outside. Generally, because of the privacy, hospitals have small windows, but I thought that was wrong because patients desire to watch the city all the time, they want to go back there, not stay in the bedroom. I think that was the beginning of our interest in human behaviour. Then I applied the same principle to other projects. I spent ten years convincing myself, but now I think this is the right thing to do.
I want to tell you three words: light, wind, sky. I found them in many descriptions of your projects. Which kind of relation do you try to engage with nature?
Light, wind, sky… It’s religion! Light, wind, sky, represent the whole existence. The strange thing of Japanese religion is that there is no single existence, maybe similar to Native American or Indu: God is everywhere, even in you, in every child in the street. You are important as I am important. We are used to saying there are 8000000 Gods in Japan. When Jesus Christ arrived we told him “welcome to Japan!, by the way, there are already 8000000 Gods, please, have a seat” and we gave him a waiting card. You know, it’s a very different situation from Korea, where Jesus Christ became dominant. In Japan he became one of many. I heard an interesting person in a religious conference saying that Japan is one the rare places where you can have international religious conference, because there you can build a mosque, a church, a synagogue just next to a Shinto temple, and they would be accepted in the same way.
As you can imagine, in my country this could be a bit difficult.
I can tell you another interesting story. A Japanese girl has a celebration at the Shinto Temple when she is 3 and 7 years old. When this girl gets married, she wants to marry in a catholic church, because it looks nice, and when she dies, she goes to a Buddhist temple, where there is the best graveyard. We don’t mind about this path. A Few weeks ago I went to a very important Shinto temple, called Asama shrine, right next to Fuji san, and there I noticed some people praying for Jesus, because we consider him one of the Gods.
That could be an important lesson for Europe. When I studied your projects, I noticed a particular attention to the theme of boundaries. For example, in Fuji Kindergarten there are no fences for the running children, in Roof House there are no handrails. Is there a particular concept behind this choice?
Yes, I realized that just recently. I wasn’t aware about it at the beginning. I’m trying to abolish the boundary between the classrooms and playground, between the roof and the ground. Actually, the situation is close to the existence of jungle, where there is no clear boundary between the forest and the field, everything changes gradually. So you can choose something in between. You make a shelter as Architecture. The wall defines the inside and the outside. I realized that something “in the between” is very important. We are use to finding environment comfortable.
Is it connected to the Japanese concept of en?
Possibly, but not only that. I think this idea came from Chinese, Malaysian, and maybe Italian Architecture too. From a certain moment on, we decided to define the inside and the outside, but human beings desire to live in nature. In summer we go to the beach, in winter we go skiing, when you want to get some rest look for the shadow, it’s a kind of blurred existence, that is what I believe for Architecture.
There is an interesting situation for this problem: high density cities. There the issue of private and public spaces is delicate. How do you work in this kind of context?
It’s not difficult, in high density areas you need to include neighbours as a part of the environment. If you are in beautiful nature you think just about light, wind, sky. In urban situations you have to add the word “neighbours”. I’ve never found it difficult. Sometimes you need to keep privacy, sometimes you have to expose it. If people don’t know what kind of person you are , they won’t trust you. After World War II, the Japanese government made some rules about the gap between the buildings, they tried to eliminate the core between neighbourhoods. Sometimes it’s better to argue, and argument is the result of a relationship between neighbours. When you lose this relationship you lose awareness of the city. It’s very important to think about each other. That is what we are supposed to do.
You are following an opposite direction from other Japanese architects.
Yes, I think it’s very important to share the space in between and to share the streets. If I consider the city of Venezia, the streets between the houses are not exactly public, non exactly private, it’s a kind of leftover of Architecture. People care about this space, and you can put tables and chairs. In Japan we are not allowed to do it by the government. In this way people don’t care about the street, and they don’t clean it. We have to go back to how we used to be. Venice is a nice place because of this.
I think many Italian cities, especially historic areas, have this kind of urban situation.
I like this ambiguity of the public space. Private and public, losing boundaries, are the same thing.
You mentioned it earlier. In Japan there is a deeply rooted cultural identity. Traditional Japanese Architecture still inspires contemporary architects. How does it influence you?
First, at an unconscious level. I think more than ten years ago an Italian writer came to Japan to take pictures, and he went to see Engawa house in Tokyo. He said to me “your Architecture is so Japanese”, while I thought I was designing modern Architecture. Sliding doors, relationship between the inside and the outside. for him it was quite unusual, for me it wasn’t unusual at all, as it was a part of my body. There is something basic I cannot change about me. Secondly, I consciously learnt a lot about timber Architecture, the technology, a great amount of wisdom, these days I’m designing some projects with a timber structure, even large scale projects. Then I started designing details, the wisdom in traditional Japanese Architecture is really beyond my ability, it’s amazing, rational and beautiful. You said Japanese Architecture, sometimes I say it is not Japanese Architecture.
May I ask why?
Because Japan doesn’t represent only local Japan. The Chinese came to Japan and they built beautiful temples, and then they became Japanese. Sometimes I say that if you want to see beautiful Chinese Architecture you should come to Japan. So, what is pure Japanese and pure Chinese? In my opinion there is no difference. As you get closer to the Pacific Ocean, many people act as if they were Japanese. I prefer to say Oriental Architecture.
Is it still important in your opinion to continue this dialogue with tradition, even in the globalized world?
The more I learn of Japanese Architecture, the more I become global. Because so much wisdom of the world is concentrated in Nara and Kyoto. Wisdom of more than 1000 years.
I’ve been there twice and it was impressive. what about, specifically, the construction elements. You use them as they come directly from tradition. I mean, like, columns, beams, shoji, … Can you explain your use of these construction syntax?
I think you should know the difference between knowledge and wisdom. If I copy the details this is just empty style. Since I have advanced technology, we should design safer structures with timber. I always try to learn the philosophy behind details. They give me many precautions with details. If you watch a national treasure building, each piece has a meaning. I don’t copy them, I tried to come up with the latest solutions, but I think this is what a master carpenter used to do, we have always to keep up, never go back, but respecting the past.
You seem to love wood. Can you explain your relation with this material?
Because wood is alive. You can’t sit on steel, you can’t sit on concrete, you feel more comfortable sitting on wood. Of course we can use concrete structures, or concrete structures, but you always have to finish with different materials. we can keep continuity from structures to details, Yes, you can design again everything with concrete, but I think I can’t sleep on concrete. Because we are alive, wood is the key to connect some kind of artificial existence, and living tissue.
Which is your mission as an architect? Do you have a particular issue you’re trying to develop in your profession?
There is no goal. Sometime people say living day by day, as I design day by day, responding to each requirements, being honest, it’s my existence. I say my goal is on the drawing board, I want to die on the drawing board, keep drawing, because, this is what I was supposed to be, my father was an architect, my wife’s father too, and my daughter says she wants to become an architect. It’s a continuity. I’m sorry I have no objectives to say to you . In my opinion existence is the most important issue.
In your opinion which is the role of an architect in the 21st century?
It’s the same as it has always been. We have to respond to human life. But technique has been changed quite a lot. We can use new materials, and we have more advanced structure solutions. We know more about environment control, so we can design more energetically efficient buildings. Sometimes, if you are clever enough. Sometimes we build spending more energy than we should. I always say we became human when we started making Architecture. Before we were not. I think it has not changed in 21 centuries. We are just more aware of global environment.
Continuity, even here.
Last question. If I ask you to leave me a word to take with me and reflect about, something to think about, a kind of message for young architects, what would you say?
Of course, “continuity”.