Issue 11
DATE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
05.28.2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
05.13.2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
05.06.2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
04.29.2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
04.22.2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
04.08.2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
04.01.2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
03.25.2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
03.11.2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
03.04.2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
02.26.2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
02.19.2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
02.12.2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
02.05.2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
01.22.2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
01.16.2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
01.08.2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
12.18.2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
12.11.2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
12.04.2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
11.27.2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
11.06.2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
10.30.2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
10.23.2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
10.16.2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
10.09.2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
10.02.2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
09.24.2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
09.18.2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
09.11.2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
09.05.2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
08.28.2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
08.21.2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
08.14.2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
08.07.2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
07.31.2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
07.24.2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
07.17.2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
07.10.2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
06.26.2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
06.19.2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
06.12.2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
06.05.2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
05.30.2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
05.21.2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
05.08.2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
05.01.2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
04.24.2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
04.17.2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
04.10.2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
04.03.2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
03.27.2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
03.20.2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
03.13.2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
03.06.2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
02.07.2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
02.07.2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
02.20.2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
02.13.2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
02.07.2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
02.13.2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
02.27.2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
02.07.2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
02.07.2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
02.07.2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
02.07.2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
02.07.2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
05.28.2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi

Beyond obsessive preservation and perpetual renewal, there’s another way that buildings might endure.

Photograph angled upwards at the exterior of Tokyo’s abstract Nakagin Capsule Tower, with porthole windows
Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower, in 2007. (Photo: Scarletgreen)


In 1972, construction workers were finishing off the last elements of a remarkable new building in Tokyo. The Nakagin Capsule Tower was a space-age construction, a tall pile of seemingly random arranged concrete boxes, each perforated by a single porthole window, rising above the crowded streets of Ginza like a Brutalist stack of Lego.

The following year, workers began dismantling the wooden structures of the Grand Shrine of Ise, a couple of hundred miles to the west of Tokyo. One of Shinto’s most sacred places, the shrine is set in a forest and dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. Its buildings are taken down and rebuilt every 20 years as a way of passing knowledge and skill from one generation of craftsmen to the next, a custom embodying a belief known as tokowaka, or a kind of pursuit of eternity through the transition of ritual and skill.

They are both a part of a particularly Japanese conception of the nature of architectural fabric, which can seem somehow simultaneously very seductive and very alien to those of us who have grown up in a Western tradition. Here we are soaked in a cult of the fabric, of the authentic, of an idea of the material of a building somehow encapsulating the history it has witnessed. In Japan, it is not so much the material that matters but the process: the skills, the rituals, the embodiment of the knowledge of construction. The history is entwined with the handicraft, and it is the perpetual newness and pristine condition of the building that illustrates eternity, not the traces of its wear and decay.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower survived for half a century—not bad for Tokyo. It became the emblematic building of a movement known as Metabolism, a Japanese phenomenon that blended ideas about buildings and the body. Elements would be renewed like cells, tissue, and muscles around an armature to enable it to develop and adapt over time, with modernist notions of the expression of function through form and the enthusiastic adoption of new, prefabricated construction techniques.

Designed by Kisho Kurokawa in 1970, the Nakagin tower sought to accommodate Tokyo’s salarymen during the week, a stack of bachelor pads providing minimal apartments for the few hours of sleep allowed them between their ruthless workdays. The 140 prefabricated, self-contained capsules came equipped with all mod-cons including, for a slight uplift in rent, a built-in stereo. The interiors were tiny but efficient, with a bathroom pod (with a bath, although the toilet actually stood in it), a bed beneath the round window, and a pull-out desk.

By the early 2000s, the tower had fallen into disrepair, with most capsules empty. It had become a kind of tourist oddity, a cult among architects but also the target of redevelopment plans fought vociferously by conservationists, art historians, and architects across the world. The best they could do was to preserve 23 of the original 140 capsules, a number of which have found eager hosts with institutions and museums. It was also comprehensively mapped using 3D scanning technology, which is, arguably, a more perfectly appropriate Japanese method of preservation.

Metabolism, which was launched in 1960 (with Kurokawa as one of its founders and Kenzō Tange and Yoshio Taniguchi among its most influential adherents) might be seen as a particular cultural response to a number of factors. There was the widespread techno-industrialization of Japan as the world’s leading technological manufacturing base, and the devastating destruction of its cities in the American bombing of the Second World War. And there was the curious continuity of understanding architecture as a layer of replaceable and expendable elements within a larger framework, embodied by the traditional timber and paper houses, for instance, which were only ever meant to last a relatively short period.

But this became a resilient and globally influential idea. You can see its impacts in the prefab structures of offshore oil platforms and accommodation rigs in the world’s oceans, and in the forms of Richard Rogers’s Lloyd’s Building in London. You can see it in the relentless mania for emergency structures made using shipping containers, and in budget hotels and housing still being produced as prefab capsules.

Aged photograph of Japan’s Grand Shrine of Ise, surrounded by trees, in the 1910s
Japan’s Grand Shrine of Ise, in the 1910s. (Photo: Tetsudōin. Courtesy New York Public Library)


Meanwhile, the Ise shrine, its architecture derived from the elemental agricultural forms of ancient rice barns, privileges not the fabric but the embodied skills of carpenters. No power tools are allowed on the sites of the shrines, so all techniques involve complex traditional jointing—no nails. It is as anti-tech as the Metabolists were tech fetishists.

And while capsulization aimed for a kind of universality (its logical end point was a transportable, factory-made unit), the carpentry techniques and details used at the shrine were forbidden elsewhere. It was a knowledge that remained deliberately specific to its place, though not its time.

The fates of both structures, one demolished but part preserved and dispersed, the other consistently rebuilt over centuries—it is on its 62nd cycle of rebuilding (though no one knows exactly how many have occurred) and the techniques appear to date back 2,500 years—exemplify the inconsistencies in contemporary notions of heritage and permanence, of authenticity and function.

It is probably not very widely understood that very little of the material constituting the great cathedrals of Europe is actually medieval. These are buildings that have been repaired and rebuilt; suffered through war, wear, and weather; and adapted and remodeled over centuries. Yet we look upon them as mighty, immovable, and sacred objects, their fabric as sacred as their ritual use, with every contemporary repair fanatically considered and controlled.

The parable of Theseus’s ship haunts our material history. The vessel is battered and worn, and constantly repaired and rebuilt, so that, ultimately, none of the original material remains of the ship that Theseus had built—and yet there Theseus’s ship still is. It creates a conundrum, a philosophical problem about the value of material that might have been touched by mythical hands from history, shaped by another age.

For the woodworkers and thatchers at the Ise shrine, there is no paradox. They are the history. And their successors, their sons and apprentices, will be, too. The complex and lengthy rituals that accompany the finishing of each stage of the work are as important as the work itself. It acknowledges an almost Ruskinian reverence for work, an appreciation of labor rather than, necessarily, the artifact.

The idea of a rebuildable object also shines through the widespread adoration of kintsugi, an appreciation of imperfection in which the medium is the bonding agent for the broken pieces of an object. In this traditional Japanese technique, the work of repair is fetishised over the original appearance of the artifact. Where these various fetishes fall down, however, is at home.

So what of the home? Where is the domestic kintsugi? The celebration of imperfection and repair? With the exception of repurposed industrial buildings and lofts (an upper middle-class affectation that chimes with art space and an idea of tasteful authenticity for downtowns, which now exclude everyone but the wealthy) residential designers and clients are still seduced by the idea that, at home, things should be as perfect as possible, reluctant to acknowledge the ravages of time and the traces of history and use, even in old houses. There is a certain pleasure in the uncovering of a historic fireplace or cornice—but these are often then fanatically restored and made new.

What, then, of new buildings? Might there be a world in between, in which materials and artifacts have their own history—so that no new home is a tabula rasa? Materials are a tricky issue. A huge source of embodied carbon and labor, it is something architecture needs to confront but the construction industry remains unwilling as it adds an extra layer of difficulty, of sourcing and testing, supply and reliability.

One unusual and intriguing cooperative design practice, ROTOR in Belgium, with a huge yard in Brussels, has been doing what it can to create a materials bank and research the reuse of materials. Slabs of marble cladding, midcentury floor tiles, 1960s office furniture, art deco bathroom fittings, and huge quantities of perfectly good doors occupy the huge warehouses, all digitally labeled and cataloged for reuse. Architects enjoy the history of these materials, in their quality but also in that intangible sense of having already lived a good life. This is the Metabolism of today, the changing and adoption of buildings through elements, but old rather than new.

On a smaller scale, we could all be doing this. It is undoubtedly more difficult and time-consuming. It might even be more expensive. But the result will be an interior with depth, a home imbued with rich layers of both material and time.

The future belongs neither to the Nakagin or to Ise. Both are too predetermined. Instead, perhaps, it might belong in a more ad hoc tradition of scavenging and foraging. Few of the young people I meet today are interested in big-brand fashion or label shopping; they instead spend their time in thrift stores or online, on vintage-clothes platforms. The search is part of the pleasure.

Could this be a future for architecture? An acknowledgment that too much is being made, and that it might be more individual and interesting to collage an architecture from found objects?  Theseus’s ship had no original material, but it remained Theseus’s ship. How might we reuse and recycle existing material to continue creating and adapting new architectures and new homes? What wonderful kind of ship might those become?