Sunday, 5 September 2010

Hiroshi Nakamura, architect



In 2009 I contacted the office of rising architect Hiroshi Nakamura regarding an interview. I sent English questions to his secretary and received answers back in Japanese, which I then translated.

CBL: As a young architect, how has the architectural environment changed since the Bubble?

HN: Young architects got lots of benefits from commercial clients and developers. That has rather disappeared. But, on the plus side the kind of restless, temporary consciousness of architecture also disappeared, and has been replaced by a tendency towards a more human-friendly and longer-lasting style of architecture.

CBL: The period before the Bubble seemed to create a lot of flashy, showy architecture. Even Kenzo Tange's buildings – like the National Gymnasium in Yoyogi – seemed designed to gain attention for the architect rather than to serve their purpose. How do young Japanese architects now feel about the generation of architects of the Post-war to Bubble period – Tange, Kurokawa, Isozaki, Ando, etc.?

HN: At the time when the main client of construction was public construction, architects found it necessary to gain justification for public investment by creating works with prominent characteristics. But the main clients in Japan these days are from the commercial sector and for residences. This means that more emphasis in put on creativity as a saleable commodity or service, and the ideal is architecture that can avoid problems and disturbances.

CBL: Who do you regard as the leading architects of the post-Bubble period? Why are they important?

HN: Anyone who can convey the charm to the world while utilizing local factors.

CBL: The recent generation of architects seems to be more interested in a kind of faceless architecture that focuses on the functions of buildings, their location and site, rather than trying to make something artistic that stands out. The characteristic architect of the post-Bubble era is someone like Kengo Kuma, who once talked about "erasing architecture." What do you think about this notion?

HN: I think the era of 2-D construction by taking photographs and making outdoor sketches to advance the design is over. It is now necessary to design in 3-D, from shape related characteristics.

CBL: Do you think your architecture has any Japanese characteristics?

HN: Yes, I think my way of approaching things naturally is Japanese. I don't accept the binomial opposition between nature and construction. We must cooperate with nature.

CBL: Your designs can seemingly be split into two: eye-catching designs that stand out, like House SH and some of your retail projects, and designs that blend in or merge with the site, like House C, Green Carpet, or Dancing Trees Singing Birds. Would it be true to say you have two different architectural personalities?

HN: I think any apparent differences stem from responding to different sites. If the design is motivated by the environment and we are not perplexed by the characteristics of the place, then the design will develop in many different ways.

CBL: Could we say that one half of your style is pre-Bubble in style and the other half post-Bubble?

HN: My architecture has absolutely no relationship to the Bubble.

CBL: What things inspire you?

HN: The mechanism of recognition of people’s cognitive psychology. It's not like the eighties, when architects studied shape quoting philosophy. The living aspect of humanity is the pivot point of all design.

CBL: What influenced your approach to architecture?

HN: The small secret house I made from cardboard when I was a child. This gave me an early sense of a kind construction that is close to humans and similar to clothes. If the hand reaches out and touches something, we get the feeling for construction. I think the idea of communication between building and body can be seen in House SH, while Dancing Trees Singing Birds shows a building interacting with the surrounding trees.

CBL: Architects can think only of the building, or they can also think of the town or city where the building exists.

HN: I think that we should always consider the wider scope.

CBL: Do you believe that architecture can create not only beautiful buildings but also a beautiful and well-designed cityscape?

HN: Architecture isn't only about beautiful construction. I also believe in well-designed city views wherever possible.

CBL: What is necessary to make this happen?

HN: If we use the building materials of the local market positively and give it our best efforts, then it may be possible to build well.

CBL: You work in both the city and the country. How different is it working in the city and the country? What are the different challenges?

HN: Local factors become important, like various materials and craftsmen, and this leads to an increase in cooperative working.

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