Olafur's Skateboard

Today in Olafur's Skateboard News:  the skateboard is on view!  Your Mercury Ocean, 2009 is being displayed at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan.  Unfortunately, the skateboard has been glued to the wall.  So you can't skate on it.  See previous post on my feelings on this.

As a silvery contrast, I offer this video of Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds.  Most people interact with this piece as these folks are.  However the last time I saw it displayed, in a Chelsea gallery, there were two eight-year-olds punching them as hard as they could, yelling, and having the time of their lives.  All I could think was "either Andy would be happy, or pissed; either way this is sweet, sweet art."  So, back to the skateboard glued on wall.  What is great about Olafur's work is that it's completely useless without Your Intense Participation.  Making the deck is a great idea, this is an intensely used object that Olafur found a cool way to impact.  But its awesomeness has been curtailed a bit by its remoteness.  It's time for the deck to come off the wall.

Mies and Japan

miesjapan.jpgWhile we're on the topic of Mies and Japan, we'd like to point out Hello Beautiful's hilarious-yet-we're-not-sure-they-meant-it-to-be hilarious comparison of Mies's work to the Ryōan-ji garden in Kyoto.  But the visual cues are fun nonetheless, and are an inspiring take on what Mies was going for.  Even if we're not sure that's what Mies was going for.

House In Hanaremaya

houseinhan05.jpgWhile we're on the subject of designboom, we loved the house by Kidosaki Architects Studio, the House In Hanaremaya.  It reminds us of Mies's early brick houses, while staying squarely within the tradition of minka-en.  Of course those two references are already hair's width apart.  Still, it's nice to see someone working in that space, because it truly never gets old.

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Flat Flat


There has never been a concept too experimental that it needn't be built in Harajuku. Jean Snow points us to Flat Flat, a space where visitors can experience the online games portal Hangame. As a retail space it is an oddity: highly expressive, yet not much there except a bunch of computer screens. As a concept it is arguably redundant (if the games are online, isn't the point that you play them against people far away?), which also makes it highly unique.

Also we're really into the neon ceiling.

Picture found at designboom.

Kengo Kuma Designs Houses For Muji


Muji: for those of us in the United States and Europe, it is a wonder for inside your home. In Japan, it is also possible for it to be the home itself. You wouldn't know it unless you are able to read Japanese: Muji keeps these pages untranslated, and furthermore their design simplicity does not extend to their website. Tropolism favorite Kengo Kuma has designed some prototype homes for them (our favorite it the Window House, as you can see in our article over there at Yanko Design). He wisely sticks to a super-configurable model and shies away from too much prefab repetition. They aren't quite as radical as his other houses, but they have their pleasures. Greg Allen gives us another take on these designs.

Greg goes one further and translates the awesome Muji Village concept. It appears to be little more than a far-away rendering and some floorplans (awesomely displayed as take-home art posters. Take that NYC real estate brokers!), but as a feel-good concept, they have rocked the party mic. We'll keep you posted when it takes shape.

The Trippy Florescent Light Sculptures of Yuichi Higashionna


Yuichi Higashionna is a Japanese artist whose most eye-catching work are florescent light fixture sculptures. They are almost like creatures, or armatures of the kind you'd find on the set of Twelve Monkeys. There are several photo galleries floating around, including this great one about his March show at Designboom. Also check out the interview with Shift earlier this year.

House of Relationship


Sou Fujimoto Architects, they of Next Generation House fame, long ago (2005) did a plan based on this diagram, called T-House. Yes, we love the diagrams! And the house is amazing. It gets full on profiling from Arch Daily, including a real floor plan of the house, and includes some interestingly-translated writing about something called "Garden of Relationship". Some day we'll show you the dream house we looks something like this one.

More Miesian Delusions


Again with the Newsletter: last week I referenced some Miesian Delusions I came across the last few weeks. Another one opens tomorrow in Barcelona: SAANA is taking their bendy-glass-reflection-space to Mies's Barcelona Pavilion with a temporary installation. They have installed a semi-transparent acrylic curtain spiral. The curtain lets the visitor continue to visually see Mies's original space, but adds a layer of reflection and circulation that did not exist before. It's of the appropriate subtlety for the already-perfect Pavilion. We can't wait to see actual installation pictures.

Alerted by Designboom, who have more renderings.

Ouroussoff: Please Get A Photographer


As those of you who signed up for the Newsletter already know, I wrote a little about Nicolai Ouroussoff's review of Frank Gehry's new building in Toronto.

A quick recap. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times included a review of Frank Gehry's addition/reorganization of the Art Gallery of Ontario, in his birthtown of Toronto. Nicolai Ouroussoff gives Gehry his usual loving treatment, including a few gilding words about the building's new integration into its urban setting, which are barely hinted at in the accompanying photographic essay. So we will have to take his word for it, apparently. Actually, I'm kind of tired of taking their word for it. Can we see some proof? Or at least have the pictures align with the words a little better? I think this is probably an editorial problem. They send the architecture critic and a photographer to the building at the same time. They visit, and it is only later that the critic constructs his argument. The photographer has already taken the pictures though. But couldn't Ouroussoff (whose work we like!) take some snapshots as backups and then use them to fill the gaps? And half of the photos in the slideshow are from Gehry Partners anyway, didn't they have a couple that could help Ouroussoff better? It's a little distressing. And it's symptomatic of why print media, even in its online editions, is going to fall to The Blog, particularly with regards to writing about the city. Print is never messy. The city and blogs are.

So it's not without a little bit of frustration to see Mr. Ouroussoff's latest post, today about some theoretical museum by Toyo Ito (who we love), which includes two 'eh' renderings (one pictured above) and a lot of words about how the design is great. Really? Tropolism means pretty pictures. It also means good-awesome and accurate renderings. We just want more.

Mr. Ito, you can send more/better renderings using our submission form at the right.

Furniture Friday: Gehry's Swoopy Bench


Speaking of swoopy bench-like sculptures, Frank Gehry has done one for the World Company building in Tokyo, just in time for Tokyo Design Festival. It's worth comparing his to Zaha Hadid's. Formally they are similar: complex curves that you can sit on. They sit in a space, but aspire to some kind of kinetic reflection of their present surroundings. But the materials are very different. Gehry's piece could be made by basket weavers; Hadid's requires a lot of bondo and an apprenticeship in auto body repair. I like them both, but Gehry's piece is a reminder that the build manifestation of complex forms is not always seamless shiny material.

As seen at Core77.

Next Generation House Update: Winner!


This just in: Sou Fujimoto Architects' Next Generation House, as seen here on Tropolism yesterday, won the Private Houses jury at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona. We concur with their report, this house is a winner.

Next Generation House


One of our favorite architecture studios has recently posted about their Next Generation House. Sou Fujimoto Architects is the land of awesome houses, and the heavy-timber Jenga game that is this house is no different.

Tipped off by sub-studio design blog, where even more awesome pictures can be found.

Zaha And Chanel Do Up Art


The Chanel Pavilion Of Contemporary Art, Seriously or whatever it's called gives you all of its formal secrets before you get it. It's swoopy. It's modular fiberglass. It's Chanel! It's hard to miss that on the outside, but the utopian aspirations are given a distinct flavor. There are creepy helpers scurrying around in their black coats and black ball caps: they only look like jackbooted fascists in a retro-sci-fi movie, even though they say they're just taking tickets. It's helpful to write about this project in three parts:

Architecture: Zaha designed a swoopy container. It's interesting, but the swoops get old fast, and the construction is still very Early-Swoop-Technology: some great fiberglass panel stuff but all the connections are held together by schmutz. And a few well placed screws where things didn't quite work out. All the ceilings are made with a terribly cheap looking stretched tent fabric material. Things that art containers need, like lighting, are relegated to black painted openings between stretch fabrics. Often the unpainted 2x4 wood blocking under the track lighting is visible. Gorgeous. But the ambition is incessant, which is why we love Zaha, and you have no choice but to accept it (otherwise just go find a rock in the park to sit on). Check out the excellent slideshow at Curbed.

Art: With few exceptions, highly derivative or too understated to stand against/work with The Container. For some reason they all have Chanel as their theme. It's meant to be a theme that ties them all together. It's not a very good idea. However there is a powerful slideshow by our favorite bondage photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, and some very disturbing photographs by David Levinthal. And a piece by Leandro Erlich called Le Trottoir (The Sidewalk) that one needs to experience for something like 50 minutes, not the 5 minutes they give you before you're shuttled away.

Narration: The Container cocoons you in many ways, notably by covering your ears with headsets and an MP3 player that you cannot touch without screwing everything up. They let you know. And so you are torn from your companions and given a decent soundtrack and narration by Jeanne Moreau (who we love). At first I thought it was Zaha. Easy mistake to make: the narration script is hilariously pretentious. The problem is that the art isn't really sequenced the way the continuous soundtrack and narration suggest, it's just a bunch of separate pieces (that vaguely relate to the space and Chanel, yes) and someone has put cinematic schmutz in the gaps between them. We applaud the idea of seeing what is mostly New Media Art this way, but it's light years behind interactive media as accessible as Call Of Duty 4. It's a way of seeing art that is under explored. The Container poses the problem, but the results are mixed.

Tropolism Books: Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan


Title: Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan
Author: John Roderick

Publication Date: November 1, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 978-1-56898-731-6

John Roderick leaves his metier of journalism (he was an Associated Press correspondent in Asia for almost forty years) and enters the much trickier realm of architectural memoir with Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan. It is his experiences as an American journalist in post-war Japan who purchases a minka, reconstructs it, and makes new home out of it.

Click Continue Reading for the full review.

Olafur's Tokyo Tiles


Olafur Eliasson is apparently conquering the world. From Archidose comes the news of an installation of around 7,000 platinum-glazed ceramic tiles in a courtyard of a house by Tadao Ando, in Tokyo. You already know of our love for golden legos; this just brings us one step closer to our dream.

The original article at Architectural Digest focuses more on the building, and has a good slideshow of the project.

The Circus Of Delirious Shopping Carts Part 3


Another long-lost and favorite meme of ours comes back through reader mail (keep those emails coming, folks!) in the form of some links to abandoned theme parks, many in Japan. Making the exploration of these ghost parks even more thrilling, beyond the Joel Sternfeld-like eeriness of the pictures themselves, is that they are collected on sites written in either German and/or Japanese, neither of which we read.

Our favorite is the Shiga Spiral, pictured. Happy exploring!

Tokyo Architecture In Pictures


If you are like us, with our love affair with Tokyo, and, like us, miss its special mix of stunning architecture that doubles as larger than life retail, you will appreciate these two flickr sets.

The first is by Ralf Dziminski and covers some of my favorite spots, including this corner on Omotesando, pictured above.

The second, larger set is by nouknouk and also captures the overlap of retail messiness and retail architecture.

Both pointed out by Jean Snow.

460 Degrees Gallery


In a record two months, what was a totally free of commercial taint artwork (at Burning Man, you know it's pure if it was there), has been done in a very similar fashion (without the burning part) at the Lexus 460 Degrees Gallery in Los Angeles! Yes, the same artist whose minions took Greg Allen for task for criticizing his Burning Man project has designed the interior of a Lexus Showroom with the same motif. There is nothing that brings us more pleasure than the knowledge that unbridled irony still lives in this world.

Of course, nailing a bunch of 2x4s together in a sculptural way is hardly new: I draw your attention to Tadashi Kawamata's work in the 1980s, work of much more powerful shape, form, and beauty than of the references we've seen this year. And of site-specific relevance. The Lexus Gallery in particular seems strangely decorative in this context: it could well be a coffee bar, or an awning for a wedding, or a kitchen sales office.

Via CoolHunting.

Tokyo Meets Berlin


We all know that Toyo Ito designed an installation for Mies Van Der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, for their upcoming Berlin-Tokyo/Tokyo-Berlin show. Right? Keep up speedy: We Make Money Not Art has a Flickr pool showing the installation in progress. Tropolism will bring you more as it develops.

Harajuku Update: Completely Freaky


Forget Apple's tired glass cube (leading to...basement!), we're interested in the completely freaky (and completely awful, but still) iceberg building in Harajuku. Glass shards abound. It's like the 1980s are here again. Jean Snow delivers.

Harajuku Update


Nothing brightens our day more than knowing that Jean Snow, our favorite Tokyo blogger, has taken a jaunt around our favorite neighborhoods in one of our favorite cities, and taken a bunch of pictures of new buildings. That's a job we can respect. Stay tuned to his Flickr pool for more photos of his tour.

Pictured is the new "iceberg" building, of which we know zilch. Readers, do tell.

Omotesando Hills: Opening Reports


Omotesando Hills, the Tadao Ando-designed shopping mall/old folks home complex, opened this week. Two reviews have popped up that are of interest. The first, from the New York Times', er, shopping critic, seems to think it's a quiet respite from the loud and flashy stuff that happens on Omotesando Avenue. We think that's a bit generous, but granted, we only saw it under construction.

The second is by our favorite not-Japanese-but-in-Japan blogger Jean Snow, contributing to Gridskipper as well as his own site. Jean doesn't have many good things to say about it, but he seems to be more unimpressed than anything else. His great Flickr set says a lot.

From both accounts it's clear that the building is a mall with a bunch of mall shops you will find anywhere. The part not being talked about is the rooftop garden (which is not accessable by the public), and the back side (pictured above), where the old folks live, bordering the quieter (and much cooler) hood behind Omotesando Avenue.

Architecture That Defies Death


Much like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artist-itect couple Arakawa and Madelaine Gins never seem to fade away. They just build bigger and more outrageous projects. This we can respect.

Brand Avenue points us to an interesting article in the Japan Times interviewing Arakawa about a crazy gerbil-city of apartments he designed in Tokyo. He and his partner's work is obsessed with architecture that "defies death", in the sense of defying expectations, therefore bringing back to life original, direct sensory perception. In this case, it means hanging all your clothes from hooks on the ceiling (accessible by non-moveable ladder), light switches at your ankles, and bright colors. It really opens the place up, don't you think?

Their website has more hidden gems, including the weird-yet-in-East-Hampton Bioscleave House, and the weird-yet-great-website park called Site of Reversible Destiny (pictured above). The latter seems like a more suitable ground for this kind of exploration. It's like a jungle gym for adults. The living spaces, while interesting exercises, seem to dominate the inhabitants with the artist's idea of what constitutes living. Tropolism means taking pleasure in Habit.

Tokyo Retail Masters: Wonderwall


One of the amazing things about Tokyo is the beadth and depth of creativity that goes into retail design. In the USA, we are only beginning to have something between high-end retail and crap. In Tokyo, there are a million little corners of beauty.

So it is with great pleasure, and no surprise, to see that our source for Tokyo love, Jean Snow, has linked to Tokyo design firm Wonderwall's newest and greatest projects. My favorite is the one pictured above, the Aoyama BAPE store, directly across from the kate spade Tokyo flagship I did in 2004. The store was a bit dated when I visited it a year ago; they've radically altered it.

Friday: Omotesando Hills Day!


It's the second week in a row with a Friday Omotesando Hills update. Time to celebrate! This time, it's on-the-spot pictures from the ever-on-top-of-it Jeansnow. Judge for yourself.

I think it's lovely, if a bit monotonous. It will probably work better when the storefronts are alive and contributing to the street. But it is a bit like the other starchitect buildings on the street.

Weekend Reading: Omotesando Hills Debate


While we here in New York talk about really important stuff, our peers in Tokyo are having an interesting, and elevated, debate about preservation on Omotedando. The editor of Tokyo's Metropolis told us how he really feels, while iMomus contributes a much more nuanced piece on the matter.

Omotesando Hills is another of Minuro Mori's Developments designed, of course, by Tadao Ando. The building is not yet completed. It was a hole in the ground a year ago, when I was there.

City As Puzzle Picture

puzzle1.jpgWhen I was young, I played with picture-puzzles. One of these puzzles was a psychedelic composition not unlike something you'd see in Heavy Metal. Each of the pieces was fascinating in and of themselves, because the drawing was so detailed that each puzzle piece contained complete little pictures. When snapped together, the puzzle formed a larger composition, and these little pictures simply became texture for the larger whole. Same with the Muppet Movie puzzle we had.

When I returned from Mukogaoka-Yuen, while walking through Shinjuku Station, leaving the Odakyu rail line, emerging into the Odakyu department store, I began to make new turns, not knowing where they would lead, making my way through another department store, and another, and finally emerging on another street with no name, and not knowing where I was headed. Yet I kept going forward, following my nose and the hair on the back of my neck, and Tokyo did not disappoint: there was something to see at every turn. In Europe, or New York, I might have considered myself lost. But here, the concept of being lost has become useless. There is no Lost, there is only being-where-you-are. The city, like the vernacular buildings I toured today, is composed of a bunch of puzzle pieces, assemblages that join together with no nails, details that I am content to study before I know where they belong in the larger picture. Each store, street, and cyclist is a picture unto itself. For me, just emerging from my jet lag, the pieces aren't strung together, except the four conjoined department stores I walked through today, and the pieces that were still together when I dropped them from the box. The continuum is implied, but not yet visible.

In short, the city picture already exists, but putting it all together is simply a matter of time and careful observation.

My Own Lost-In-Translation Moment

puzzle2.jpgLast fall, on my first trip to Tokyo, I lifted the window shade on the plane, nearing the end of a fourteen hour flight, and thought oh. the sky is blue over Japan, too. Never mind that I had no idea what new color to expect of the sky: I had simply expected something different.

My boyfriend was at business meetings all week, while I was navigating a new an unfamiliar city on my own. Because of this, and because we are staying in the hotel that Lost in Translation was set in, I have wondered when my lost-in-translation moment is going to happen. I thought it walking around Ginza. In Shibuya. In Aoyama. In Mukagaoka-Yuen. At the park of minka-en. I even have little thought sentences that attempt to spur on a grand whistfulness about my life, and how the fact that I don't speak Japanese, or read more than 10 kanji, or read zero hiragana or katakana, may be taken as a metaphor that my lover does not understand me. The voice says hey! that was your lost-in-translation moment. But my life is not a movie, or an audition for a movie, and so this moment never happened. It will surely come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that none of the conditions that were documented in the film apply to me. I'm not unhappy that my boyfriend had business there: business is what enables us to visit, and to stay in such a spectacular hotel. I'm not alienated by being the only gaijen on a commuter train: after all, I live in New York, and it's not uncommon for me to be the only Caucasian on a train. I'm not frustrated by not speaking or reading the language: my French is poor enough for me to be mostly mute when I'm in Paris. And again: I live in New York, and it's not uncommon for me to be amongst those who speak no English. I have no desire to meet a washed-up soap actor at the New York Bar and Grill on the 41st floor of the Shinjuku Park Hyatt.