February, 6 2002
Shin Takamatsu gave a lecture at the Berlage Institute.
Japanese architecture is back in fashion again. Last autumn the
Berlage staged an exhibition on trends in European and Japanese
architecture, and the University of Technology in Delft is currently
running a lecture series devoted to Japanese design practice. Just
how different Japanese practice is became clear in the lecture 'Hard-boiled
architecture'. Janneke van Bergen reports. .
Cover of book Architecture and Nothingness, by Shin Takamatsu.
The presentation itself amounted to a statement: no words but deeds.
So Shin began with a twenty-minute-long slide show, to the hard
beats of Leftfield, Daft Punk and Underworld. Images of old and
new work, countless forms and buildings, flitted by. The projects,
futuristic and uncompromising, were imprinted as emblems on the
mind. This torrent caused a nervous giggle to ripple through the
audience. Besides architecture, Shin also showed lots of atmospheric
images and cinematic interior perspectives, and it was as if you
could actually step into the virtual spaces.
Then there was Shin himself. Speaking in short Japanese sentences,
he told of his father, a fisherman, who distrusted people who talked
too much, for they scared the fish away. Or as Shin added: 'Architecture
says more than words. I think I should vanish from the site now
A very humble attitude for a man who usually makes large, monumental
During the lecture the audience was taken swiftly through a number
of recent projects, with few words from an interpreter. Remarkably,
the weighty and brusque quality of his earlier work, which many
particularly appreciate, is lacking in these projects. With their
white flowing forms, transparent and slender structures, they are
almost transcendental. The similarity to his earlier work is in
terms of scale, geometry and emblematic composition. All projects
are detailed to perfection. The recently completed temples in Higashi
and Myokinzan are memorable. Here, monumental architecture is subservient
to religion, and tradition and intervention merge seamlessly with
Sketch of a temple by Shin Takamatsu
In the other projects architecture again assumes the main role,
and little is said of the siting. Shin's terse, ironic commentary
focuses on the political situation, on whether the major was or
wasn't re-elected after completion. Transcendentalism started to
merge with power-craving architecture. Two of Shin's current projects
are in Moscow, where after the recession in Asia the money can be
made. Three-dimensional facades, glass floors, crystal interiors:
giggles in the audience again.
The Imanishi and Quasar buildings.
The apotheosis consisted of two animated films in which mystic music
accompanied us on a journey through a number of Utopian buildings,
complete with sunset and dazzling fireworks. Shin managed to put them
into perspective by telling us that they were made for planning application
purposes, but the giggling still gave way to loud laughter. The cultural
difference was clear. Architecture like this is only possible in a
country where conformity is the order of the day, for our polder-model
society fractures easily into countless fragments. Shin translates
these Utopias into reality, with great care and precision, and great
rarity (the only way to turn such visions into stunning architecture).
The question from the audience, whether it is possible to design a
building with other people, is answered in the negative. In every
project, Shin embarks on an introspective search for images, which
he captures in drawings. His buildings embody the ideas and signature
of just one person, and that is himself. With that, the romance of
the 'fisherman's son becoming famous architect' was broken forever.
It also explains the title of the lecture: hard-boiled architecture.
Shin used to read lots of hard-boiled detective stories. And that's
how he sees himself, obedient to his own rules and laws. And practical
tips? Be good in politics, ventured Wiel Arets. 'To understand fish
is to understand men', my neighbour jested. And nobody knows that
better than Shin.
Janneke van Bergen
Translation: Billy Nolan
more information: Shin