Purple Magazine
— The Island Issue #35

terunobu fujimori

ARCHITECTURE

text by JEFF RIAN
photography by TAKASHI HOMMA

a world of handmade houses using natural materials like wood and plaster, created by an architect who has the freedom and humor to construct eccentric cabins and floating habitats high in the air.

The word “architecture” doesn’t seem to apply to the work of Terunobu Fujimori (b. 1946), who says he wants to build “freely,” to inject “fun into architecture,” and to accommodate diverse tastes, but always with a concern for comfort.

A renowned architect, architectural historian, author, cultural commentator, and television host, Fujimori was virtually unknown outside his home country until he represented Japan at the 2006 Venice Biennale’s International Architecture Exhibition.

Fujimori studied architecture at a time when modern construction dominated and the word “architecture” might bring to mind steel and stone, concrete and glass. He was influenced by neoclassicists like Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and the modernists Le Corbusier and Takamasa Yosizaka, but also by simple structures like the Ise Grand Shrine, with its pillars and joined wood.

His first public project, the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum (1991) in Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, was a concrete structure covered in wood, earth, and stone. In the following years, he built three teahouses nearby (shown here): the Takasugi-an (too-high teahouse), 20 feet above the ground, with an area of four tatami mats; the Flying Mud Boat, a teahouse suspended on wire; and the Hikusugi-an (too-short teahouse), built close to the ground of exposed wood and plaster.

His buildings look like friendly fairy-tale dwellings. He often uses charred-wood exteriors mixed with white plaster, sets tiny houses on stilts, gives them pointy roofs, or wedges slanted structures into hillsides. They all have friendly, organic names like Chocolate House, Dandelion House, Charred Cedar House, Nira (Leek) House, and Beetle’s House.

Fujimori’s building techniques look to the preindustrial past, long before skyscrapers and automobile flyways. His use of soil and plaster recalls the wattle-and-daub construction common 10,000 years ago, made of sticks and stones covered in lime plaster. Charred wood was an early method used to preserve it.

He has also clad entire houses in soft zinc. Chocolate House, which is set above a teahouse, is covered with copper, with a tiny house rammed into its side, cantilevered far above the ground.

Lamune Onsen (Lamune is the name of a fizzy Japanese lemonade, and an onsen is a hot spring) is a large building composed of bands of alternating charred cedar and white plaster with a number of towers, each topped with a pine tree.

Every one of these oddly familiar- and extraordinarily natural-looking structures, whether tiny or not-so-small — but never enormous — is an island distant from modern architecture’s cubic domination over nature. In these poignant times, when people are leaving cities and massive steel-and-glass towers stand empty, those seeking friendlier, more personal dwellings should take a look at Fujimori’s world.

END

PORTRAIT OF TERUNOBU FUJIMORI

 

[Table of contents]

The Island Issue #35

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