Make Do With Now: New Directions in Japanese Architecture
Swiss Architecture Museum, Steinenberg
November 12, 2022 – March 12, 2023
Make Do With Now introduces the thinking and projects of a new generation of architects and urban practitioners working in Japan today. Born between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, the architects featured in the exhibition largely entered professional practice following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster. This is a generation that must grapple with a range of urgent problems currently facing the country, including a declining, graying population and an emptying countryside; the proliferation of vacant houses across the nation; profit-driven urban development, mostly without the involvement of architects; a stagnant economy; and, of course, the global climate crisis.
Instead of being humbled into resignation, however, many architects of this cohort are choosing to confront these challenges head-on. Turning their marginalized position into a strength, they are developing a range of critical, ecological, and social practices that creatively “make do” – with limited resources, with found materials, or with existing spaces. In contrast to the clean lines and minimalist spaces most recently associated with contemporary Japanese architecture, these projects pursue a decidedly different aesthetic politics that isn’t afraid to leave things rough around the edges. Whether working from the periphery, exploiting gaps in the system, or occupying roles in the process that have previously been overlooked, these practitioners are articulating a new architectural agency that radically departs from the traditional image of the architect-author.
As part of its exhibition series ‘Learning From’, the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum regularly focuses on movements and developments from abroad that have wider relevance for the architectural conversation in Switzerland and beyond. For the S AM, these approaches coming out of Japan today are anything but a marginal phenomenon, but rather hold crucial relevance for a world that is coming to terms with a future beyond a paradigm of constant growth. Approaches such as building transformation, material reuse, participatory and social design – all ideas that have particularly flourished in the Japanese context – are gradually becoming the norm in Swiss and European architecture as well. In this sense, these Japanese positions form an important contribution to a global discussion. They demonstrate that to ‘make do’ by no means signalizes a lack; rather, they make us realize the creative flourishing that follows when we recognize that what we have is already more than enough.
What can be seen in the exhibition?
Through texts, images, and graphics, the first exhibition room provides an atmospheric introduction to the social, economic, and built environment that provides the context for young architects working today in Japan. The second exhibition section presents twenty representative projects, all started or completed in the last five years. Diverse in both scale and program, the selection aims to provide an x-ray scan of contemporary architectural production in Japan and shows that it is difficult to reduce the various attitudes and concerns of this generation of architects to a single issue. Rather, the image that emerges is that of a generation engaged in a search for new models of architectural engagement in an effort to articulate an adequate response to the challenges facing the profession and society at large today. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify certain interests and tendencies among the featured projects. Here are six phrases for navigating this new architectural landscape: Architecture as Transformation, The Architect on Display, From Building to City, Alt-Architect, Main Street is Quite All Right, Material Histories.
This room features projects by: GROUP, Masaaki Iwamoto / ICADA, Ishimura + Neichi, Norihisa Kawashima / Nori Architects, Chie Konno / t e c o, Lunch! Architects, Murayama + Kato Architecture / mtka, Fuminori Nousaku Architects, Jumpei Nousaku Architects, Shun Takagi / Root A, Rui Itasaka / RUI Architects, Studio GROSS, SSK, Keigo Kawai / TAB, Tsubame Architects, Shigenori Uoya, VUILD, Suzuko Yamada , Maki Yoshimura / MYAO.
The last section of the exhibition presents the work and thinking of five young architecture practices working in Japan today, each embodying a distinct approach to the question of the architect’s role in society: Mio Tsuneyama + Fuminori Nousaku Architects (Tokyo), 403architecture dajiba, CHAr (Tokyo), tomito architecture (Yokohama) und dot architects (Osaka). Here, the focus is on process and approach: what are young architects in Japan thinking as they design? How do they work, and where? And what alternative visions of what architecture can be – and do – might come into view as we observe their work? The profiles unite photographs, films, large-scale models, and other materials from the offices to provide holistic portraits of their process. In a series of video portraits developed with Studio GROSS (Anne Gross and Sebastian Gross) for this exhibition, the architects explain their thinking in their own words. The scenography by Japan-based architect and designer Yusuke Seki translates the distance between Japan and Switzerland in a playful manner, intervening in the museum spaces in a spirit reflective of the motto ‘Make Do With Now’.
In the first room, the insertion of a new ceiling at a height of 2.4 meters transforms the proportions of this grand space into those more reminiscent of a domestic space in Japan. In the second room, picture frames from a previous S AM exhibition are repurposed as displays, linked together using a traditional Japanese technique to create an installation both impressive and enigmatic. In the third room, the wooden crates used to transport the exhibition models from Japan to Europe are themselves exhibited as part of the exhibition furniture. The traces of transit are kept deliberately visible, allowing for the physical distance travelled by the objects and the ideas contained within them to take part in the design process.