“Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack, a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in”
There was a home in Tokyo built in mourning; a coping mechanism for a grieving family. You could spend an eternity searching for it today. It no longer exists. The histories of White U
and Toyo Ito
seem to embody Japanese architecture’s rapacious shift from past to present and the consistent role that homes play in Japanese society, houses as symbols and not just buildings. I’ve been researching Japanese architecture for the past couple of months, and stumbled upon a designboom article
mentioning a house, White U, which Ito had built in 1976. After finding very little information about the house on the internet, I biked over to the local architecture library (located in a great building
), and began digging through monographs
about Ito. I came across a series of stunning photographs and the crushing history of the house. Unfortunately, the library scanner was broken. I was left with only one option, the photocopier, to document my findings. somehow I feel comfortable showing these images which were taken at least 12 years ago (though presumably much longer ago than that), printed by the photographer, then reprinted into the monograph, photocopied, scanned, emailed and now posted on this blog. This journey has left these photos faded and distorted (much like the photos from yesterdays post
); a distant memory, similar to the building. If I could make the presumptuous statement that White U is the seminal white out building, I would. In fact, until i’m proven wrong, I will. Not only is the story of White U representative of the character of many white outs, but Ito, himself, represents a generation that influences today’s white out architects.
In 1941, Toyo Ito was born in what is now Seoul, which at the time was a part of Japan. thus, he grew up in the post WWII destruction. By the time Ito entered college, metabolism was in its nascent stages and soon to develop into a highly influential movement. After graduating, Ito began working for Kikutake architects
, a very highly regarded metabolist. After spending four years under the wings of Kikutake, Ito set forth to practice on his own. In 1971, he started his own firm Urban Robot (or Urbot). The name, reflective of both an interest in cities and technology, hints at the core values of metabolism – large, innovative, urban technocratic megastructures. Much of his early work was spent on exploring issues of mobility
. Eventually, by the end of the seventies he would change the firm’s name to the much more professional sounding, but not nearly as enticing, Toyo Ito and Associates. This may have been a reflection of the personal change he felt the need to manifest. In his essay “The Body Image Beyond the Modern” Ito states: “When I designed my first buildings in the seventies, I thought it was a virtue to take a critical attitude towards society… one can say that i saw that this kind of thinking persists since the new age. I always took a negative attitude towards contemporary society since modernism has attempted to change society. I have considered rejection by society to be a virtue. But if architects do not take a more positive stand with regard to society, withdrawing their criticism, buildings without context will continue to be built.”
The seventies was an era of experimentation and transition for architecture in Japan, a link between past metabolist theories and a future of more democratic architecture – expounded by Koolhass and represented today in the work of MVRDV. and it was in the seventies that Ito constructed White U for his grieving sister.
When Ito’s brother-in-law died, his sister and her family lived in a high rise – a life far from the dirt and far from private. They asked for a building to bolster them through this tough transition, coping with loss. Ito and his sister decided on the U shape, a symbol of exclusive unity, as the form of White U. the building turns inward and rejects the outside world, providing personal reflection. Ito describes the design process resulting from White U’s form: “Since i had the conception of a uniform tubular space, the development began to move in a certain direction. All openings were closed, and the natural light beams falling sparsely from above strengthened the impression of an underground labyrinth. at the same time the white summoned more white, and the curved surfaces enhanced their own curvature.”
White U became a hyper space, the light piercing through cracks in the walls became heightened by the white and reflective quality of the curving surfaces. Every quality seems to enforce itself and others creating a strong emotional vision; which is exactly what his sister wanted. She enjoyed the concentrated emotion and intensity of light in George de la Tour’s
paintings. She wished for the same in her new home, stating, “I did not long for a gentle soft light, but instead a strong light with the vitality to dispel the darkness.” The strength of the building clearly originates from the form. But then again, that was the point. The building forces introspection and constricts the habits of living. This truly was a home for mourning, for a family adjusting to a new life.
Eventually, the family adjusted and slowly left White U. The eldest daughter left first. The mother, a musicologist who enjoyed the acoustical experience of living in a u shaped tube was the next to move away, leaving behind the younger daughter as the sole inhabitant. The youngest daughter, who as a child enjoyed playing in White U’s dramatic lighting and curving room, came to enjoy White U and the way it enhanced her view of Paul Klee’s
work. With the process of grievance long completed, the youngest daughter decided to move away. She sold her home of thirty years to a developer. The house was razed.