Next to the 300 years old cherry tree, at the corner of the school entrance, stands a new communal size wood burning oven. It was built following our belief that food brings people together. A truck full of sandstones, concrete blocks, and oyaishi stones brought to the school the materials we used to make the lower compartment to be used as a firewood storage. On top of it a 15 cm thick concrete slab was cast to support the oval footprint of the oven composed with 250 firebricks, 300 kg of local clay, 400 kg of sand, and a mix of 50 kg of lime and cement plus a big pile of dry rice straw. An A-frame timber structure timber structure serves as the house for the oven, with shuttering designed to protect the oven from rain and snow.
50 pizzas, a roast-beef, several sweet potatoes, pumpkins, a big fish and a roast-beef were successfully cooked in the oven’s stomach and were enjoyed during the Momijihiki festival. In the next few days we fed 35 school children with 50 slices of Margarita and also conducted a pizza school with the villagers short after the festival. We had a feast again, this time with Koshirakura styled pizzas combined with our Napolitan instructions. The locals are planning to use the communal oven to make Koshirakura style pizzas for the annual agricultural event (Jimankay/local pride) in mid-November.
Mansuke House is a 250 years old farmhouse. The owner “Mansuke” offered this house for the Workshop with the hope for its creative re-utilization as the family decided to move out to the city. The house survived a powerful earthquake in 2004 standing on its feet although none of the columns are vertical nor the beams are leveled and the whole structure is twisting as it is leaning increasingly towards north east winter after winter, with the help of snow piles that accumulate on the slope facing the western facade.
The project’s aim was to convert this house into an open-house for semi-communal use, like a Pub that stands for Public House, it accommodates local gatherings with drink and food, and will have extra rooms above for occasional over night staying of friends and guests.
Cleaning, stripping and insert (2007)
We have cleaned a huge volume of dust accumulated over years behind every ceilings, smelling a 250 year-old vintage air.
We stripped inner skins of the house to reveal structural spaces and textures of mud, smoked zelkova beam, bamboo, stone foundations and thatched roof hidden beneath the modern materials.
We Inserted a big tree as an inversion of tree-house, supporting a house from within while opening a vertical volume of space, visualizing the internal height of the top beam.
Furnishing and cooking (2008/09)
We made an open stove/grill for drinking and eating. As well as a rear window to enjoy the landscape behind the house so now it is also visible from the front.
We built one sliding furniture equipped with steps, a little platform, a small private observatory, a rear door to the garden, all compress into one.
Opening and Extending (2009)
We built “Light Room”. It replaced the western facade of the house as a main entrance intending to work as an inner garden of the house during the winter period.
Reorganising the workshop after the closure of Kawanishi Town Hall became our agenda in autumn 2005, when Koshirakura as a village expressed its wish to continue the workshop. The most obvious possibility was to approach the city government for funding. But we all agreed that however we organised the programme, it should continue to reinforce the combination of independence, openness and informality already inherent in the community. The idea of starting the new phase of the workshop by asking for greater government support didn’t generate much excitement.
2006 was planned as a pilot year to test the new agenda and means of organisation. Funding came from a maintenance budget secured just before the closure of the Town Hall, supplemented by some savings from the previous year.There was an increased flow of vegetables, sake/beer and rice balls from the village houses to the school.
Our new programme addresses how to make the best use of a few houses and lots that lie abandoned for various reasons. The first phase will involve designing events and activities that rearrange these spaces, opening them up for communal use as small playgrounds– transitional slack spaces. Phase 2 calls for the construction of a new low-maintenance structure that will serve as a communal room (or house for visiting guests) run by the community.
Our chosen site contains an old house that has lain untouched since the earthquake reduced it to a heap of wood, straw and mud. It belongs to someone from outside the village who bought it as a weekend home a couple of years ago (but never managed to visit). As it took us a while to track down the owner, the programme was not ready to launch this summer. So we decided instead to contribute something practical to the most respected and used place in the village, the shrine.
The idea of a retracting roof over the shrine evolved as a response to the weather the previous year. Climate change has led to more unpredictable storms. A downpour on the eve of the 2005 festival meant that all the planned events had to be cancelled at the last minute. There was no film premiere, no dancing, no fireworks display. All the lantern decorations we had prepared were washed away.
Bamboo, rope and timber salvaged from the Slow Window and Star-Gazing Platform were used to make the main structure of the new roof and the retracting mechanisms (pulleys). Blue (the cheapest) and white (the most expensive) tarpaulin sheets were tailored into a striped pattern then stitched together and riveted.The edges were reinforced by the insertion of 6 mm-diameter plastic sticks commonly used as supports for vegetable-growing tunnels.Three canopies were hung from three trees to form big umbrellas. Integrated under the roof was another structure that extended the facilities of the Cinema Screen (made in 2004) by providing a pivoting bench seat and support for the projector. The structures are designed to be used once a year. On the eve of the 2006 festival there was no rain.
On 23 October 2004 the Niigata earthquake, registering seven on the Richter scale, shook the entire district of Uonuma.The aftershocks continued for several weeks, and were followed by unusually heavy snowfall in November. Koshirakura village was cut off from the neighbouring towns.The whole community had to be evacuated from their homes; they used the old school as a shelter, sharing the classrooms, the gym and the kitchen. Once the electricity was restored, people became aware of the damage that had been inflicted on every house. And when the snow melted in early spring, the earthquake’s real impact on the local infrastructure was revealed. Road surfaces were buckled and cracked.The distinctive patterns of terraced rice fields and irrigation systems were erased by landslides. A few buildings, the Slow Window and Star-Gazing Platform among them, had collapsed and were beyond repair.The earthquake loosened them from their foundations (they were set on packed earth rather than bedrock) and then the weight of the snow dragged them down.
Fortunately there were no fatalities in Koshirakura, though the disaster and its aftermath made the community – and especially the elderly– feel more vulnerable. Their longing for the arrival of summer was more acute than ever. The concern in Koshirakura village was to ensure the continuity of the summer events, particularly the Maple Tree Festival. The villagers were looking forward to seeing the faces of the students who would be working with them that summer.
The theme of the 2005 workshop was the making of life-expressions – manifest in built forms and objects as well as performances and celebrations.
The initial shorter project was to make film clips under the title, ‘Koshirakura Story 2’. The key themes were love, loss and rediscovery.
Team 1 film clip is a romantic tale involving a man and an insect, which unfolds along the path between the 300-year-old cherry tree at the corner of the school and the small shrine in the centre of the village.
Team 2 related a journey through the village in search of a lost baseball. Shun, a local boy from the Katagiri family, and Marike, his friend from Holland, are playing in the gym. The story begins when Marike misses a catch and the two chase after the runaway ball.The ball is never found… until Team 3 picks up the story. A stranger from the USA, camping in the wilds, finds the ball several days later at the lower edge of the village. It is finally returned to Shu on his bicycle.
The main project focused on the design and making of vehicles that could be used in celebrating the Maple Tree Festival. Mikoshi means a palanquin for the gods. It gave rise to the omikoshi, a portable shrine set upon four wooden beams that enable it to be carried from place to place. The Maple Tree Festival, however, is believed to preserve the concept of mikoshi in its original form, with a sacred tree being used as a vehicle for the gods.
But rather than emphasising gods and mythology, the vehicles we created were related to the activities of people and the recurring patterns of behaviour that unfold in response to the annual festival. The construction process began by recycling the Slow Window and Star-Gazing Platform.They were disassembled into a series of parts which were then combined with new details in new structures. An unusable pile of timber was made into a big bonfire in the middle of the playground, which was lit by Masanobu San, the village chief for the year.
With the help of 19 sketch models we created a story-line associated with the Maple Tree Festival. At this stage, most participants only knew about the festival from photos and the stories told by students who had attended in previous years. This knowledge was often partial, and certain aspects and characteristics were interestingly exaggerated. The routines of singing, shouting, water pouring, playing and improvised games were translated into structural dimensions and mechanisms. Three teams were formed to design and construct three distinctive vehicles.
Team 1 made a vehicle for the expression of loud voices and pouring water. 3 mm-ply was cut in particular patterns and put together to form a megaphone. Combined with a wood box water-pumping device, it formed a two-wheeled water-pumping loud voice amplification vehicle that could also be used as a mobile seat for carrying a couple while showering them with voices and water.
Team 2 made a vehicle for play and safekeeping. Wood decking panels were folded around a swing set.The protective structure was designed to encourage children under six to participate in the festival activities while at the same time cradling them against the general boisterousness.
Team 3 made a palanquin for goddesses. During the festival the maple tree travels between houses to celebrate memorable events that have taken place that year, such as a birth or marriage, a special birthday, the extension of a house, or successes in business and studies.The mobile platform was originally conceived as a podium for speeches, for singing performances or for the celebratory kiss requested of a husband and wife. It was developed further to allow a group to sit together comfortably, elevated above a ground which was often awash with water from the celebrations. It was also put to good use as a shuttle vehicle for the elderly women of the village, who provide catering and other essential support for the festival.
The first two vehicles are folded and stored in the stage of the gym during the off-season. The third vehicle is used at two other sites during the year: under the cherry tree for the cherry celebration party in the spring, and as a small bridge at the bottom edge of the village. This last site has been used twice in past workshops for installations. Here the platform is located above the small waterfall, facing the terraced fields of rice which extend towards the horizon.
The festival was more crowded than in previous years, with additional participants from the neighbouring town, an English-learning group from Tachibana, architects from Tokyo and a volunteer engineering team sent by the Maeda Corporation.The cinema screen was re-erected at the shrine for the premiere of ‘Koshirakura Story 2’ on the eve of the festival (though a heavy downpour forced us to postpone the screening till the following night).
The new parade comprised the traditional mikoshi, followed by a line of three new vehicles carrying water, loud voices, wooden toys on wheels and people.There were more than enough participants to perform the additional festival rituals.
There are some folk stories that have been told for generations in Koshirakura.‘A Monkey Passed’ is the story of a single father who once lived in the village with three daughters. A monkey offered to help him one harvest season, but demanded one of the man’s daughters as his wife in return. When the father refused,he became very ill.To break the spell, the youngest daughter agreed to marry the monkey. But after they were married, she managed to trick him, sending him along the river before going back to her father.
With this and other tales in mind, we decided to devise narratives in response to four structures built in previous years – the Bus Shelter, Viewing Platform, Watermelon Place and Azumaya – to see whether rethinking spatial settings and functions could rekindle existing buildings.
The rules we set out to follow were:
1. Utilise elements of the existing landscape.
2. Write scripts and scenarios that could have taken place in the village.
3. Construct extra props to help stage the scenarios.
Three minutes of unedited footage were shot on four sites: in each case the cameras were carefully positioned to capture the structures as view sequences.
Team 1: set up a network of vistas starting from the Viewing Platform. A further series of window frames were constructed as props, placed apart but always visible from one another.These framed views are also linked by a series of existing paths around the village.
Team 2: The Bus Shelter in winter. Heavy snow slides off the roof intermittently. Inside, a couple are having an argument. The emotions of the built environment and of the couple are interlaced in the turmoil of the argument. As such, the building responds not only to natural climatic change but also to emotional climates. The couple become friends again when the bus shelter quietly opens up, a cool breeze clearing the air within. A little gift appears from under the dogama earth-seat.
Team 3: A man with an umbrella waits in front of the Bus Shelter. Across the road, by the Watermelon Place, stands an unfamiliar girl. Not far away, along the stepped retaining wall, sit a group of local women, chatting as they take a break on their way home from the fields. There is no sign of the bus, but the man seems unperturbed by its late arrival – or perhaps he is just unaware of the precise schedule. Instead, he seems to have found an excuse to approach the mysterious girl. The locals fall silent, realising what is about to happen. With a cup of cold spring water in her hand, the girl beckons. Unable to resist, the man draws closer.Then he hears a sound and turns around to see that the bus is about to leave without him. He looks back at the girl – to find she has disappeared. He runs after the bus, waving his umbrella in the air, but the last bus of the day has gone.
Team 4: A charming old lady with a basketful of tomatoes is said to appear in front of the Viewing Platform at certain times. One day a stranger sees her, and she gives him a tomato. The tomato grows and grows and starts rolling up the hill, towards the Azumaya.
Four short films became the basis for the making of ‘Koshirakura Story’. We organised ourselves into two production teams: one for further filming and editing, the other for designing and building a local cinema screen.
The space in front the shrine was chosen as the site for the cinema.The screen was aligned with the axis of the shrine. Projecting from the ground plane of the shrine, it extends over the stone steps that lead towards the village. The steps function as seats for the audience.The structure also becomes a new entry gate to the shrine.
Fabrics of different density were tested as projection screens, both for image reflection and movement in the wind. In the end we decided to use a great length of rope (3 km) stretched vertically between two wooden beams at 3 cm intervals. We discovered that the image could be seen from both sides of the screen, as the light reflected tangentially on the sides of each strand of rope and penetrated the gaps between.The structures were made with dry joints to allow easy disassembly and storage beneath the floor of the shrine during the off-season. Four anchoring points were marked by small pile-foundations surmounted with round stones.
The screen was adjustable vertically so that it could occasionally be used as a canopy over the main access to the shrine. A small shrine was also made to house a data projector. And a few seats were made from maple trunks.The production team shot additional clips in order to complete the story. Personal ads and promotions from local shops and petrol stands were also added.The film became a journey through the village, accompanied by Chikako Takahashi’s narrations and combining invented stories with actual spaces. We explored new spatialities and ambiguities by means of the present topography and histories of Koshirakura.
At the end of the Maple Tree Festival the god returns to the sky, leaving behind the tree that carried him through the village. In the past the tree would be recycled as firewood for the winter. Nowadays, with less need for firewood, it tends to be chopped up for no particular purpose. Our objective – when we laid claim to the tree after the 2002 festival – was to reuse it as building material for the following year’s workshop. We wanted to turn it into something solid and permanent:a horizontal gateway to the village, in the form of a viewing platform.
Our investigations began by selecting potential locations for the overlook. After the open presentation a site was chosen alongside the main road, halfway between the shrine and the school building, and at the edge of a steep drop along a 45-degree slope. A safety rail spans between two trees – a persimmon and a tall cedar.To the right is a small strip of cornfield.The teams outlined potential scenarios of how the platform could be used. 1 Local photographers visit regularly and use it as a tripod to shoot entire houses from above. 2 People stop and pick persimmons from the canopies above the platform. Sitting on the bench, they can view the autumn leaves while eating the seasonal fruit. 3 Grandparents sit at the edge of the platform, with their visiting grandchildren sitting in their laps.They share stories of the village and take family photos with the village in the background. 4 Weekend cyclists and motorists from the city stop to stretch their legs, taking off their boots/shoes at the edge of the platform.
Against the complex vertical topography of Koshirakura the level horizontal line of the gateway acquires a particular significance. Appearing as the most distinct (and artificial) landmark in the village, it refers to the notion of the palace as plateau. To begin, we worked with the topography of a maple tree, trying to understand it as a landscape, located against the flat floor surface of the gym. A series of sections were measured and made into jigs that compensated for the gap between the floor and the trunk.The jigs became integrated structures when they were lifted up and flipped over, supported by two ends of the tree as a beam;in this position,they became a series of ‘floor joists’ that illustrated the missing floor surface that now existed above the tree beam.
Two teams: one made a jig for the tree,the other made a jig for the site. Both began by clearing the surface of the tree/land to expose the topography hidden beneath the foliage, top soil or grass. Next they set up the projected planes above and below.The two procedures were similar, but executed at different scales and in different environments (at our workshop in the gym/at the gateway site).
As the construction of the jig gave way to the fabrication of the various elements of the gateway, the two teams split into four to take on separate tasks: 1 Foundation on site, 2 Main structure fabrication at the gym, 3 Flooring, built-in benches, picture frame, 4 Little lookout birdhouse for the corner of the platform.
The initial project was an experiment in staging narratives. Each team created its own scenario, sequence and spatial setup to accommodate a short story about two people meeting in various locations around the village. Six teams made six rooms for two. Six love stories related to six places.
Story 1:Hiroshi’s childhood wish of helping a girl he admired climb a tree at the southern edge of the school grounds, so that they could watch the sunset together.
Story 2: On the road in front of the Watermelon Place, a man travelling from another village saves a girl’s life on a very hot day by providing her with cool water and shade. An ‘emergency love nest’ tent structure was made from bamboo, rope and a bedsheet. A sprinkling of cold water was supplied via half-cut bamboo plumbing from the watermelon sink.
Story 3:A magic flying carpet with built-in picnic set can be hoisted off the road by the tree branch above it. It can also be used as a mantrap off the road.
Story 4:A natural shower booth made of bamboo extends to form a small waterfall at the lower edge of the village. It also works as a musical device in the landscape.
Story 5:An elderly man walks with his granddaughter along a familiar path paralleling the hidden course of an underground stream.
Story 6: A line connects a farmhouse in the village with a rice field situated across the valley. A young couple who wish to communicate with each other all through the day construct structures along the line. By drumming on the structures they communicate across the valley, signalling lunch break, afternoon tea and going-home time.
A Roof for 200
The main project of this year was to construct a temporary roof structure to house 200 people during the Maple Tree Festival. Our inspiration came from the Baito Festival that takes place on ∂5 January every year at the neighbouring village of Oshirakura, when the community builds a big igloo out of forestry thinnings and straw left over from the rice harvest. Our aim was to reinvent this winter festival, which has not been held in Koshirakura for several decades now.
The material we decided to use was ‘surplus’ timber – off-cuts from the timber industry and thinned wood from forest maintenance – joined with ropes. Our initial framework was formed of eight nemagari trunks, set out in the middle of the playground in line with the axis that runs from the Azumaya to the Slow Window and the Star-Gazing Platform. (Nemagari come from the lower parts of trees growing on slopes, and are bent from the weight of sliding snow in the winter. They have no commercial value.)
The secondary layer of the structure was composed of off-cut timber from sawmills, mostly end pieces of planks with incomplete rectangular sections, 2 to 5 cm thick. Applying the principle of gridshell structures, we bundled several off-cuts together with ropes and extended them into a series of strips 20 to 30 m long.
The final layer was the skin, which incorporated other types of off-cut timber from the mills, generally around 10 mm thick, 100150 mm wide and between 600 and 1200 mm long. Local farmers often use these off-cuts as temporary shuttering for the rice field irrigation construction.The skin structure was first made into portable components then fixed in place on the secondary structure.
The other team joined in at this point to build a new suspended staircase from the main roof beams, penetrating across the existing timber ceilings and floor. This new staircase provides direct access from the entrance of the gym. A dinner party was held inside the dome on the eve of the festival. A gigantic hand, big red lips and four-metre-long chopsticks made for the costume contest were reused as lanterns inside the dome.
We began by identifying the absent volumes of winter snow as rooms in the summer landscape, individually mapping the volumes by placing our bodies within. As we walked and uncovered these concealed spaces, our excursions became a modified game of hide-and-seek. A new hidden path was revealed.
Over the following two days we decided to extend this work into a collective effort. We created a place in the forest for all of us to sleep, a temporary tree-house overlooking the village from a distant hill.
Bamboo was the main construction material. Large amounts were donated from many back gardens, and harvested and gathered with the help of a villager and his white pickup truck. Long pieces of bamboo were used for the main structure, which was woven directly into the spaces between trees. Shorter and thinner stalks were split into various sizes to make lanterns, screens, rugs and seats.The flexibility of the bamboo – which varied according to the size of its section – determined the forms, surfaces and volumes of the spaces.
The main project was intended to facilitate places for ‘additions’ – activities or functions considered surplus to the usual pragmatic use of space as defined by production and efficiency.
The first team continued work on the bamboo lodging structure in the forest, before bringing it back to the school. Inserted into the interior of one of the classrooms, it formed a series of napping rooms (rooms within a room), with sleeping nests and screens woven in bamboo and supported at varying heights by added timber structures.
After consulting the locals, this team learned that star-gazing was a popular activity for the parent and child playgroup. A few households had recently bought a telescope.The construction of a small-scale observatory became the theme of this project. We began with a search for a site with enough darkness at night, minimum interference from streetlights and houses, and maximum exposure to the horizon.The spot eventually chosen was in the playground at one of the highest parts of the village, where we felt closest to the sky.
A concrete foundation was laid to locate a telescope in precise alignment with the constellations. Timetables indicating the rotating cycle of the heavens were set in its surface.
The team also created a hinged structure that can rotate. It supports an elevated balcony for two: space for a child to sit safely at the front edge and a parent to stand behind.
This team began by visiting houses and mapping the objects kept in attics. Students inquired of the villagers,‘What do you keep in your additional space (slack space)? Is there something which has no practical use that you still hold on to because of its memory value?’ Some of the things stored were implements that were no longer in use, such as a marking device for rice planting. Other discoveries included a dakkokuki (rice separator), wooden sleigh, bamboo basket, rice box, woven straw raincoat and snow boots.
The idea was to house the attic objects in a communal storage space, to be called the Local Archive.The site chosen was an existing yet forgotten loft space above the entrance to the gymnasium, into which all the school equipment had been thrown pell-mell.The creative work began by determining how to tidy it all up and relocate the objects.The cleaning work revealed original timber structures hidden beneath the dust and boarded up ceiling panels. A second phase of the archive’s construction (a vertical extension) was proposed as a project to be passed on to a new team the following year.
Project for Tsumari Art Triennal 2000/03
In 2000 there was the first international art triennial in Tsumari District made up of seven towns and cities including Kawanishi Town. When the director Fram Kitagawa of Art Front Gallery invited me to contribute a project for this land based art event we have set out initial agendas. Make a project that requires links between 7 towns and cities of Tsumari District. To make art works in a form of documentary. It requires local participations. The idea quickly evolved into three stages of project.
One: making object that will register climate and aspects of the places.
Two: using the object as a tool (vehicle) to communicate with various participants including local residents in a form of workshop.
Three: making installation work that documents the transformation of objects as well as events of communication.
The proposal in short, required the fabrication of large camera vehicle that captures aspects of landscape and people who live with it. The size was meant be over-sized so that a person can go inside. Metaphorically it should work as Eupkecha, wooden beetle made with traditional farm house details, travel across villages of Tsumari every three years. Camera size was articulated by proportional relationship between objects, the size of the picture plane, the diameter of aperture and the distance between them. In result it required 15-30min exposure time in day light condition. And direct print (imprint) size is 1.5×1.5 metre square on the 5mm toughen glass pane coated with photo emulsion. We call this wooden beetle a Slow Box and what it produces is a series of Afterimage by eating light and consume through photosynthetic process. With a help of Shuji Mizukami, Asao Tokoro, This Slow Box was constructed by us borrowing the wood storage of Igawa Corporation in Kawanishi and the materials were donated by Maeda Corporation. The route for the journey was planned by us asking each town to recommend their most beautiful village/community in difficult location for us to reach. 7 villages showed their interest to collaborate namely, Takakura, Takizawa, Kurokura, Kettou, Seitayama, Funasaka and Koshirakura.
Documentary of documenting.
The workshop was organized in a form of a tour 3-4 days in each village.
We have decided to make Koshirakura as our base where we would return occasionally for developing large negatives on glass pane. The journey workshop was planned to start early July and finish at the beginning of August in order to coincide with regular Landscape workshop in Koshirakura that would start from 14th August.
Taking photograph became ritualistic form of communication that requires no complex explanations. Just like us as ordinary tourists asking permissions for taking or been taken pictures in different countries for holiday snapshot. A difference is obviously the size of the camera. It had to be big enough to be taken seriously.
Art works: Shin Egashira.
Coordinator: Naohisa Yabuta, (Art Front Gallery)
As a complement to the Bus Shelter extension, which is a winter facility, the team decided to build a cooling place for the summer season. Diagonally across the street from the Bus Shelter is an unused pond for spring water. It is the only remaining feature of Michi’s house, which was relocated for road-widening. Our objective was to reopen this forgotten reservoir for public use, as a site for the picture-frame bench, and to reestablish links with the other ponds.
There is a small corner in the village where the main road forks into two paths, one leading up to the vegetable fields, the other to the valley.This is the spot where elderly women stop for a break on the way home from their fields – a place where they can put down their laden baskets and rest.This usually takes place around 4 pm.
An overgrown edge of the hill was reshaped into a stepped topography, using sandstone as retaining walls. This established a direct connection to the reservoir 2.5 m above the main road level. A platform placed 20 cm above the reservoir allows people to sit and dip their feet. An extended part of the platform became the roof that covers the corner where the elderly women place their vegetable baskets. The new plumbing for the forgotten reservoir also provided a water supply for this extension, feeding a deep wooden sink for watermelon. The team recognised that watermelon, a fruit often to be shared, plays an important part in summer socialising. While the villagers are working in the field, this renewed and extended pond keeps the watermelon cool – a refreshing treat for the workers after a long day in the fields. It also operates as a drinking tap for passers-by.
In Koshirakura there appears to be no clear line that divides communal and private places, no material borders that define and organise the community as a whole. When paying a visit to the villagers, it is common to walk straight into their house without any warning or calling out of names.You just enter through the sliding doors, take off your shoes and go into the living room and kitchen. If no one is there, you continue upstairs to see if they are taking a nap. Bewildered by this absence of borders, we set out to learn more about how this community is nonetheless so well ordered.
Embedded within Koshirakura we found a few clear organising structures that subdivide the inhabitants into groups.The most important of these is the family group, but the locals also identify each other by yogou – the house name rather than the family name. Moreover, the sharing of communal responsibilities and coordination of seasonal activities is organised according to age groups. For example, the elderly group (over 65) is responsible for grass-cutting twice a year, for rope-making during the winter and for the croquet team that represents the village. The senior group (over 40) undertakes snow removal and maintenance works, organises the festival and other events, and handles public affairs outside the community. The position of chief rotates on a yearly basis.
And then there are the various committees: the Fire Security Committee, Rice Harvesting and Planting Committee, Festival Organisation Committee, Biggest Pumpkin Competition Committee, Grass-Cutting Committee, Maple Tree Selection Committee, and so on. These informal groups are very effective at addressing essential issues. A by-product of these collective activities is a series of migratory spaces based on activities rather than permanent divisions marking property boundaries.
We investigated further by looking at the organisation of chores and responsibilities within several families. Every household has an intricate allocation of time for particular tasks, often cyclical in nature, some weekly or daily, others spread over a year. While undertaking several communal jobs, each household continues to grow rice and vegetables. The use of domestic objects, tools and equipment rotates seasonally according to the cycle of rice production, rope-making and other local micro-industries.
To better define these interwoven activities of a domestic and a communal nature, we identified various forms of gathering within the community in terms of their timing and location.The procedures for removing snow, the water networks connecting horizontal wells to each house, pond and rice field and the shared routine maintenance works were all carefully studied. We tried to identify shifting patterns in the way territories of activities are formed along the shared facilities as a network of relations between families, landscape and production. We made maps that indicate changing patterns of locations where people gather informally. For instance, every third Sunday in August since 1997 the elderly group has organised a party with us at the end of the grass-cutting day.This particular event takes place beside the cherry tree at the school entrance defined by a rectangular space made of eight blue tarpaulins. Following the initial research, our main projects attempted to provide new places for social gathering by extending existing shared facilities and communal duties in the village.
The Azumaya (summer pavilion, arbour) is the archetype of the traditional garden hut – a refuge from the sun and the rain, a covered space rather than an enclosed interior. Traditional rules govern these small buildings. They should have no walls (to ensure a free flow of air, water and energy); their form should be asymmetrical (since the space under a symmetrical roof is traditionally reserved for the upper classes); and they should not rest on four columns (to avoid any parallel with the space under a four-legged animal).
Following last year’s workshop, the local administration asked for a specific design for a new Azumaya so they could apply to the prefectural government for funds that are allocated for individual regeneration projects in local towns. The basic design of the Azumaya was made during the winter of 1998/99 based on the gathering of ideas and details from previous years. A set of drawings was produced in order to secure planning permission. Extra materials were allocated for the ground works, such as sandstone, cherry trees, turf, sand, cement and aggregate. Machines and tools for basic landscaping and construction were provided. The project went out to tender. By its nature, it required the transgression of several conventions: the construction process was to involve a collaboration between the workshop and the contractor; apart from the basic structure, several design details would be left ‘open’ to allow for adjustment during the workshop, and students were to have the opportunity to learn the techniques of joinery from the chief carpenter during the timber assembly. The contractor would have to agree not only to work within the timescale of the workshop (in order to allow the collaboration) but also to be legally responsible for its timely completion. Only one contractor tendered for so demanding, yet so very small, a construction. The participants in the workshop included 16 students from the AA and four students of architecture and fine art from Japanese universities (none of whom had any technical skills in the making of timber joints, had to learn how to construct traditional timber joints from the chief carpenter (the two sliding benches could then be assembled by the team without the use of nails or metal fixings).
Azumaya building video by Rubens Azevedo, Shin Egashira and collaborators.
The spatial characteristics of Koshirakura’s Azumaya were composed of language, details and textures extracted from previous years’ structures. Although the formulae of the roof angles and other attendant details were learned from vernacular traditions for dealing with snow, such features achieve their unique spatial significance from spring to autumn, when the absence of snow generates excess volumes of space. Above the structure of the Azumaya is a roof space that can be used by children for sleepovers during the summer. In winter the depth of this dark enclosed volume registers the accumulation of snow – the layers of snow are represented by slits of reflected light. The colours of each season permeate the light entering through the north-facing akaritori (clerestory) louvres: the green of summer, the red leaves of autumn, the white of winter snow and, in spring, the pink of the blossoms on the cherry tree directly in line with the louvres. The apertures can be adjusted; so too can a sliding bench, a second frame-like structure and a screen. Relationships between the benches and the main structure can be reconfigured to allow for activities such as karaoke parties, koto concerts and tea ceremonies. When the benches are drawn in to enclose the structure, the space is smaller and more intimate – suitable for private meetings. The space communicates both enclosure and openness. Next to the Azumaya stands a row of cherry trees, the movement of leaves will be registered as flickering reflected light inside the Azumaya, penetrating through the north-facing shuttering – green in the summer, pink in the spring.
Setting out new textural plans over the preliminary layer and positions inscribed during the previous year, the second phase of the land work began by shifting surplus earth from the excavation of the foundations of Azumaya. The materials provided were five cubic metres of sandstone, 300 square metres of turf, 12 cherry trees and the leftover earth, as well as the discarded playground structures. Tools included a small power-shovel digger, two wheelbarrows, some gardening hand tools and two mini-trucks.
The idea of the Slow Window was inherited from the previous year’s work on toys. It was built adjacent to the croquet court that the elderly use for team practice in the summer. Slow Window demonstrates a simple transition of space (also deployed in the Azumaya) by turning the emphasis of the structure from horizontal to vertical. In winter it closes into an almost vertical plane buried under the snow. As the snow melts in spring it slides before turning and unfolding into the enlarged space.
along with the Slow Window and Azumaya, some small objects and toys are made as part of the landscape. Moon Hill used a structure left over from the site’s days as a playground as a framework for the ferro-cement construction of a grotto-like space, which was then buried under a mound of earth.The topography of this hill was tailored by different positions of bodies – sitting, lying down, stargazing, anticipating the full moon of September or the sunset. Small openings allow various elements of the land to be glimpsed from inside the hill, which becomes an enclosed ‘fort’ where children play. Two bridges, Overpass and Platform, appear detached from the Azumaya and the Slow Window. Yet they are connected at a distance – marking points of entrance and the intersection of visual axes. As you approach, sequences of views reveal themselves through angles, level changes and intervals of details. Wet Projection is a small elongated waterway that provides drainage. It collects water from the roof of the Azumaya and from the four axes that were cut during the previous year.The channel allows a strip of sky to be reflected onto the ground, and the sound of running water can be heard at the main entrance to the area.
The theme for 1998 was ‘the body in play with the environment’.The prefectural government of Niigata had initiated a plan for regenerating the grounds of the abandoned school by turning them into a communal park.The Kawanishi administration wished to revise the initial plan by devising a process that would allow local identity and local needs to be reflected in its design. In doing so they hoped to capture the interest and attention of the villagers.The message was:‘This is a park which need not be sophisticated, but could only be possible in Koshirakura’.
This year we decided to work directly, using the school grounds as our drawing board, our shovels, pickaxes and spades as our pens and pencils, and our buckets and wheelbarrows as our erasers and scalpels.The school grounds are the largest area of flat land in the locality. Hidden by a hill, they appeared to have been forgotten since the school closed. We inscribed relationships between the body and the landscape. We mapped ground conditions according to the softness and wetness of the land:the north is an exposed hard clay surface, the south a compound ground that is soft and soggy. At the edges, along the hillside, the land had become a shallow swamp of stagnant water that smelled of rotting plants.
The mappings of previous years allowed us to rethink the location of the grounds. Lines were cut into the ground to mark the way towards key locations: two viewpoints from which the whole village can be overlooked, a 300-year-old cherry tree that features strongly in the awareness of the villagers, and the point at which the sun sets on ∂5 September (when it is supposed to be most vivid). These lines had to be distinct enough to be identified from the points to which they refer. Readings of the saturation of the soil and the direction of the slope also influenced the articulation of the cuts. Functioning as a small irrigation system, these incisions drain off water so that textural differences can be established (this is analogous to the cultivation of the terraced rice field using the mabu earth-cutting technique).
Children develop their relationships to the outside world through encounters with objects – ‘toys’ (for them any object can serve as a toy). By playing with toys they shift from the imaginary to an idea of reality. Having borrowed this idea of the transitional object from psychology, we considered how we might apply it to the relationship between the transitional body of the land and the stages at which objects emerge as agents enabling us to transform our idea of place. Was a reversal of this transition possible? How might the real ground be transformed through the imagination (or lack of memory) in a child’s mind?
We began by making ‘fictional’ toys, borrowing ideas from traditional agricultural tools or domestic appliances. We played a game, taking the series of toys made during the first week of the workshop and improvising a logic to link and position them. We arranged ourselves into six teams, to develop and construct full-scale models of the ‘body in play with the land’.The names of the structures (which also became the names of the teams) were invented through games:Slow Window, Harmonious Local Materials, Quiet Stone, Weather Accommodation Deck, Wet Projection, Clear Viewing Structure.
Four lines, six structures of behaviour and maps from previous years became objects to be drawn, inscribed and constructed on the face of the school grounds. It became a playground where, under the summer rain, we played hard in the mud. Some structures were completed then and others were prepared for future evolution.
How big is the village? Where does it begin and end? The size of the village on the official map must be very different from the size of the landscape created in people’s minds. These landscapes cannot be measured in two dimensions; they occupy the space- and time-scales of the collective memory of the village.
We asked the villagers to identify the points at which the village begins. Some responses were based on childhood memories of the limits beyond which their parents had told them not to stray, whilst others clearly pointed out the mountain ridge from which the entire village can be overlooked. We tried to collect these individual recognitions and memories, and to sort them according to topography and time. The result was a series of maps:a map of lost paths; a map of sounds, a map of the shifting colours of the landscape, a map of childhood memories associated with cherry trees,and many more.These maps were then overlaid upon a map made the previous year.
This year, a local bus route started to serve the village twice a day. When we discussed the construction of a new local artefact, it seemed obvious that there should be a Bus Shelter where both children and grandparents could be protected from heavy snow and wind on winter mornings. Referring to the map made previously, several locations were identified as possible sites. This project presented an opportunity not only to mark the terminus of the bus route but also to create a new entrance to the village.
The structure is a collage of detailed representations of the landscape. The various ground textures were imprinted on clay tablets. The yukigakoi (snow-scattering timber planks), which provide protection during the winter, can be taken down and moved to a site across the road, where they form an open bench from spring to autumn. Another large structure is also detached from the shelter during this time and presents the views and colours of each season as if pictures in a frame.
In its spring position, it frames the colour of the earth as it first emerges from beneath the melting snow. In summer it frames the high point of the spring water. In the winter, contained within the wall of the yukigakoi, it becomes a platform onto which children can climb, allowing them to see the entire village covered in snow.
The angles of the Bus Shelter roof were determined by the angle at which the snow settles. Its transparency allows sunlight into the sheltered space even when it is covered by snow (often to a depth of two to four metres). Each facade is aligned with the autumn sunset, when the sun is at its most intense shade of orange. Sandstone collected from the Shinano river was used for the floor and yukigakoi details.
Through a combination of openness and the intimacy of its interior, the Bus Shelter registers seasonal changes. It reveals the process of its formation, as well as aspects of the landscape. Some details were left to be articulated later; others were intentionally fragile. In both instances the point was to keep the community involved with the space by making it one that requires maintenance.
The workshop began with a reading of the landscape based on its textural details. By extracting geomorphological codes we were able to see the direct link between the forms of the land and the forms of its inhabitation and cultivation – such as chumon tsukuri (thatched-roof house), yokoido (horizontal well-system) and mabu (earth-cutting technique for irrigation).
As an initial experiment we made a series of small models that were intended somehow to fit this landscape into our hands. We wanted to make a souvenir for someone close, like a grandmother living abroad, that would allow them to experience the landscape by touch rather than sight, in combination with narratives in the form of picture-less postcards.
Sequentially these non-scale, or perhaps one-to one, textural models speak about various conditions of the local economy as they are defined by the surface patterns carved out by geology. They reveal the process of negotiation between its sedimentary layers and natural climatic forces, showing how, for instance, the varying proportions of clay and sand give rise to different behaviours, switching from solid to fragile in response to moisture levels, weathering and degree of slope. Following a similar pattern, each of these small models begins to link to the others to create readings of the land.
In the second project 22 chairs were made for different locations, each chosen for its potential to open our bodies to the experiences offered by the hidden codes of the land. Later these sites were linked by the creation of a new footpath that connected the interior and exterior terrains of the community via segments of old and disused paths. A map was drawn as a guide, allowing one to follow this route and discover the series of hidden chairs for reading the landscape.