City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

wHY Architecture (Postopolis! LA)

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(Photos and links to follow)

David A and B (David Asseal and David Basulto) of ArchDaily/Plataforma Arquitectura had a clear, consistent methodology running through Postopolis! LA, which formed a kind of bedrock that the other talks were able to springboard from. Each of their invited guests was subjected to a live interview with the two Davids, comprising of the same questions each time. It produced some interesting variations on answers to the same questions across the set, which I’ll try to bring out. I think these will all end up on ArchDaily too though, so I’ll keep the reportage shorter accordingly.

wHY architecture are a well-known LA-based practice founded in 2004, and led by Yo-Ichiro Hakomori and Kulapat Yantrasast. Yo Hakomori, who is here representing, was born in Japan but emigrated to the US when young, and so is an American citizen. Yet he was then educated at the Graduate School at University of Tokyo, and so positions himself as an interesting hybrid of American and Japanese.

The Davids ask “what is architecture?” Hakomori replies by referencing Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects. Hakomori was a scientist before an architect (biochemisty) and had become interested in “what common people built. Minka houses, the architecture of the south west, or throughout northern italy. The non-pedigreed architecture that is derived from the deep-seated things in the people that create it.”

He vividly recalls the first cathedral he walked into in Amiens, “awed by the construction of stone and way the light entered the apse”. Or walking into the Pantheon, and then walking and cycling through France and Spain and “seeing the kind of things you don’t encounter in the US.”

He then tells a story of being at Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, watching over the vast spaces as a person emerges from pillars, then struggles to get their cart across the path of water and concrete, and then disappears behind pillars. (An oblique yet poetic vignette, perhaps in the Japanese style?)

As he is “bicultural”, as he puts it, he was first inspired by architecture of Europe, then at school in Japan discovered another way of thinking about space, deeply seated in the psyche and religious base, which is different to how it is in the West. “Being from both sides of Pacific, I think differently from both sides.”

The Davids ask what should be role of architect in society? He references his Grand Rapids Art Museum – the first LEED public building in US – and the responsibility of building in the environment. He references vernacular architecture again, which has this intrinsically … He remembers sitting on a roof top in Greece, noting the ancient wind towers facing towards prevailing wind to collect wind and cool the house ‘naturally’. He also sees that the architect has the responsibility to think about way the city grows. To engage in “intelligent planning – how building relates to the city”, and not contrary to structure of the city.

He references the Maya Lin-designed park at Grand Rapids, which has “become the living room of Grand Rapids”. How the building was driven by an understanding of that role, and Kahn’s thought of “the street as a society of rooms”.

The Davids ask “how important innovation is to your practice?” Hakomori responds instead by noting that it’s “not in everybody’s mind to think about history.” He’s not advocating that they’re trying to be historicists, but it’s important to think about the history of Los Angeles, and how it’s like a biological phylum or tree, with many branches that relate to each other at the same time.
“Innovation isn’t something we’re trying to do – it’s not on our mission statement if you will – but in developing concepts they try to be innovative in their thinking – they have relationships with certain practices or people that they connect with.”

The Davids ask what role of social networking has in their practice (a question which confuses almost everyone all week, perhaps understandably). He says it’s important, and that “Kulapat is good at that”. They don’t do it out of a conscious effort to “make social networking”, though.
“What do you recommend to young people/architecture students?”
Hakomori reiterates that he studied biochemistry, and worked in a lab for a year or two before architecture school. So he thinks it’s fundamental to be “looking at different things”, to be “allowed to explore different fields, even if you know you’re going to be an architect”. “A well-balanced education”, which the US can have, through studying one subject first, and then studying architecture in graduate school. If you “choose architecture later period in your life, you tend to be more mature, more focused … and so a well-balanced liberal arts education is not a bad thing at all.”

Next question: “What skills do you look for in a new architect when you’re hiring?”
“Passion, enthusiasm … You have to have the basic skillsets – if you don’t know how to use AutoCAD it’s going to be tough! But beyond that, passion …“

To questions from the audience. The first is a complex question, which takes a few attempts at phrasing. It’s regarding vernacular architecture and post-digital architecture, and essentially asks, now that we can create any form we want, how should we understand vernacular architecture, whose form was intensely connected to a particular environment or condition. What’s the proper balance between traditional and contemporary construction methods?

Hakomori discusses that vernacular is a reaction to an environment and culture – “a response to the specifics of that location”. Yet his office doesn’t aim to emulate a vernacular for that space. But might recall, say, how George Kugler looked at the mission churches of Santa Fe – the simplicity of the form, and the “naked walls” of those churches, as he put it. And that simplicity of form is interesting. Given that people built with the resources they had available (craft and materials they had locally), the question perhaps also implies a “critical regionalism”.

So perhaps when we use the technology that we understand now, we might enable an insertion within it of the regional characteristics that would be appropriate for specific areas. In that sense it has a quality that vernacular architecture had. In their practice they don’t foreground that, but they do approach a similar condition via a concern for sustainability i.e. by using particular materials that come from that part of the world.

Ben Cerveny asks how the Grand Rapids museum participates in the public, in that this involves managing an interface between public and private space, and that there’s a politics to that.

“When you’re working with private space, do you move your work into an interface with public space?”
Hakomori responds that “all projects contribute to public realm … all buildings have an interface with street.” He specifically references the Casa Wakasa, Osaka as it also indicates that this is complicated in either direction – that there’s also a desire to create a private realm outside of public realm. So there’s “a layering that occurs” in these spaces.

wHY architecture


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