Reversible Destiny (Mitaka) Lofts – In Memory of Helen Keller /// Photograph by Shingo Tsuji (2013)
When I visited the Reversible Destiny Foundation‘s Mitaka Lofts (see previous article) in Tokyo last year, I encountered one of its resident, Shingo Tsuji, who is an also an architect (Chiasma Factory) and was kind enough to make me visit his apartment. Since then, we became friends, and I recently “curated” him a small reportage about the details of his life in this particular dwelling. I asked him to take some pictures of his apartment and point out a few significant details that are characteristic to his “reversible destiny” way of life. I feel very lucky as he not only did it with talent but also introduced those fragments of life within the context of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ lifetime work as well as the various prejudices that often judge it. As you will see, the Reversible Destiny life is not as different as one might think it is from a more “traditional” way of life; nevertheless, the actual difference is crucial and definitely influence both the body and its behavior (mood, inspiration, aura etc.) as you will read along Shingo’s lines.
I take advantage of this post to add that the guest writers essays series will resume in a very near future and that Shingo will be part of the writers that we will be very lucky to be able to read.
Reversible Destiny Loft in Action: A Tentative Report from a Resident (all following photographs also by S. Tsuji)
by Shingo Tsuji
“Interesting, fun, lovable, exciting… but probably NOT livable!” – this might be a good brief of typical comments from visitors to Mitaka Reversible Dstiny Loft (or those who see it in pictures or on TV) in its empty state. It is true, but only in a very limited sense: it may not be livable as long as you are caught up in a narrow – but, I have to admit, very strong – orthodox concept of a “house” (and, I should add, a “body”), which is actually nothing but a cultural and historical implant and not a universal idea (although many would argue that a physically simple and functionally clear-cut house is, no matter where and when, the most livable according to universal human attributes that are presupposed in, for example, fields like ergonomics, universal design and, above all, orthodox modernist architecture).
As a 4-year resident of the Loft and the only practicing architect living/working there, I would like to challenge the typical view on the livability of this particular built environment and, if I can go that far, even show that it’s more livable (in a particular sense of the word that Arakawa and Gins would have given to it) than a standard, square-cut, colorless houses with flat floors, walls and ceilings. As an awkward writer (no matter what language I use), however, I here choose to show actual pictures of my room – formally named “Critical Resemblance Unit C” by Arakawa and Gins – in its living (i.e., not empty, inactivated) state with short comments, instead of writing an elongated, yet perhaps less-convincing counterstatement.
All the pictures below are casual snapshots of my Loft unit – or, I would say, a part of my Architectural Body (another term by Arakawa and Gins). As such, some (or, some of you may say all) of the scenes may look a kind of messy – but I would be pleased if the readers take it as the evidence of livability in somewhat different sense than the word usually implies.
1. Interior view (see photo above)
With its circular plan and panoramic openness (most of the exterior partition is composed of glass windows of various sizes), the room resets, or at least confuses, our ordinary perspective sense of space. The entire unit space – consisting of circular core with four attachment cells (two boxes, one tube and one sphere) around – is not clearly divided according to functions, but loosely differentiated into overlapping zones. One of my friends said, after spending a few ours here, it somehow feels like looking inside my brain. According to another friend, “it’s a place you can never be really sad or angry” – and I definitely agree with him.
The central core of the loft functions like a cockpit of the unit: whoever occupies here seems to take control of the air of the room almost automatically. It provides the best space for cooking, eating, working, eating, reading, talking… that is, most of the things I do in my everyday life – and the good thing is I can do all these things here at the same time, which reminds me of the usage of traditional Japanese “chano-ma” (family room with tatami floor) which accommodates various daily events like eating, watching TV and sleeping, etc. at different times of a day.
3. Living Zone (a kind of)
There was a sofa at this corner when I started to live here, but I always felt something odd about it. The feeling was gone when I replaced it by two hammock chairs – as it somehow liberated the space from a fixed function, making it more tentative and lighter. The exterior light comes in through the glass all around the unit for 24 hours a day (daylight during a day and city light during a night), helping to blur the atmospheric boundary of inside and outside.
4. Hanging furniture
The first challenge that all who have decided to live in the Loft is about how to keep a stock space, as there is only a few flat ground to accommodate ordinary furniture and stockwares here. Once moving in, a new resident is soon to find that (s)he is provided, with Arakawa and Gins’s grace, with countless eyebolts on the ceiling instead, which encourage us to use the ceiling (usually just a useless flat plane above your head) as a new ground to put our staff on – and as s a result, the visitors will find a lots of floating boxes, baskets and staff hanging from above, many of which are colorful as the Loft itself. Put these story aside, it’s definitely much more fun to hang them than to place them on the damn ground!
5. Blue Sphere Cell
To be honest, the blue sphere room (officially called “the study”) remains the hardest to appropriate and the most attractive zone at the same time, even after four years of my residency. I occasionally enjoy reading or just relaxing here, but it feels like there’s something more I shall discover. I have to add that this is the place where kids enjoy the most (they spend most of their time here on their visit without exception), and show great dexterity to play with it.
6. Sanitary Tube Cell
The green and yellow tube (the color differs by unit) or the “reversed giraffe tube” (guess why) containing sanitary devices such as washing machine, shower and lavatory units is, from a functional point of view, the most “fixed” space in the Loft. It takes some time to find a way to balance yourself in front of the washing stand (placed behind the green wall on the right) on the slippery round surface. After a few weeks of residency, however, it becomes almost like an instinctive movement for us residents.
7. Orange Box Cell (Bed Room)
One of the reasons I chose this unit among a few alternatives (there were other two or three vacant units when I applied) is this beautiful orange box. Textbook theory usually recommends soft colors with low intensity for resting space – but who cares? With this energetic orange as the first sight to jump in my retina every morning, waking up has become kind of a daily treat for me. Another thing I found is that, housewares and items that would usually look uncool or almost stupid (like the lamp in the picture) looks very good in, and perfectly fit with this colorful and shapeful Loft.
8. Bumpy Terrain
The bumpy, undulated floor is the reason for many people to think this is not an easy, if not inappropriate, place to live in, even though they all admit it is definitely a fun part of it. However, once moving in, you will be surprised how fast your body learns to adjust itself on the given terrain to a degree that you can move freely, even in the dark, without worrying about losing your balance (it is interesting, though, I still occasionally feel the presence of my sole and the floor as I walk, which never happens, of course, on usual flat floors). Again, kids are the fastest and the best learner, and it’s interesting to see how some of them actually snatch the ground as they move around.
As a closing word, I should add that the pictures here just show my particular way of using, appropriating, playing and having fun with the Loft, and I know that the other residents have their own way of doing so, which are very much different from each other. I hope to have a chance to present a report on the fellow residents’ way of life here in Mitaka Reversible Destiny Loft in the near future.