After his very beautiful Manhattan Oneirocritica (see previous article) which was proposing a model of New York City including all the mythical buildings that were never built, Fredrik Hellberg makes me the honor of coming back on The Funambulist with one more brilliant project. His story DRAWING A KIMONO 新在英国日本国大使館 (A new Japan Embassy in London), introduces a narrative in which the guardian of the Embassy wears a Kimono that recounts the story of the building before he allows the Embassy ‘s ceramic facade to unfold itself in order to open the building.
This project has been designed in the frame of the Architectural Association‘s Unit Diploma 13 tutored by Oliver Domeisen. I recommend the reading of Fredrik’s texts that follow my comment as they allow to explore more deeply and precisely this beautiful story.
The representative language Fredrik is using strikes us by their uniqueness. He actually produce the project’s Kimono after an interesting research on this art that like other Japanese Arts celebrates the precision of the gesture.
Although, I was not necessarily planning on publishing his project right after the text of Exodus, it is very interesting to observe the evolution of the Architectural Association in almost forty years. I don’t really know how much Koolhaas and Zenghelis’ thesis was representative of the AA at that time but the fact that such media has been accepted is already illustrative of what could happen back then.
The straight forward political aspect has pretty much disappeared and has been replaced by an obsessive regard for details and ornamentation but the narrative remains extremely compelling and determinant of the essence of the project. I am convinced that ornamentation in architecture is currently experiencing a come back to the center of the debate because of a retroactive manifesto, computational architecture being confronted to an economical issue that allows it to exist only as an additional aesthetic layer. However, projects like Fredrik’s make me think that ornament can transcend this condition in order to convey an interesting narrative. Of course, many people would probably argue that narrative in architecture is another kind of ornamentation but those people do not realize that narratives allow architecture to access a territory beyond Good and Evil as Nietzsche would put it. This project is a perfect illustration that such a creative process can access to such territory only by fully engaging its essence with strong audacity, ardor and persistence.
New Japanese Embassy in London
The kimono is worn by the Guardian of the Tower of the Folding Stones as he performs his morning ritual. The motifs on the kimono show the embassy from all its aspects – as the plan of the embassy and its ornamentation unravels across the folds of the silk. The plan seen on the rear of the kimono is drawn from the principles of Japanese manga art and the designs of imperial villas, such as Katsura in Kyoto – the various buildings work together to form a narrative of spaces. The background motif on the kimono depicts Regent’s Park, where the new embassy is located. The lining of the garment opens up to reveal the Tower of the Folding Stones – the office of the Japanese Ambassador, which is again revealed in plan on the back of the kimono. Processional pathways weave across the silk, binding buildings with manga cells and patterns with details, pulling us ever more lucidly into new ornamental narratives.
It’s early morning in Regents Park and the Tower of the Folding Stones rises out of heavy fog.
Distant traffic is heard from a road nearby but around the tower and the rest of the embassy an absolute stillness dominates. People will soon be arriving for work and in preparation of the dawning day the guardian of the Tower is getting dressed in the space bellow the great entrance hall. He carefully performs his morning routines and just before he makes his way up the stairs he with great gentleness buts on his kimono.
It is a very special kimono and is only worn by the Guardian of the tower as he performs the morning ceremony. The motifs on the Kimono shows the embassy from all its aspects and as it travels through the resting buildings it reflects its architecture and ornamentation, and if one looks closely you can even see the processional pathways on which he passes from building to building.
The sun is now climbing over the tree tops and will only in a few minutes strike the facade of the tower, and so the Guardian walks up the stairs into the great entrance hall. He takes a few steps and stops on arms reach distance from the Chrysanthemum Wheel. He waits until the precise moment and then turns it, and as he does the seemingly solid ceramic facade begins to fold and open up with the lightness of origami and the floors of the tower are flooded with the morning sun.