“Which is moving: people or architecture?”
Notes on The House of 33 Years
with a guiding text by Hiroyuki Hattori
For whom and what, will the things remain unchanged?
The impermanent stillness of architecture reveals your memory and future embracing ever-changing complexity.
– Megumi Matsubara & Hiroi Ariyama / Assistant
ABOUT THE HOUSE OF 33 YEARS
The House of 33 Years is a residence under construction located next to Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan.
The house was designed by Assistant in 2010 for an elderly couple whose memory and future coexist.
The fabrication of the house is partly supported by Aomori Contemporary Art Centre and Sendai School of Design.
Its design/fabrication process is an academic research subject of Adaptable Futures, Loughborough University, UK.
The house has been awarded SD Review prize in 2010.
The house consists of multiple pavilions and rooms in wood structure that stand under the big steel-frame house.
The relationship between the individual elements defines the character of the house as a whole.
Its construction process has been pursued in three separate locations simultaneously; Nara, Sendai, and Aomori.
In Nara, the exterior steel roof to cover the whole residence has been constructed on-site.
In Sendai, Ghost House, a pavilion to sit on the roof, was built with the local students. Over the summer it is sitting in the
courtyard of a university campus and the students have been growing a farm inside.
In Aomori, the main rooms in wood-structure have been built and developed as an installation piece Obscure Architecture,
as a part of 'Kime to Kehai' exhibition at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre.
All the different parts of the house built in the different contexts will be transferred to Nara, after the exhibition at Aomori
Contemporary Art Centre ends, to fit under the roof on the construction site.
Location: Nara-city, Nara, Japan
Structural engineers: Mitsuda Structural Consultants
Principal use: private residence
Site area: 189 sqm
Building area: 76 sqm
Total floor area: 101 sqm
Structure: steel frame, wooden
Number of storeys: 2 storeys
Construction: March 2011 - (in progress)
Creator-in-residence, 2 - 10 Jul 2012, Sendai School of Design, Tohoku University
Obscure Architecture (House of 33 Years, Study)
'Kime to Kehai -Texture and Sense' exhibition, 28 Jul - 17 Sep 2012, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre
Which is moving: people or architecture?
'Kime to Kehai -Texture and Sense' workshop, 26 Aug 2012, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre
A FEW THINGS I KNOW ABOUT THE HOUSE OF 33 YEARS
by Hiroyuki Hattori / Curator, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre
There are more than a few examples of architecture in history that carries an extra significance due to its strange destiny
beyond its design. Just like one of those, the House of 33 Years designed by Assistant (Megumi Matsubara & Hiroi
Ariyama) is about to be completed accompanied by numerous eclectic anecdotes. Such fascinating stories arise not
necessarily on the strength of the architect's skill but often stem from a miraculous chain of events, such as a strange
relationship between the client and the architect, a unique site condition, a timing that the building is completed. The
House of 33 Years has proven myriad signs of anticipation to attract intriguing chances that wouldn't happen to all.
"Which is moving: people or architecture?"
This simple yet mysterious question was raised by Assistant as a title of the workshop they gave at Aomori Contemporary
Art Centre. Though the question contradicts the ordinary understanding of architecture, it cleverly describes the project
and their approach. Architecture is normally built and dedicated to one location. If something is to move, it should be
not architecture but people. But the House of 33 Years challenges this fundamental nature. Assistant is an architecture
studio co-founded by Megumi Matsubara and Hiroi Ariyama whose ten-year practice has been constantly crossing the
concepts of art and architecture. This time, they took advantage of the framework of art institutions and challenged the
unspoken structure of architecture.
In Spring/Summer 2012, the duo had been invited as artists-in-residence to develop new pieces from two institutions in
Japan; Sendai School of Design (Tohoku University) and Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, both located in the north of
Japan. At the same time, the first house they designed in the old city of Nara in the west side of Japan had finally entered
its construction stage. They decided to radically connect those three different projects in three cities that had nothing
to do with each other. As a result, in Sendai, working with the students, they constructed the objet-like steel pavilion
designed to stand on the roof of the House of 33 Years, while in Aomori they built two wood-frame structures that serve
as two main rooms of the house, working with the local carpenters.
It is not as simple as it may sound to decompose one project into different parts stretching it over several projects that
should eventually become one architecture somewhere else. Obviously they didn't just present the building parts as
exhibition pieces. Their installations were developed specifically to each site and its context. When they take out and
highlight such unknown state of architecture, its hidden qualities appear to offer us a total new experience. The both
pieces are left for viewing but will be disassembled at the end of the exhibition period then travel 1,000 km to the actual
construction site to be united to the house they should belong to.
Ordinary architects would neither dare to enter such an acrobatic change of plans, nor give any importance to this process
of story-making. Then one also wonders, "Who in the world would accept the complication of his/her private house
being taken apart and exhibited before its completion?" This question leads to another story.
The client of the house is Hiroi Ariyama and his parents. The project has begun in 2008, when Hiroi's parents decided
to move from their old house which they dwelled in for thirty years. They naturally became the client of the duo. Megumi
also considered her studio partner Hiroi as a future client thinking that he would live in this house years later. This fact
allowed Hiroi to make some important decisions that only clients could do. The double wilderness; to feature and expose
the unfinished state of architecture of a young architect, was supported by their ability to connect seemingly unrelated
events into a narrative. The design of this house became a unique project for both Hiroi and Megumi, working between
cross-fields of client and architect, architect and artist, past and future.
The couple had chosen the new site next to Todaiji; the world heritage biggest temple in Japan, and the area where the
husband spent his childhood. Megumi and Hiroi proposed that the house will be for the elderly couple whose children
no longer live together with them and decided to move to start a new life for themselves, yet wishing to carry the memory
of the past. Its peculiar location brought challenges unlike any other and added the exceptional value to this house
connecting it to the larger history of the area.
"The house is given endless layers that frame empty sceneries. Any memory from the family to the history is enshrined to
enter and associate in the same way as the light may fall in."
– Megumi Matsubara & Hiroi Ariyama
The house offers the kaleidoscope of readings for viewers. Stories surrounding it seem to have no end from the smallest
detail to the historical abstract.
The Ghost House; an odd element of the House of 33 Years, constructed in Sendai, is designed as an homage and named
after the smallest pavilion that stands in Philip Johnson's Glass House; one of the most well-known private houses in 20th
century in the United States. In the site, Philip Johnson collected architecture as pavilions as well as numerous artworks
including fakes. The original Ghost House was built in 1984 as an homage to Frank Gehry.
The choice of the architecture whose meaning is most unclear to give an homage to describes especially Megumi's strong
attachment to abstraction of stories. Her recent approach to sunlight and the unsettled phenomenon it creates should not
be separated from the reference to the Ghost House. In the gallery of Aomori Contemporary Art Centre; a solid concrete
space with a dramatic curve designed by Tadao Ando, she invited natural light through filtering it with transparent
obstacles such as glass, film, louver, or mirrors, carefully applied around the exhibiting architectural structure. The result
is a space always changing according to the surrounding environment. Such sensitive phenomenon always exists behind
the architecture as a solid mass. By filling the space with any fragile phenomenon augmented to the perceptual level, she
illuminates the new spatiality that induces stories.
This small architecture waiting to be completed has already employed a plenty of stories, opening up itself to multiple
intimate narrations. Thus my stories are personal and I am just one of the many who got involved with this architecture by
chance. To close this text, I still fail to predict any anecdotes that the house may carry in the future. And we come back to
the very simple yet strange question that Megumi and Hiroi posed: "Which is moving: people or architecture?"