Yo Shimada arrived in Brisbane last Friday with his colleague Chie Konno to begin the process of designing the Minimalist Monument to Moi. In the interest of tight-arse frugality, I had offered to host Shimada san in my house, which I felt we could use as a base for our meetings, our trips to the site and our tours of local points of architectural interest. What hadn’t occurred to me was how much of myself I would lay bare over the four days of Shimada san’s stay.
I mean, I always expected to be briefing he, Konno san and the team from Phorm Architecture and Design on my various architectural likes and dislikes, which is a revealing exercise in itself. I had of course gathered a digital scrapbook of images and influences to assist with my briefing. I had rehearsed what I would say, buffing, waxing and spray-tanning my aesthetic in preparation for the scrutiny it would get from what I thought may have been judgmental eyes.
These people were architects after all. Architects spend their lifetime refining tastes, rejecting the ugly and remodeling the boring. I felt that if I was to strut my stuff with Yo Shimada and Phorm, I had to be strutting some pretty nice stuff, from the upper struttosphere of design, oo-la-la.
On the morning of Shimada san’s arrival from Japan, the guys from Phorm very kindly taxied he and Konno san directly to the site. I arrived early, being impatient and to give myself time to gather my thoughts. I expected to be taking center stage, marching around the site, pointing out features and asking for ideas. I was center stage all right, just not in the way I imagined.
As I watched Andrew Wilson (Program Director at UQ School of Architecture), Paul Hotston (Phorm), Chie Konno (Kobe Design University), Yohei Omura (Phorm) and Yo Shimada (Tato Architects) march up the driveway to the site I felt a growing sense of apprehension. Actually, more like anxiety, panic even. They were all looking at me. Intently.
When they surrounded me at the top of the hill I got the distinct impression that the brief I had planned to deliver would have to wait, they were making some other kind of anthropological study. This must be what those performance artists who live publicly for a week in a glass box at a shopping center feel like when people stare and watch their every move and giggle at the routines of their life. Except my audience wasn’t knocking on the glass or making faces trying to get a reaction out of me. They were just quietly writing notes and taking photographs.
This posse of camera clicking note-writing anthropologists regrouped the next morning in my house, beginning the process of stripping me bare again. When the conversation stalled to give pause for translation from English to Japanese and back again, I nervously filled these gaps with random ramblings, ridiculous recounts of my most banal household routines. Through this process my design brief began to look less and less like a design brief and more like the reenactment of a design crime as I walked them through my current living space.
At one stage I found myself holding up a cooking pot. One of those copper/stainless combos. “I try to cook one-pot meals,” I said. “Like what,” they asked. Quick, Steve, think of something good. “Coq au Vin.” More note taking.
I talked about my habits, how I moved about my house. “I walk the same path from my bedroom to my kitchen, to my office and back again and never deviate. I reckon I could live in a triangle.” I said that. Then I said this: “Who needs four walls?” Blank stares.
I gave a fascinating account of where I keep my bin, how I do my laundry. My furniture was mentioned. Did I wish to keep any of it? “No,” I said. “I’ll start from scratch.” What I think I meant was, if you think it needs to go, it needs to go. I was growing addicted to the idea of completely redesigning my life because the more I described it, the more banal it sounded. One pot cooking, the triangular pacing.
By Sunday’s end though I had had quite enough of being under the microscope of an architect. You can only talk about yourself so much before you start to make things up. I was pretty sure I told them I always wanted an outdoor toilet. I don’t know why I said that, but I’m pretty sure I was just talking shit. Boom-tish.
At our last meeting over coffee on Monday the talking had ended and we had resolved to await the design. On his return to Kobe, Yo Shimada would begin to sketch out his ideas. In the meantime, Phorm and I would sign off on the terms of business and deal with preliminary things like a geophysical survey. We found beautiful multicolored sandstone on the site that just begged to be revealed and incorporated into the design so we needed to find out where it began and ended under the site. We also needed to find an arborist to give their view on the Jacaranda tree at the front of the block which was leaning over the power lines to the rest of the street promising a return to the dark ages for the people up the gully.
In Yo Shimada, Chie Konno and the team from Phorm, I’d engaged two teams of architects to work together in two different hemispheres on my one little project. I felt like a little man with a big plan, but everyone seemed excited and motivated. Yo Shimada would begin the design process in Japan, handing over more of the project to Phorm in Australia as the project moved through into design development, planning and approvals. Then came detail specifications and then the construction stage. I of course wanted all of this to start immediately. It’s a good thing Shimada san lives 7163km away or I’d be knocking on his door at 2am asking how he’s going. “Helllooo…Shimada san. I just had a dream about a house that was really a jumping castle. Can I come in?”
No, Steve. Get some zs and get some Zen.
OMG an OCD Aussie who cooks Coq au vin whilst walking in a 2D shape…….will a triangular prism look great encased in glass with 3 rooms and a one element stove be enough?
I’m sure I can make it work 🙂
Hi Steve and Johnny,
Wanted to congratulate you on the Qld Archi Awards. Knew it would do well ( always easier to predict after the event ! )
Could you do a favour?
Going to Tokyo in April next year supposedly leading a tour, which is ironic as Iv’e never been before, but and am very excited.
Is there anywhere you’d recommend as a must?
Going Tokyo, Osaka, Kanazawa, Nagoya — and maybe Naoshima.
ps seen the rough cut of your episode and it looks fabulous!
I’ve got heaps of tips, but mainly for Tokyo. I’ll put them all into an email for you. Also, I’ll put you in contact with Yo Shimada who I’m sure will be helpful. Steve.