Directors Lounge 2008 • Berlin, february 7-17

Thursday, February 14

Architecture is Ruining my LIfe

(S.S.) A little backtracking to do here...I'd like to start by talking about the fascinating lecture Merce Rodrigo Garcia gave about her research as an architect into the virtual representations of inhabited space in Japanese independent film. The idea of a Spanish architect studying Japanese independent films and scouring them for traces of inspiration about what it means to inhabit Japan is mind-boggling in and of itself. The fact that MRG can make such a coherent argument out of this practice is down right incredible. I think the key argument for her has something to do with the idea of built space versus the idea of inhabited space. Cities that change very rapidly, like Tokyo, have a lot of flexibility when it comes to the way the population uses space. There is this organic, real time, fluid approach to using space that is a model built by the everyday people that populate Tokyo and then there is this prescribed top-down model of building space which begins with some megalomaniacal architect and a lot of money and ends with a bunch of people who feel trapped by their working and/or living quarters.
 The film clips MRG showed represented both sides of this architectural dialectic. On the "built" side of things the film clips from Crazy Family (80's) and Tokyo Fist (90's) represented the suffocation of the average man by the oppressive architecture of Tokyo in the midst of an economic boom. Crazy Family told the story of an upwardly mobile family who move from the city to an American style suburban house on the outskirts of Tokyo. Once settled there, the family becomes obsessed with their individual privacy and they slowly disappear from each others lives culminating in an absurd parody of suburban life. The family leaves their home in the suburbs and takes up a nomadic existence in between two highways. In this primitive base camp, the family unites once more. The fact that their peaceful existence occurs in a space that is not recognized as a home speaks to MRG's notion that inhabited space is less suffocating than built space.
In Tokyo Fist, a Japanese version of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, or Fight Club, a man's subjectivity is taken over by his urban environs. He mounts the platform for the subway, climbs the endless stairs to his cookie cutter apartment, and works in his cubicle like everyone else. At some point, he snaps and tries to destroy his environment. He pounds at the walls with a pipe and exasperates himself in the name of liberating himself from his oppressed lifestyle.
The built landscape of Tokyo in the 90's melts into the virtual realities of the current decade. Tokyo has become a place for fetishized subcultures to flourish. In the film Peep Show, two  seemingly unconnected subcultures function as alternative landscapes and define spaces in the city for their purposes. The first subculture is the Gothic Lolita fashion subculture, most prevalent in the Shibuya district. These women dress like Victorian dolls with Mary Jane shoes, ruffle dresses, pinafores and knee-high stockings. The effect is sexy and ridiculous at the same time. These women congregate in certain quarters of the Shibuya district providing the rest of the city with a chance to check out their world. The film explores the notion of bifurcated personas these women experience when they dress up as something or someone they may or may not really be. The notion of costumes and hiding within them in order to evade reality is a theme throughout the film. On the other end of this virtual coin are the Otaku, a real group of Tokyo-ites who are so socially withdrawn into their computer worlds that they never leave their rooms. They communicate via the Internet and find the greater physical world exhausting.
MRG sees the inhabited spaces of Tokyo as being linked to a historical and cultural process so for her, the fact that subcultures occupy virtual space is just as important to the architecture of the city as when they occupy actual space.  The fact that Tokyo shifts to accommodate new cultures and identities gives it a virtual quality as well. And when the streets are flooded with Gothic Lolita's, there is a carnival like atmosphere which exists both physically and virtually. Space is per-formative, MRG reminds us. This is very clear in the 16mm film Private Novel, in which a filmmaker shoots his life, his friends and and his surroundings over a ten year period. The city takes on a haunting quality under his gaze, especially when he films Emperor Hirohito's funeral.
In conclusion, MRG suggested that the tactics of independent film could be beneficial to architects. Viewing the way people use space, virtual or otherwise, is a more useful process than contracting to build giant space sucking monsters that only serve to oprress their inhabitants.