In Tokyo, architect Yoshifumi Nakamura displays his favorite huts. What for? Jef Smith dwells on the essentials of an exhibition on essential dwellings...
Since its inception in 1985, the TOTO Gallery･MA in Tokyo has gained a reputation for holding some of that city’s best modern and contemporary architecture exhibitions. The ambitious level of the gallery’s programming is maintained with its current show, “Come on-a My Hut!”, which attempts to explore some fundamental questions of dwelling through consideration of the “hut” as archetype of the house.
Set out in three parts, this exhibition occupies the entire gallery and it’s courtyard spaces. Upon entering, the visitor is presented with a display of seven small dwellings from across the world, including Le Corbusier’s Cabanon at Cap-Martin, Heidegger’s mountain hut at Todtnauberg, and Thoreau’s Walden Pond, alongside examples from Japan – including the solo yachtsman Kenichi Horie’s boat, The Mermaid. Of less design interest, at least perhaps to British eyes, is George Bernard Shaw’s writing space in the garden of his Hertfordshire home – not really much more than a garden shed.
There is also one hut at full-scale: Hanem Hut, built in the open courtyard space by the curator of the show, Yoshifumi Nakamura, an architect whose own practice has been inspired by the models of small dwellings explored in the exhibition. This hut can be viewed from above by the visitor on ascending an external stair to a top floor gallery where drawings (all refreshingly and appropriately hand-drawn), images and a video of the hut’s construction are also shown, highlighting the process and people involved.
The overall exhibition display is unified through a series of simple little timber-boarded garden shed sized “huts” along the length of the gallery, all not quite facing but subtly angled to each other. Inside each, images, models, text and key drawings of each of the projects are exquisitely combined and displayed. Aside from each of the projects’ obvious correlations of scale, materiality, and their wilderness settings (the temporary Tokyo rooftop location of Hanem Hut notwithstanding), what compellingly underlies them all is the idea of a simple essence of inhabitation, very much in the Heidegger sense: what it is to dwell and to be.
This essence is further underlined by the simple but beautifully crafted Hanem Hut in the courtyard, described as “a condensed version of Nakamura’s own hut-home”. It is fully kitted out with fittings, furniture and utensils – everything seemingly selected for its essential timeless elegance and necessity: one gets the feeling that if something were removed it would be missed. The juxtaposition of this incongruous object on a concrete rooftop with the panorama of the metropolis lying beyond, brings to mind David Kohn’s “A Room for London” constructed on the roof of the Hayward Gallery last year. Here though, whilst still playful, there is no extraneous metaphorical baggage or artifice – it is just the thing in and of itself.
Perhaps regrettably, this hut structure has not been inhabited during the exhibition in the way that “A Room for London” has. But it still invites us to imagine, in the spirit of a story by Junichiro Tanazaki, what it would be like at dusk to enjoy the sensual anticipation of coffee brewing upon the wood-burning stove under the gentle glow from the single light source, whilst contemplating the shadow play across the untreated timber surfaces of the interior. Both stove and adjustable wall light, designed by Nakamura, are simple and robust, looking like they would welcome the patina of use, embodying a sense of poetic pragmatism that runs through this and all the other works of the exhibition.
Overall this is a delightful and engaging show, stimulating both cerebrally and viscerally – and with all that freshly sawn timber, it even smells good!
– Jef Smith, London
Come on-a My Hut!
17 April - 22 June, 2013
TOTO Nogizaka Building 3F