After a half-time break, I am happy to release essay no. 04 “Dangerous Days – Architecture/Space” of my “Blade Runner” series. Due to recent questions and comments, it seems like a good time to recap the purpose of the project. And that is not to imitate, copy or re-invent the groundbreaking aesthetics and sounds we know and cherish from the eponymous original motion picture but rather to reflect on the status quo of our current reality and by doing so, examine various relevant aspects of modern life. The year 2019 was the year in which the original sci-fi picture took place and triggered the idea to compare our state of affairs with the visions, predictions and speculations of the movie released in 1982. This is done in a six part essay using my photographed, written and audio-recorded material. To tell the story visually, I confine to Japan as the source of inspiration because I found certain characteristics of people and country as well as the technological advancement which exists alongside “traditional awareness ” the perfect environment to do so.
The visual parallels which themselves inspired the famous movie-set are often striking. Today, there are many Asian mega-cities which would be suitable but it was Tokyo and Osaka which aesthetically and architecturally lead the development we see today and which inspired Ridley Scott and his team. Audio is the other important pillar of the project. A collection of field-recordings which I accumulated while shooting has been given to six truly dedicated and brilliant electronic music producers of whom each one composes a mix, a personal interpretation of the overall topic and the assigned part of the series. For part four, Japanese producer “S Katz” has turned out an amazing track, the “Grid-System-Mix”, which perfectly adds to the previously produced ones by Oliver Kargl (aka RNDM), Grimes Adhesif and Stewart Walker. Jamaica Suk will debut in part five followed by Phillip Sollmann (aka Efdemin) who does the finale. Once the essay and album is complete, it will get mastered for an official release.
As elaborated in Dangerous Days (I), the colonization of exoplanets is at this point, out of reach and forces us to manage the given space on earth accordingly. Despite Tokyo being by far the largest city on the planet (38 million residents), it seems that the way it is managed is unprecedented and perfect in such a way, like I have never seen in any other, even much smaller city before. The terms space management and efficiency gain true meaning here as you become one of the many gearwheels in this well-functioning engine. One the one hand, this smoothness is owed to the nature of the Japanese who are known to be perfectly organized and extremely reliable, as well as respectful in their daily routine. On the other hand, a willingness to experiment and renew while not completely destroy what exists, is what drives the constant change and development. Where does this come from?
It seems like the “monsters” we know from Japanese motion pictures such as “Godzilla”, in fact stand for the real threats and disasters which regularly occur and are caused either by nature or man-kind. Nukes, quakes, raging firestorms, tsunamis and accidents, Japan has seen it all and has been battered badly and persistently ever since. If you grow up with a notion of a possible disaster striking at any given point in time, materialism is not a practical concept to live by. Instead spiritualism, minimalism and flexibility evolved to become the philosophy of the Japanese. The design and architectural genres therefore significantly differ from our movements, yet in such a compatible manner, that it lead to the exchange of techniques and ideas, going both ways. Some techniques exist in east and west alike due alike skill levels in craftsmanship. Similar to the Japanese temples, my family house’s roof structure was built merely by treating the wood in accordance with the moon signs and crafting it in such ways, that not a single screw or nail was required. That was some 400 years ago.
This experience is adapted to modern skyscrapers as well and make Japan the expert in the engineering field of shock absorption. Modernisation doesn’t have to come at the price of total cultural loss though. In today’s Japanese architecture, older proven principles can be found everywhere and while function is a key aspect, form does not only follow function but also beauty. Among the striking differences in comparison to European architectural concepts is the age-old method of doing things the simple, reduced way. Typically layouts, designs and shapes are formed by the use of the geometrically irregular and asymmetrical. This applies to the whole range of things from the very small object to a building, garden and larger structures. Once that is understood, what at first sight appeared chaotic soon appears organised. Chaos is good and chaos can be organised or be accidental or a mixture of both. It’s very refreshing to experience this, being European where symmetry is almost a law but at least the norm.
Interior modularity and flexibility originate from the traditional Japanese house which is known to have no bearing walls. The structure is the house and allows to adjust each room to the occasion via its sliding door system. A room’s purpose is defined by the time of day and use and not by the objects you collect in it or the tasks you dedicate to it. Even objects of art are used as props rather than given their granted place in the house. The modularity of this system and the absence of walls clearly displays how the outside and the inside are considered as one. Vertical levels differentiate between the outside and the inside. The Japanese still live by this and are therefore able to make the most out of the available space yet their small apartments and work places never feel cramped or stuffed. Gardens measuring only a few square meters appear grand and spacious. I was constantly stunned witnessing the masters of space management and often had to think about how much of it we waste even though it is clear that we won’t gain anymore of it. The size of a European or American house is not sustainable and has no future.
Does such a deeply rooted, minimalist cultural approach which is said to be the Japanese way and is in sync with the teachings of Zen, lead to places which we Westerners first have to search and find in order to understand? And if so, does the same apply the other way around? Yes and no … time will mingle but currently, “foreign” ideas (unless coming from a star) are seldom considered equal to local ones and that is a global phenomenon. People naturally feel that they have to defend something while in fact they are mostly just scared of change. Every country has its share of backwards thinking people and Japan is no exception. Extremely talented individuals though, such as Toyo Ito, Kenzo Tange, Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando, Katsutoshi Sasaki or Kisho Kurokawa, Watanabe Yōji and others, understood how to translate existing values, knowledge and tradition to a level which not only fits modern times but defines them.
Development means advancement not destruction yet today, so-called developers often do exactly that, destroy. It’s absolutely crucial that we bring back a culture of lasting quality and this applies to the whole of commerce. Architects, developers and builders need to be pulled aside more often and reminded of their responsibilities. Unfortunately today all goods, even the most elementary ones such as water, air, food and space have been turned into a currency for speculation and this of course is poison and directly effects the quality of any product. It alters the true value of things such as space, thus catapulting many out into the streets. It’s a human right to have a place to stay and not a game. Speculation also disrupts architectural efforts and hinders real progress. But then again, it’s old news. Abusing architecture every which way has always been a part of it just as much as using it in a mindful way. Travel far and often and see first hand how others come up with alternate, magnificent solutions. Just look to Scandinavia where great results emerged from the already advanced intrigue with the Japanese way.
“Dangerous Days 04 | Grid-System-Mix”: S Katz (JP), Berlin
Photos, text and audio field-recordings: Oliver Lins (AT), Berlin
Dangerous Days 05 (Culture/Commerce)
with audio contribution by Korean-American producer
Jamaica Suk, coming this September
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