Stay calm. It is a commonly used instruction in emergency situations and evacuations. Intended to encourage compliance and prevent panic, the phrase can also exist as a sort of mantra for staying present, a plea for stability in chaos.
It is an appropriate subtitle for the current Sharjapan 3 exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation, which offers a meaningful look at the role of architecture in providing us with spaces of rest, tranquility, healing and connection. , especially in the era of a global pandemic and climate crisis. .
Now in its final week, Sharjapan 3 – Remain Calm: Solitude and Connectivity in Japanese Architecture, is the third in a four-year series that brings aspects of Japanese culture to the UAE. Previous shows, for example, have explored book design and performance art.
Sharjapan is curated by Yuko Hasegawa, who also organized the Sharjah 11 Biennale in 2013 and is the director of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan.
Showcasing scale models of architectural projects in Japan, photographs and multimedia installations, Remain Calm draws inspiration from the 12th-century Japanese poet Kamo no Chomei, who became a hermit and traveled in his small mobile hut to live on the hillside and beside the mountains. rivers.
For Hasegawa, the Chomei Refuge reflects much of what we need from the living spaces in the midst of the pandemic – how can we create a place of safety, while remaining connected to our surroundings?
The oscillation between solitude and connectivity is present in the architectural projects highlighted in Sharjapan 3, notably in the Tanikawa House by architect Kazuo Shinohara, located in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture and built in 1974.
Minimal in design, the summer house sits on the side of a hill, its floor is only partially covered, leaving the soil exposed in some areas. By keeping the earth and the artificial close to each other, Shinohara’s design almost dissolves the barrier between the two, as if the inhabitants are now part of the natural environment, instead of just living in it.
When closures were put in place across the world in 2020, gardens, balconies and rooftops became popular spaces as people sought some form of dialogue with their surroundings. Even as cities and countries reopen, the anxieties of quarantine in confined spaces have left a deep mark, and future architectural projects may be able to find solutions.
Sharjapan 3 also offers ways in which architecture can be a place of healing. A scale model of Toyo Ito’s White U from 1976 shows how the architect created a shelter for his widowed sister Nobuko and his two daughters.
The all-white structure seemed closed from the outside, but its lack of dividing walls inside allowed more contact between family members. Like Shinohara’s design, part of the house, especially its central courtyard, was not paved, so the ground and vegetation remained exposed.
During its existence – the house was demolished in 1997 after residents felt they had passed it – White U perched between its function as a fortress, allowing solitude and recuperation, and a common space and open for its inhabitants.
What also emerges from Hasegawa’s selection of architectural projects is the emphasis Japanese architecture places on responding to the environment, be it the natural environment or urban contexts.
Junya Ishigami’s Art Biotop Water Garden exemplifies this consideration for nature, having been designed to prevent forest trees from being cut down for a new hotel. In four years, a total of 318 trees have been moved to a meadow next to the hotel site. The architect then designed 160 biotopes, or artificial ponds, to surround the trees and serve as shelters for various flora and fauna.
In an urban setting, the Double Helix House, designed by onishimaki + hyakudayuki (o + h) architects, demonstrates imagination and understanding of space, even under limited circumstances. Built in a very narrow area of a Tokyo neighborhood, the house is accessed via an alley, its various living spaces stacked on top of each other with a winding hallway around its central core.
Remain Calm also includes a performative installation by artist Nile Koetting named Keep calm (Compressed +), from which Hasegawa took the caption of the exhibition. The artist remembers his childhood fire drills in Japan, where schools prepare for natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
Koetting’s installation of miniature models depicts an artistic institution – set in a sci-fi universe – in a state of emergency. The book considers the types of solidarity that could take shape in such cases. The work takes on an even more contemporary resonance as climatic disasters, including deadly floods and forest fires, have hit several countries this year alone.
How has architecture served to protect us so far, and how can architects, designers, urban planners, environmentalists and governments adapt and rethink to move forward? Can art institutions and museums also play a role?
These key questions are asked repeatedly throughout the exhibition, which also includes beautiful photographs of various Japanese architectures in a gallery. Remain Calm proves that an ethic of compassion, care and harmony can exist within architecture, without depriving it of functionality or beauty.
At the same time, the projects in the exhibition recall the possibilities of architecture apart from vanity and grandeur, aspirations that go hand in hand with cities vying for world domination. It’s time for the show to end as Expo 2020 Dubai, with its promises of magnificence and spectacle, takes center stage.
Importantly, Remain Calm reinforces the belief in the ability of architecture to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of its inhabitants. That at its roots, architecture must be human.
Sharjapan 3 – Remain Calm: Solitude and Connectivity in Japanese Architecture is on view in galleries 1, 2 and 3, Al Mureijah Square, Sharjah Art Foundation. More information on sharjahart.org
Update: September 27, 2021, 9:27 a.m.