Death of Arakawa
12.06.2012 - Scott Andrew Elliott
In the field of experimental architecture, perhaps none were as bold or polemic as Shusaku Arakawa. Working in collaboration with Madeline Gins, they developed a theory of architecture that opened up new possibilities for thought regarding how we as organisms are integrated into our environment. They have stated in their books that they have decided not to die, and that their architecture functions to reverse destiny, allowing one not to die. His death in 2010 raises the question of whether these statements were intended as mere rhetoric, as a polemic challenge to incite discussion of the boundaries and limits of architectural design, or if indeed he and Gins truly believe in the functionality of their designs in prolonging the life of an organism indefinitely.
Through their practice, they created a number of sites, as temporary installations, or as permanent constructions. Some are residential, such as the Bioscleave House, and some are to function as places to visit, fun parks, that challenge visitors to re-orient themselves in an environment designed to throw them off-balance through sensory manipulation.
Each site offers a situation in which the visitor must work to be able to move through, to stand up straight, to not fall over, to not get lost. Perhaps diametrically opposed to simple and invisible functional design, in which spaces flow from one to another with ease and all things are in their rightful place to allow effortless movement and use, their spaces demand awareness of one’s sense of balance, haptic sensations, sense of orientation, in order to develop these skills in an individual. It is through this ‘procedural architecture’ that they portend to reverse destiny.
What their work has opened up is the possibility to understand an environment as an extension of the body, or the body as an extension of an environment, as a singular entity, an ‘architectural body’. For artists and architects, this offers the possibility of seeing a constructed space as building the person who enters inside it.
From what I have heard from those who were close to Arakawa, he did believe in the ability to reverse destiny through these architectural sites. For myself, the work and writings of Arakawa and Gins has expanded the field in removing any limits on what can be asked of the function architectural or artistic design, and creates an absolute need to rethink how we understand our relationship to built spaces.
Scott Andrew Elliott is a teacher in the Environmental Art program in the School of Art, Design and Architecture, and graduated from the same program in 2008. He works as an artist, creating architectural interventions and installations. His research is on the topic of the interdependence between an individual and his or her surroundings, particularly architectural surroundings, and is seeking to find what mechanisms of perception are employed in the understanding of space.
The focus of his blog will be on how different built environments affect us, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and on how we can shape our environment to change who we are, and perhaps what we are.