OUR ART IN
Jan. 09, 2020
Emotionally charged architecture:
adapting a creative approach captures the hearts of visitors
Interview with Klein Dytham Architects
writer MAYO HAYASHI
photographer YUBA HAYASHI
editor NAOMI KAKIUCHI
translator ELAINE CZECH
Klein Dytham Architects (KDa) is a multilingual office that does architectural, interior, public spaces, and installation design work. After graduating from the RCA, KDa was established in Tokyo in 1991 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham. Then in 1996, Yukinari Hisayama joined KDa as a core member. Additionally, “PechaKucha Night”, which they devised in 2003, has since spread around the world as an event for designers and creators to share creativity with each other. Currently, “PechaKucha Nights” are held globally in over 1200 cities.
The architecture unit of Klein Dytham Architects has been at the forefront of Japanese architecture for over 30 years. Three of their most famous designs are the Daikanyama T-SITE (2011), Ginza Place (2016), and Risonare Yatsugatake Leaf Chapel (2004) all of which daily have a multitude of visitors. Characteristically, their architecture is rather humorous and witty. Could it be because of their humor and wit that so many people are attracted to their architecture?
From the left: Mark Dytham, Astrid Klein, Yukinari Hisayama
When Klein and Dytham came to Japan in the late 1980s, Japan was in the midst of a vibrant and powerful era. The construction industry is also reaping the benefits of the bubble economy. During the “Bubble Era”, innovative and free-thinking architects, from within Japan and abroad, undertook in secession a variety of architectural, industrial, and interior design projects.
According to Dytham “Japan, during the 1980s bubble, had this atmosphere in which a designer could do anything. London has many historic buildings and strict city planning rules, which makes it difficult to design unique buildings. Yet, in Japan, more and more buildings with structures I had never seen before were popping up.”
“We were studying at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London at the time and were shocked when we saw Japanese architecture in a magazine. For example, works like Makoto Watanabe’s “Aoyama Technical College” or “ Crystal Light” by Masaharu Takasaki. Also “Cinema Rise” by Atsushi Kitagawara as well as “Tower of Wind” by Toyo Ito and more. And seeing this Japanese architecture, which was different from European architecture, was very interesting. To put it simply, this was a true display of architectural diversity,” Klein chimed in.
The pair, captivated by Japanese architecture, began working at Toyo Ito Architects in 1988.
“During this period, architects tried to develop their own style and manifest, however, Mr. Ito would be always making something that was different. There was never this feeling that he was creating the same buildings over and over. I was greatly influenced by the fact that he didn’t seem to have just one style of architecture,” reflected Klein.
In 1991, Klein and Dytham decided to leave Mr. Ito’s firm and founded their own. Then, in 1996 when Yukinari Hisayama joined, he helped the firm to combine architecture and interior design. Together they are central pillars of the firm’s many projects.
It was at an architecture exhibit in Tokyo where the pair met the fresh architecture graduate Hisayama.
Klein says she was drawn to Hisayama’s “curious and explorative nature.” While at the time many Japanese who felt “I can not speak English well” shied away from the pair, Hisayama had a willingness to try and challenge anything. His open attitude lead to the trio collaborating and eventually Hisayama joining as a partner.
With Hisayama on board, the three-person team formed “Deluxe,” a shared office space, which at the time such workplaces were rare. In addition to being a co-working space for small companies and creators, the office lent itself as a space for art exhibitions and live performances. From there, Klein Dytham architects kept expanding and moved to “Super Deluxe.” It was in this space where they launched their weekly presentation night, “PechaKucha Night.”
To never lose their spirit to take on challenges they believe in, “no matter what the project, we want to push ourselves to try things we have not experienced before.” They keep their air of curiosity by, “seeking unexpected discoveries and experiencing unknown things.”
©Brian Scott Peterson for PechaKucha
This presentation event was started in Tokyo in 2003. As long as they follow the “20×20” rule (presenting 20 slides per 20 seconds each), presenters can freely present their projects and works. “PechaKucha Night,” now a very popular event, it is being held in over 1,200 cities around the world. Because next year is 2020 (in line with the night’s famous rule) a special “PechaKucha Night” event is planned.
Daikanyama T-SITE／TSUTAYA BOOK STORE
© Nacása & Partners
Daikanyama T-SITE／TSUTAYA BOOK STORE © Nacása & Partners
The concept for the Daikanyama T-Site, which opened in 2011 was “Constructing a Cultural Forest.” Of the proposals designed for the site, Klein Dytham architects’ was selected.
“About a year and a half into the competition, we kept having these long discussions with the people of the Culture Convenience Club (hereinafter referred to as CCC) at Tsutaya Shoten. Going back and forth between the management team and the design team over and over again. Constantly brainstorming in order to get the project to proceed,” recalls Hisayama. Then during one of our discussions the CCC President Masuda said this:
“We, as the operators, should stop thinking about what is most convenient for us.”
With that, the management direction changed significantly. Instead, the team was able to focus on how people would feel and the sounds they would hear when visiting the site. The project was then on the right track and thus the current T-SITE was born. Even now, eight years later, the human traffic from early morning until late at night has yet to cease. Not only a comfortable reading space with a wide variety of books available to peruse, but the site also offers seminars, pop-up stores, live music, and exhibitions by artists.
“Architecture must have content, activities, and experiences. But most importantly spirit. We don’t have a fixed style, but we always design with the same spirit. What is important to us is ‘fun’, as well as a feeling of ‘happiness’,” stated Dytham
Therefore, “curating a space for everyday content” is important.
Nowadays, there are many people who can easily shop online, and people feel more comfortable at home and avoid going out. However, it is said that “people want to be with other people. So we have to consider in what kind of environment do they want to be with people, and in what kind of environment people gather.” Which led to designing a space which would have a variety of attractive content.
“With just buildings and interiors, we just created shapes. Once an architect creates a building, that’s not the end, it’s the start. We wanted to create a space in which those using it or working there will be able to feel “I am happy to be here” and “I am glad to be surrounded and meet other people in this space,” Klein said with a smile.
Klein Dytham architects is characterized by the fact that they have “no style.” Depending on the client and its conditions, their style is able to adapt like a chameleon. Each project’s individual style is formed as the team takes into consideration all of the project’s potential challenges, conditions, and context.
For example, with “Leaf Chapel” (2004), the garden chapel in Risonare Yatsugatake, Yamanashi, the focal element of the design was the “Bride’s Veil.”
“If there is one strong element, it becomes a hook and an appropriate approach is born.”
And thus, the open, dome-shaped chapel, which faces the hotel’s luscious garden, quickly became popular due to its innovative design and space production, improving hotel business.
the garden chapel in Risonare Yatsugatake「ZONA」
Why is it though that their architecture is so readily accepted by people? It is because they place the highest priority on having earnest dialogues with their clients.
“I think Japanese people are humble and sometimes it’s hard for them to exchange dialogue freely. But we will work with our clients honestly and openly. Conveying any potential negative points of a project or design without hiding them. By discussing openly, our clients understand the risks. And it gives us and them the courage to work through any issues resulting in everyone being happy,” commented Klein.
“In Japan, there are many project managers who have a vision and are not afraid to take risks to achieve their vision. I am proud to have come to Japan and been able to work with a number of wonderful managers,” said Dytham.
© Nacása & Partners
“Architecture is also an art. Art is something that directly appeals to people’s feelings and emotions. For example, when light hits a large sculpture, you begin to notice the shapes, forms, colors, and textures and your heart feels enriched. Nowadays, efficiency, along with budgets and schedules, are too much a priority for many items [in the world of art and architecture]. Yet, handmade crafts and artworks have an emotional value that cannot be measured by function or efficiency,” mentions Klein.
Because of their deep understanding of art, Klein Dytham architects’ buildings convey individuality and uniqueness.
“It is creatives who initiate progress in the world and society, more so than accountants, bankers, or developers,” urges Klein.
From time to time, the interviewees would laugh with each other. So, we asked about the friendliness between the three of them.
Klein is from Italy and Dytham from England. They met in London, came to Japan, and learned from Japanese architecture the charms of traditional culture, nature, and the land.
“There are many possibilities in Japan. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, nature and folk art are rich in variety. From traditional crafts and kimonos to technology, Japan has a wealth of fascinating things. So much great potential that is not being taken advantage of and it is such a shame!” said Klein.
“Moreover, the Japanese term for “hospitality” has become just a lip service, and it’s not exactly true to the word,” complained Hisayama.
“You use a public toilet and it is ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that.’ All these cautionary rules. For the Japanese it is ‘doing it in this way only, is correct,’ but I think a more relaxed approach is better. It should be, in anyway you can achieve a positive experience,” believes Klein.
“The Japanese lack belief in themselves. They lack the courage to see how wonderful being ones’ self can be. I’ve always thought Japan has an interesting culture, but nowadays it seems many people think the opposite. Like, if everyone doesn’t say Japan is great, then the people don’t feel confident in Japan’s appeal. Japan has technology and great sense, but it isn’t promoted at all. We need to get more excited together! Think Fun! I think that Japan will be better, if as a nation we can become more positive,” said Hisayama.
“Nowadays, if you don’t get ‘likes’ on SNS, people worry. It is the same in politics. I think the Japanese people need to be more free,” advised Klein.
“I’ve loved how interesting these two are and how much fun we have,” said Hisayama.
“When the three of us are together, it is just comfortable (laughs). It takes off the pressure, and we don’t feel a need to be so serious. We relax and joke,” Klein responded with a charming smile.
“There are so many possibilities in Japan. So we stick around!” laughed Dytham.
By facing others with a cheerful and humorous personality, everyone is positively influenced. Although they have great achievements as architects, their “human power” is their most striking ability. With the mantra that “over the next 10 years, we can’t do the same thing continuously,” easily, more unique architecture will continue to be born one after another by their hands. Japan and the world must await the future great creations of Klein Dytham architects.
Klein Dytham architects (KDa) is a multilingual office that does architectural, interior, public spaces, and installation design work. After graduating from the RCA, KDa was established in Tokyo in 1991 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham. Then in 1996, Yukinari Hisayama joined KDa as a core member. Additionally, “PechaKucha Night”, which they devised in 2003, has since spread around the world as an event for designers and creators to share creativity with each other. Currently, “PechaKucha Nights” are held globally in over 1,200 cities.
DESIGNART TOKYO Founder
This year will be the third DESIGN x ART festival: DESIGNART 2019,
PechaKucha Night will also be held at the event, an event founded by Klein Dytham architects.
From October 18th (Friday) to October 27th (Sunday), 2019, the entire city of Tokyo will be transformed into a museum.
In all 11 areas of Omotesando, Gaienmae, Harajuku, Meiji Jingumae, Shibuya, Ebisu, Daikanyama, Nakameguro, Roppongi, Shinjuku, and Ginza, there are gathering design arts from all over the world.
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