Today’s lesson: humans create really beautiful, useful things when we mimic nature, and meld our creations with Her.
I listened to a lecture by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma at Takenaka Carpentry Tool Museum (yes, I went back. I can’t seem to stay away). His talk centered on the future of wood in architecture. He spoke about being inspired by the ukiyo-e artist from the 1800s, Utagawa Hiroshige. In these scenes, man, his creations, and nature “toke-au,” melt together. Like this one:
You can google Kuma-sensei’s own works and see what you think of his versions of blending architecture and nature. There’s much to be shared there. I particularly admire the ventilation system in his design for the New National Stadium which is being constructed for the 2020 Olympics. But really what stayed with me the most from hearing him was this idea of our built spaces dissolving into the scenery.
The rail system so gently holding that man is not made of wood. It is hand-crafted pigmented cement, designed to be unobtrusive to the main event — the waterfall, which has cut the beautiful narrow gorge. There were thousands of hikers today who depended on these easy-to-grab, hardly noticeable rails guarding the path and keeping them safe from the steep slippery drop. These faux-wood rails are made by sakan, yes our beloved Japanese plasterers. I love the sensibility — to hide what we need by natural design. In fine tea house gardens I often see spigots for the gardeners’ hoses which are hidden in a “wooden” stump. I doubt many others notice, which is by design. Here too, on this trail directly behind Shin-Kobe station, Kobe’s Shinkansen station, people didn’t notice they were being guided by these vine-like guard rails. I got a few sideways looks by Japanese hikers, due to my camera being aimed in an unusual direction. As soon as I noticed I would beam “Japanese faux-wood is amazing!” and launch in to how this “wood” is actually cement. Each person had the same reaction: “Oh wow! I didn’t even notice!” and noticeably gain appreciation for their country’s unique aesthetic considerations. How beautiful is that.
I mentioned we are learning faux wood at the sakan school: gi-boku (faux-wood) and gi-ban (faux wood panel — pictured above in the post). For the gi-boku project, we were assigned to make stumps to sit on. Our teacher is renowned for his ability to recreate the famed tea-house cedar post, made from Kita-yama-sugi, a twisty, pale wood when skinned of its bark. I tried making that for my stump. It was not easy, and there are many things I would do differently next time to make it more realistic. You’ve got to be really well-versed in the curvature and textures of different woods to make it work, and know your material and your tools well. It’s really fun getting into this, and I hope I get many chances to utilize this trickery.
Maybe in the future, I’ll get a chance to make an outhouse that looks like this:
That would be lovely.
POSTSCRIPT ADDITION — FAUX SLABS