Back to Nature

Not content with using raw, unprocessed materials and vernacular building techniques, Fujimori has intentionally infested their exterior surfaces with plant life. The result is shaggy and bristling, humorous and grotesque, uncanny and vaguely obscene – and at times surreally beautiful.

Although nature is often used as a metaphor for generating architectural form (zoomorphic structures, exfoliated surfaces, ‘organic’ shapes), Fujimori’s designs have an archaic simplicity in their rectilinear plans and pitched roofs. They remain legibly, iconically ‘building’ even as control of their surfaces is surrendered. This is a wet, hairy architecture, ruffled by gusts of wind, shedding and sprouting with the seasons.

Fujimori is attempting to merge building and vegetation without either losing its autonomy. The relationships are honest parasitism rather than a disingenuous ‘symbiosis’. Fujimori goes well beyond planter boxes, ivy-covered walls or even Modernist roof gardens – he points out that Le Corbusier’s sketches contained far more greenery than the actual buildings – and his motives are expressionistic, not ecological. There are no insulating earth berms or vegetable gardens on the roofs; after visiting eco-villages in Germany and elsewhere, Fujimori’s only response was that they are ‘insufficiently beautiful.’

This is an architecture that weathers well, perhaps even improves with age, but the invading greenery should be seen as symbolic of vitality not decay. Nature forms very specific elements within the compositions: stripes of yellow dandelions (tanpopo) grow from joints in stone wall-cladding (his own Grass House, 1995), a grid of white leek (nira) flowers sprouts from a sloping wooden roof (Leek House, 1997), a pine tree (matsu) emerges from the peak of a copper-clad pyramid (Pine Tree House, 1997). Rather than free proliferation, it is controlled infiltration, linked to the quintessential Japanese aesthetic of juxtaposing rigorous artifice with natural serendipity.

Fujimori believes there is a loss of texture and ‘taste’ in contemporary architecture, to which the ‘roughness’ of his designs is in direct, deliberate opposition. Indeed, it often seems that developments in construction technologies and materials, design methods and fashions are converging on a single theme, that of smoothness: luminous, translucent computer renderings, sensuous curves and immaculate boxes, continuous surfaces and spaces, flat facades and diaphanous screens, connections as blends rather than articulations. Architecture is tending towards the synthetic and the artificial; even when natural materials are used, they are polished and refined to the point of being no more than symbolic of their origins (Fujimori feels no affinity with Peter Zumthor). Internal climates are now completely controllable, while nature is something to be excluded, or contained in only the most carefully regulated manner.

Fujimori’s reaction is as much straightforward perversity as it is considered critique. An enthusiastic, intuitive amateur, he is less demonstrating a general theory than he is constructing a personal vision. The specific attributes of his architecture are ultimately just side effects: he says the real pleasure is in the act of building, not of designing.

According to Fujimori, architectural criticism is like a sumo wrestling match. Victory is equated with comprehension, with identifying both the flaws and potentials of a particular design approach. Defeat is to be left speechless, overwhelmed by the power and beauty of a work of architecture, or at least to be drained of any desire to criticize it. It is these defeats – ineffable, transcendental experiences – that the critic secretly longs for, like an aggressive atheist whose deepest desire is to be proven wrong. Fujimori’s amateur status allows him the freedom to escape the sophisticated artifice that architecture has become. The results are by no means beyond criticism, but perhaps to criticize them at all is to miss the point. Enough said.

Admission reserved. Perversion in the built environment