Brendon N. Carlin – Territorialising Interiors: Non-typological Housing in Contemporary Japan

First Supervisor: Pier Vittorio Aureli
Second Supervisor: Maria S. Giudici

Brendon N. Carlin has been a Unit Master at the Architectural Association since 2011, is a Lecturer at the Royal College of Art leading the Masters design studio ADS9, is a candidate with AA PhD by Design, and contributor to The City as a Project. Brendon has led several realised architecture and masterplanning projects, and practised and taught on six continents with distinguished studios and institutions.

The thesis will put forward a critique of domestication through a close reading of selected examples of Japanese housing since 1950 which tend towards a condition to be referred to here as non-typological. Typology in architecture refers to the knowledge of Types, which can be described as composed of abstract ideas, criteria, categories, and rule systems for the distribution of form, programme and symbolism. Type can be evolved through versions and constitutes a key form of architectural knowledge. Housing became an architectural, typological project when the strategically managed reproduction of life emerged as the focus of political strategies; a development becomes distinctly visible during the early middle ages in Europe and more significantly during periods of mass-industrialisation elsewhere. Reproduction here refers to both the bare reproduction and maintenance of life, but also to its ideological domestication or imbuing of values through practices, rituals, space and symbolism. Since the end of the Second World War in Europe the U.S. and Japan several examples of hou­­sing have emerged which tend towards being devoid of, or effacing typological composition, whether spatio-strategic, representational or symbolic.
In Japan, examples of housing referred to in the thesis as tending towards non-typological have emerged during periods of unprecedented socio-economic rupture. Examples can be traced to the 1950s following the destruction and ‘openness’ left in the wake of the Second World War, to the early 1970s following the rapid economic growth and de-politicisation and finally, to the period following the economic bubble of 1991. This thesis will focus on 3 selected examples of houses and housing during these 3 periods. These examples highlight moments of distinct historical rupture in Japanese domestic architecture which become intimate portraits of architecture in Japanese society. A sophisticated deployment of coercive and suppressive managerial strategies, policy and cultural production disseminated via emerging technologies contributed in large part to the institutionalisation of an idealised Japanese nuclear family and housing type (nLDK), one which remains the popular ideal today. Like many of the economic and cultural ‘projects’ undertaken at the scale of the city, factory and house during these periods in recent Japanese history, most of these examples of housing which tend towards the non-typological remain largely unknown.
The thesis departs from an argument that a great majority of popular dissemination and discourse surrounding Japanese architecture, especially in the West, by and large, misses moments of vital historical significance. Because Japanese houses are so influential for architects and the production of the city today, superficial interpretations – lightness, blurriness, kawaii (cuteness) and narratives of the soft-spoken genius, humbly positioned behind allegories – have become auras which undermine the radical indications and implications of these projects. When de-romanticised, contextualised, considered with historical distance and stripped of meandering narratives, these examples might reveal knowledge and a set of strategies crucial to trajectories that are clearing way thousands of years of domestication and opening alternative possibilities for architecture and life.

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