So clearly the live blogging didn't really work out, and I apologize for that, but I think this'll give me a chance to reflect instead of hurriedly typing everything I hear. (FYI Greg has a pretty great synopsis of the work we went through, I'll be writing more generally about overarching concepts I'm gathering in my head through our conversations.)
First of all I must point out how wonderfully humble and appreciative Toshiko has been of our diligent research and perceptive analyses of her work. At one point she remarked that we should just do all of her lectures for her. She is very open to our thoughts and opinions and a great story-teller, all of the makings of a good conversation.
We began by going through an overview of her body of work as well as some of her experiences at Cooper. She ended up in architecture rather serendipitously when John Hejduk found her painting a hallway white for an art installation and told her he liked it. It's very clear that Hejduk is her ultimate influence, both in her general views on architecture and her career's trajectory. This includes the view that "an architect's birthright is teaching" and that architecture is not autonomous but a social contract. In addition, Hejduk is of course well known for his narrative architecture and development of characters that become a part of a larger cultural context. Although superficially Mori's work may not resemble that of Hejduk, she constantly infuses narrative into design whether with an existing architectural masterpiece or a spectacular landscape.
Ultimately, her work seems primarily concerned with context, in the most broad sense of the word. This results in architecture that does not seek to be a theatrical icon, but instead a careful consideration of relevant research. Someone asked her why that is her aesthetic style and her response was: "what is called icon architecture is sometimes just stuff," and she was trained to work within a level of dialogue. This attitude translates to simplicity of design that is readily apparent in her work and honestly rather refreshing. I think I'm starting to understand it as a product of her education that really seemed to emphasize a complete understanding of the fundamentals of architecture, which she has certainly mastered. I find that this allows her to focus on subtle perceptual effects, engaging all of the sense and intricate details that have a big impact on the final product without requiring overwhelming formal manipulation. This level of detail is especially apparent in the private homes she has designed, with their careful consideration of the scale of the body, and everyday habits.
Looking back to last quarter when we spent a lot of time trying to figure out Mori's work and the surprisingly pragmatic and straight-forward descriptions she provided both in lectures and publications, we all wondered where her process was. Why does she avoid publishing process drawings and speaking about broader conceptual issues? What is her agenda, since we know every architect has plenty of opinions? These are the questions I have been working through and I think we've all been trying to pry out of her.
She said that "there are things [she] thinks about that [she] never talks about." and that her drawings are personal and no one needs to see them. There are certainly many implicit messages in her work, but she never overburdens the user with them. She does not publish her drawings so that they do not become fixed, permanent ideas out in the world preventing their growth. This allows her to discreetly pursue her overall architectural project in a fluid manner and explains why we could not find it in any monograph or journal.
We're all still working through some of this stuff, she sure is tricky to figure out (not that we haven't learned a lot thus far), but I'll see what we can get out of her tomorrow. For now I will leave you with one of her many memorable quotes. This one was in response to a question about what her favorite project is:
"some are a little fat, some too skinny, but they're all good kids."