How can we understand a place, and seek to define it? What elements do we identify as components of that place, and how do they interact with each other? In a recent lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, Hitoshi Abe, chair of UCLA’s Architecture and Urban Design department, approached these questions through a study of Atelier Hitoshi Abe, his design practice located in both Los Angeles and Sendai, Japan. Drawing on Japanese ideas of place-making, Abe conceptualizes his structures not as monoliths of positive and negative spaces, but as a system of layers that collectively define the building.
The concepts of “space” and “place”, as conceived by Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida, are part of the objective reality that an individual uses to define themselves -- but instead of that objective reality being based on discrete physical forms, the sense of self arises from a reactive relationship with the space, rather than in opposition to it*. Highlighting international projects such as the corporate campus "3M Company, Global Headquarters" in St. Paul, Minnesota, (completed in collaboration with Peter Ebner and Friends, and 3M|GTG) and "Vienna University of Economics and Business, Plot 02", Hitoshi explained his process of creating clean and “nerdy” spaces, that operate in the space between work and relaxation. In reformulating our ideas of what is and isn’t a “work-place”, constant access to digital technologies and communication media can be either debilitating or inspiring, perhaps both. But so long as the digital environments remain responsive to rather than controlling of human activity, then they can be bent to our needs.
The difficulty of striking such a balance arose in Abe’s analysis of his St. Paul project, "Global Headquarters" for 3M. Decidedly non-digital spaces, like a modest choreography of tile and hedges on the parking structure’s roof, co-exist with the digital interfaces of the sleek lobby, featuring furniture embedded with multiple touchscreens. Those spaces are transitional -- one rarely lingers in a parking lot, while a lobby is a kind of function-free liminal space. So without a prescribed function, these spaces are ripe for the place-making study of adjusted tensions between subjects and forms.
Watch the entire lecture in the video below.