Architecture as Cross-Cultural Exchange
This EU-funded Marie Sklodowska-Curie individual research project sets out to develop a new way of writing the history of architecture post-WWII that reflects much more accurately than existing histories the intricacies of globalisation and its effect on the built environment. The project uses the concept of cross-cultural ‘contact zones’ that was first suggested by literature scholar Mary Louise Pratt in 1991 as ‘social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power’. This concept is used as the basis for exploring tangible moments in time and space that behave like complex social places of interchange between different architecture cultures.
To elucidate the potential of contact zones in the field of architecture, the project focuses on the Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition (1965-present), an international ideas competition organised by the publisher of the Japanese magazine Shinkenchiku [New Architecture]. Every year since 1965, the magazine has invited a well-known architect to set the theme for that year’s competition and to be its single judge. What differentiates this design competition from any other Japanese competition is that it does not solely target a Japanese audience, with a competition brief in Japanese only. From the outset, the year’s theme, the winners’ proposals, and the judge’s comments, have all been published in Japanese (in Shinkenchiku) and in English (in its sister magazine, The Japan Architect). Moreover, the organisers invite not only prominent Japanese architects but also international architects to serve as the edition judge and introduce their agenda for the ‘house of the future’. What all the judges of the different editions have had in common, regardless of their origin, is the ability to propose a theme based on their personal interests at that particular moment in their careers, challenging other architects to respond, revolt, and surpass their ideas.
The list of architects who have served as judge, from Peter Cook, Charles Moore, Philip Johnson, Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel and Rafael Moneo, to Japanese designers Kazuo Shinohara, Kenzo Tange, Arata Isozaki, Toyo Ito and Kazuyo Sejima, not only attests to the power of this design competition to attract architects from all over the world around the theme of housing, but also demonstrates that the Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition was deliberately set up as a ‘contact zone’ in which local and foreign ideas on house and home meet, and mutually inform and inspire each other. The topics of investigation of this study are the novel ideas on living that occur when different cultures of knowledge and interest come together, and the extent to which these ideas infiltrate or merge – in appropriated form – with the design knowledge of others.
Joan Ockman (University of Pennsylvania), Prof. Mary McLeod (Columbia University), Prof. Esra Akcan (Cornell University), Prof. Mark Jarzombek (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Prof. Kathleen James-Chakraborty (University College Dublin), Prof. Hilde Heynen (KU Leuven)
Image: Villa Nautilus, Second Prize in the 1985 Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition. Source: Brodsky, Alexander et al. Brodsky & Utkin: Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015. © Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin
The research for this postdoctoral project was funded from the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement 797002, ‘Architecture as a Cross-Cultural Exchange: The Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition, 1965–2017’ between September 2018 – March 2021