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Essay

About Architecture
by Arata Isozaki

Every civilization has a realm in which its essential qualities are crystallized. In this realm architecture, gardens, furniture and even the manner of living form a highly tensioned spatial integrity Most people would agree that the Acropolis in Athens, Fatehpur-Sikri in Agra, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto are examples of this idealized relationship. (Should Versailles and Las Vegas be added to this list, I would not object.)

An architectural gem outlives its age only when it is the confident and passionate manifestation of a concept unique to its culture. The concept must be held not only by the architect but also by the client and user. A work of this excellence, even if unacknowledged in its own time, will, like Katsura Villa, be celebrated by future generations.

Katsura Imperial Villa was rediscovered in the thirties by Bruno Taut, a European architect working in Japan. It was acclaimed one ofjapan's most eloquent works of architecture, but at that time it did not have the fame it has today Academic research had yet to be started when Taut, examining the legend, determined that Kobori Enshu was the architect for the Imperial Villa. Enshu was an important architect, garden designer and tea master. Also, he was governor of the outlying district of Kyoto where, in the mid 17th century Katsura Imperial Villa was built.

Enshu created an austere and individual style of teahouse and garden which appealed to the taste of the warrior class in the age of the Shogun's rule. Therefore many imitators followed. He soon became a mythical figure and numerous works of nameless carpenters and gardeners were attributed to him.

The mark of Enshu canbe found at Katsura both in the house and the garden and, since the designer was not known, Enshu was credited with these, also. However, it now appears that Enshu was not directly engaged in the design of Katsura. He did not even visit the site. It seems likely that the man responsible was Prince Hachijo-no-miya the First who supervised the work, and directed the carpenters and gardeners.

An anecdote concerning Enshu is that when asked what conditions are necessary to create a masterwork of architecture, he answered that he could produce as many masterworks as desired if the following conditions were met:

There was no limit on expense.

There was no limit on time.

The client would not see the work until it was completed.

Although this story may be apocryphal it is ironic that even an architect of mythical status suffered the frustrations we all feel in our daily lives.

In its present form Katsura is the product of extensive construction and additions continuing over many generations. The last major construction at the Imperial Villa, 150 years after its founding, is credited to Hachijono-riuya the Seventh.

At Ise Shrine, another monument of Japanese architecture, the conflict between the need for permanence and the temporal nature of the materials is resolved by a form of rebuilding. This restoration resembles the method employed by a gene replicating itself to transmit information to the next generation. Two sites of similar shape are arranged side by side. Every twenty years a new shrine is rebuilt. The original shape of the shrine, developed in the 8th century remains essentially unchanged.

These examples suggest that architecture outlives its age not merely because of its physical manifestation but, more importantly, because of the transcendent vision behind it. Although we see a structure before us as an edifice for practical use, in truth it is fragile and transient.

Nevertheless, a work of architecture can endure even if like Katsura and Ise, it is not made of precious materials and is not monumental in scale. It can survive, moreover if it exists only on paper; as do most of the works of Palladio. Even the intangible inspiration of architecture can thus be transmitted.

Perhaps it is true that ours is an unfortunate age in which to create. Architecture as a visualization shared by architect, client and user remains underdeveloped today.

The Pritzker Prize honors architects who pursue the art of architecture. It should inspire the development, growth and maturity of concepts which crystallize in noble and harmonious designs the finest qualities of our civilization.