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Rainy season beginning
Quiet breaths of books
Fill a library
Architecture is not a physical element in space but a sensory and cognitive experience of space. As Christian Norberg-Schulz argues, ‘man [sic] dwells... when he experiences the environment as meaningful’, meaningful architecture emerges from an individual’s recognition of and empathy towards space.
This idea aligns with how people experience haiku, one of the shortest poetry forms in the world. With two general rules - to consist of 17 syllables including one seasonal word - haiku can reveal the beauty of spatial temporality. Emerging as independent, unrhymed hokku from haikai (linked verses) in the late 19th century, haiku invites readers’ empathy by objectively portraying everyday life’s phenomenological conditions. Its brevity reflects the distilled essence of space, intensifying the sensory imagination. Unlike other art forms such as paintings, poetry can be experienced anywhere and instantly as sounds, words on a page, or even as Braille, making it one of the universal means for discovering empathy towards space. The space haiku captures has a connection to what Tomoya Masuda describes as ‘the space that [architects] can 'see', but never through the naked eyes’. Like how a poet embraces the sensory experience of space, architects shall shift the focus from physical objects to intangible aspects of space.
This manifesto aims to explore the theoretical relationship between haiku and architecture through four key ideas:
phenomenological conditions through an objective portrayal
sensory consciousness in everyday life
specificity of meanings accumulated over time
tectonics and relationships between elements
These ideas inform the way architects shall undertake their design process.
Meaning of ‘architecture’
This manifesto responds to the trend of labelling objectified, aesthetics-focused buildings without sensitivity to human experience or place 'architecture'. Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Centre (2013) exemplifies a building that is almost site-less and material-less subservient to the aesthetic quality of its form. While the architect attempts to justify its ‘fluid relationship’ between interior and exterior that is ‘embedded within [the] context’, the work ultimately aims to be an eye-catching icon. It is what Juhani Pallasmaa would identify as part of the ‘cancerous spread of superficial architectural imagery today, devoid of tectonic logic and a sense of materiality and empathy’. This ocular-centric approach has planted the perception of ‘architecture’ as building forms or elements in society. Similarly, despite its significance in establishing ‘an authentic modern architectural language’, Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture allowed the public to interpret it as how architecture should look, contributing to ‘the generation and dissemination of forms’ that lack the original purposes. As a result, it became the ‘homogenising forces of modern commercial and technological development’, often neglecting human experiences in favour of superficial, aesthetic qualities of forms. This homogenisation of building appearances offers 'correct' or acceptable forms of buildings, giving a fallacy of what 'architecture' means.
In response, this manifesto proposes design approaches informed by phenomenological ideas of space to define architecture. Its discourse aligns with Keller Easterling’s Medium Design that calls for the shift of the design focus from an object to the space in between, and Peter Zumthor’s architectural approach for shaping poetic space. Calling poetry ‘unexpected truth’ that ‘lives in stillness’, Peter Zumthor claims that the role of architecture is ‘to give this still expectancy a form’. As ‘[t]he building itself is never poetic’, Zumthor emphasises the importance of designing a building that embodies ‘a strong fundamental mood’ inherent to that specific place11. As Easterling and Zumthor celebrate the intangible, contextual nature of architecture rather than physical objects themselves, this manifesto embraces the subtle complexity of the ever-changing sensory space.
Meaning of 'architecture'
Scent of the current
Twined around limbs of the trees
The refreshing air
Both architecture and haiku are the reenactments of the circumstance around an author’s spatial imagination rather than an explicit manifestation of personal feelings. The complexity of this circumstance is what makes one’s imaginative experience rich and deep. To achieve it, the focus of the creative process must not be a literal, superficial expression.
One of the key ideas in haiku is the infusion of subjectivity in the objective portrayal. This style of haiku is like a series of sensory fragments formulating an atmosphere in a reader’s mind. Kyoshi Takahama argues that the ideal haiku consists of the simplest and most concise words capturing reality, yet letting the poet’s underlying narrative resonate with readers. Through encountering a haiku, one can experience the moment in the poet’s shoes, resulting in empathy towards the reenacted spatial experience. In contrast, the explicit description of the author’s feelings would simply impose on readers how they should feel.
Architecture is no different. Physical expressions of space shall present an intricate phenomenological condition, open to exploration and personal interpretation. By its nature, architecture exists based on the relationship between space and oneself through phenomenological awareness - a product of the sensory exploration through one’s sight, hearing, smell and touch. In describing one’s phenomenological connections to space, Gaston Bachelard utilises the term immensity, ‘the resonances of [the] contemplation of grandeur’. Through an example of exploring the forest, Bachelard describes how being conscious of space is an act of personal introspective reflection: ‘so far from indulging in prolixity of expression,... one feels that... one is in the presence of… the immediate immensity of its depth’. This sense of depth comes from empathising with the ‘hidden’ or ‘veiled’ beauty of space and reflecting on one’s being in space. This beauty may not be obvious in what seems like a mundane room or building, but it’s important to remember that it is not about the built fabric itself. Observing and being conscious of natural light, sounds, smell, breezes and the air allows one to be more sensitive to this veiled beauty of space.
Waiting for timber to arrive
At the pier of the morning glow
Haiku is not necessarily about special moments, but moments of realisation in everyday life; similarly, experiencing architecture is an act of appreciating meaningful moments in spaces that one feels a sense of belonging.
Haiku lets a poet capture a moment in space from the flow of seemingly ordinary life. Fujio Akimoto points out the humane quality of a haiku that ‘brings to light the quietly hidden warmth in the intimate human connections of certain people, on a certain day, of a certain moment in everyday life’. Akimoto’s observation reflects how one can be more aware of the meaningful reality in the commonplace landscape through haiku. In other words, the moments captured in haiku consciously provide readers with a sense of familiarity and unique phenomenological sensations.
Álvaro Siza’s Leça da Palmeira pool (1961) in Portugal is one of the examples of a built form capturing a moment of realisation. The swimming pool utilises a rocky coastline terrain as part of its boundary, the organic elements that existed there. Through his design intervention, Siza respectfully brought the local topographic contexts into people’s consciousness. As Siza says, ‘there is always a certain attention to what was here before and to the input which comes from there’, what architects inject in a place shall enrich and bring out the beauty of the existing spatial quality in everyday life.
Furthermore, as much as haiku is a creative work for everyone, architecture is for everyone. One can experience and appreciate space without knowing the architect, just like one can appreciate haiku without knowing the author. This approach condemns the stardom of architects that praises ‘famous’ selfish buildings without meaningful spaces. Ultimately, architecture is part of everyday life, and therefore a thoughtful design of space can naturally draw people’s consciousness to the temporal beauty of the surroundings.
In haiku, integrating a specific seasonal word helps a poet portray an atmosphere accurately. Similarly, materiality in architecture can better enrich one’s sensory and cognitive experiences in a particular moment in space. In haiku, kigo (‘seasonal word’) provides a precise sense of seasonality that ‘contain[s] connotations and sensibilities’, ‘reflecting people’s daily lives rooted in a rich and beautiful natural environment’. For example, there are numerous names for rain reflecting their characteristics and seasonality. Here is a couple of them:
Harusame (‘rain of spring’) is a delicate and soft shower in spring when buds of trees and flowers swell, and animals become active.
Shigure (‘temporal rain’) is a drizzling rain in winter that comes and goes rapidly in a short period of time. There is a strong emphasis on the flow of time.
While seasonal words belong to a specific timeframe of a year, they are part of the enduring cyclic seasonality in Japan - they let readers feel connected to haiku of the long past, even from hundreds of years ago. Each seasonal word has its sensory, cultural, social and historical contexts accumulated over a long time that shape readers’ experience of a specific atmosphere. This specificity is also significant for architecture, where cumulative collective memory of materiality and cultural contexts enriches the spatial experience. One of the examples is the pebble paving used at Katsura Detached Palace called Arare koboshi. Originally designed to prevent straw sandals from getting stained by mud, Arare koboshi (meaning ‘sprinkled hails’) consists of a large quantity of smooth, elongated black chert pebbles from Katsura River. Those pebbles sit in place as a craftsperson hammers them into the layers of small gravels and red clay without using mortar or plaster. The skills and knowledge required to configure those natural forms of pebbles are essential for maintaining their integrity. The material itself embodies the place’s geological, cultural, and sensory memories, and its graceful aging and repair would add richness to the sense of connection to the space.
Like Mongolian spots
Green mottles enveloping
A zesty lemon
Like every syllable of a haiku impacts one’s experience, the relationship between elements in space affects the spatial experience. It is why both haiku and architectural tectonics seek each component to have a reason to exist within a composition. Buson Yosa’s haiku below is a fine example:
A sinking heart
A camellia bud falls down
Buried in a puddle
(translation by Saran Kim)
There are two key grammatical techniques to highlight. Firstly, ‘や’ is known as kireji, an interjection that emphasises the previous element, creating a spatial and momentary threshold that shapes the narrative. Secondly, it employs the compound verb ‘落ち埋む’ (to drop/fall and to be buried) that Shiki Masaoka praises in Haijin Buson, that if one of them were missing, the composition would not have the same balance of lightness and weight of melancholy. Indeed, having ‘埋む’ (be buried) does not only indicate the motion of a camellia bud but also implies its fragility, sensitivity towards drenched petals, and the disappearance of its sweet scent. It is a way of combining reenactment, realisation and resonance; great poets manage to elicit a sense of empathy through a delicate balance between the qualities and weights of individual words.
Architectural tectonics is analogous to this technical, compositional methodology of haiku. As Carl Bötticher explored in Die Tektonik der Hellenen, one of the factors for determining the value of a building can be the extent to which the inertia of the material had been mastered. In this sense, the Public Ablutions (a public washing and toilet) (2004-6) by Richard Leplastrier demonstrates the architect’s deep understanding of material tectonics, along with the considerations for the user’s architectural experience. In particular, the use of hardwood in the structure and vertical louvres indicates the care for the material longevity and the balance between privacy and views. For example, its relocatable timber structure supports a transparent polycarbonate-clad roof that enables natural ventilation and ambient light. Also, it lifts off the ground by approximately ten centimetres to keep it away from water when cleaning. Furthermore, the angles and spacing of timber louvres let users see the tree in the central courtyard while maintaining privacy. The accumulation and integration of these design considerations result in the realisation of poetic and sensory space, proving how a public toilet can invite users to embrace a meditative moment in everyday life. Ultimately, tectonics reflects the author’s holistic understanding of each material’s characteristics, limitations, and effects.
Watercolour drawing book
Lapping like ripples
Sunny day in winter
Relevance to the architectural practice
Sold a piece of furniture
A room of blankness
Spending the winter inside
The four concepts above explore the theoretical alignment between haiku and architecture. While they might appear too ambiguous to put into practice, they can be practically incorporated into the design process of space. Firstly, having a deep understanding of the site contexts, including cultural, social, historical and environmental factors, helps an architect determine the sensory, phenomenological experience of new space in relation to the existing conditions. Secondly, one can make thoughtful design decisions by learning about locally available materials and how to treat them. And thirdly, focusing on shaping the experience, not on the aesthetics of objects themselves, would ensure the newly created space to be empathetic to people and place. This sequence of thinking processes sets a soft roadmap of a mindset applicable to all kinds of projects across various environmental and cultural contexts.
Through translating this manifesto and haiku from English to Japanese, some words, expressions and tone of statements had to be adjusted to match the more nuanced character of Japanese. Especially, translating haiku was a process of examining all sorts of connotations associated with compatible words so that the translated haiku portrays the original haiku’s sensory and spatial qualities as accurately as possible. This experience reflects the importance of respecting the uniqueness of different cultural contexts. It is the same for architecture; rather than forcibly applying one cultural norm of the built environment to another society, understanding the complexity of the place and culture is crucial.
Relevance to the archiectural practice
Petals of cherry blossoms
Piled in alleys
A murmur of a cat
To conclude, this manifesto seeks to define architecture as a subjective spatial experience through one’s sensory and cognitive perceptions rather than the superficial appearance of physical objects. In exploring through a phenomenological perspective, it establishes the theoretical relationship between haiku, the unique form of Japanese poetry, and architecture. Four key ideas - Reenactment, Realisation, Resonance and Reason - create a scaffolding for the architect’s mindset when working on a project. Ultimately, the societal recognition of the importance of sensory experience in ordinary space starts with proposing the shift in the way people understand ‘architecture’.
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