Creative Commons for Architects Postad av: MARK Magazine, Datum: 2012-05-04

Yasutaka Yoshimura is one of Japan’s most promising young architects. He is engaged in a diverse range of activities, from commercial collaborations with advertising agencies to proposals for new forms of housing and smallscale holiday resorts. He is the author of Super Legal Buildings, a book that sheds new light on the awkward buildings regularly seen in Tokyo, and he sometimes appears on educational TV programmes. After working at MVRDV, Yoshimura established his own practice in 2005. He refrains from cultivating an overly artistic image, avoids armchair theorizing and shies away from cliques. This is a man who likes to operate on his own.

You’re from Japan, but your designs are easy to distinguish from those of your compatriots. How Japanese are you?

Architecture in Japan generally falls into one of two categories. You have the older generation, with its tendency towards anonymous architecture. These architects often work in groups or ‘units’. Those belonging to the younger generation, like myself,

prefer to show more creatorship or architectural personality in their work. It’s a bit paradoxical, but I think architects with a strong sense of creatorship are social beings – more so than those who realize buildings that get lost in a sea of consensus. Rather than being socially submissive, I want to strengthen my individuality in order to become a social being.
One project that clearly displays the tension between collaboration and individual authorship is your Creative Commons Houses. Here the scale seems to tip towards collaboration. What do you want to achieve with this project?

The copyright of building designs is very vague in Japan – and elsewhere as well. The right of publicity doesn’t apply to architecture here, either. Buildings have always been considered objects of engineering and science, rather than of art. There’s a good reason for that. If designers tried to copyright their buildings, it would definitely hinder the development of the architecture industry. But the distinction between engineering and art is not clear at all. My goal is to define the copyright of building designs properly and ethically.

How do you propose to do that?

What I believe is the most promising strategy, and what I’ve been practising so far, is to retain part of the copyright and give up the rest, rather than to claim a comprehensive copyright for everything I design. I want my Creative Commons Houses to be customized and used by everyone. Although they are more than simple containers, I did make them as neutral as possible. Basically, each house consists of two small, windowless volumes. The final shape will be the result of external influences, such as the needs of future owners or the location of the building site. Countless varieties of spatial arrangements are possible, and sizes can be changed as well. All such factors make it impossible to realize two identical houses by chance. Other designers can acquire the right to reuse my open-plan designs and to modify them, but someone who buys my plan and revises it is required to add my name to the later designer’s name when credits are indicated. As for fees, we are adding finishing touches to a system with separate charges for simple reuse and customization. It’s like Creative Commons in the music industry, where one fee applies to downloads for listening only and another to downloads for secondary use, like remixing. I’m hoping this project will raise the level of Japan’s standard of copyright for architectural design.

Who might be interested in these houses?

Our target groups are product designers, graphic designers and others who feel that building a house from scratch is not easy, but who want to influence the way their house will look to a substantial degree. I am selling accurately drawn plans; I will not be involved in their realization, however. The importance of drawing individual plans is becoming less and less anyway, now that everyone uses AutoCAD to copy and paste whatever they like.

You’ve said that architects can learn more from companies like Google and Uniqlo than from Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. Do you really believe that’s true?

Architecture developed gradually over the centuries by incorporating parameters from, for instance, building physics and structural engineering. Because the number of parameters that architects have to take into account in their designs keeps growing, predicting future forms of architecture is simply a matter of extrapolation. Many parameters still unknown to architects will undoubtedly influence the way buildings look in the future. Information technology, transport logistics and consumption patterns are treasure troves in that respect. I want to explore and develop them – perhaps into a new genre. The average architect selects one parameter and deepens it gradually throughout his career. If you are an environment-orientated architect, for example, you concentrate on the environment, and if you are interested in structure, you become a specialist in structure. I ’m trying to be more diverse. I want to explore different possibilities simultaneously. The consumer society is an excellent source of inspiration. In the traditional relationship between architect and consumer, a client with capital has overwhelming power over his architect. Rather than just fighting against this pattern, I want to utilize it to proceed to the next step. I love container architecture, for instance. Shipping containers are a dictate of the free market. They facilitate the flow of consumer goods in a highly capitalized society, and their shape is no more than the result of a search for cost reduction. Uniqlo would not be able to sell its inexpensive clothes in Japan without these containers. In a way, Google also has a type of container infrastructure, in that it offers standardized information and promotes the flow of merchandize. I’m fascinated by this concept, and I try to employ it in my projects, as I did when designing the Bayside Marina Hotel in Yokohama.

Your enquiries into the nature of the consumer society have led to, among other things, the Nowhere holiday houses, which you rent out, pursuant to unusual terms. [See, for instance, the Nowhere but Sajima holiday resort in Mark #22, page 46.] Do you want to get involved in the real-estate business?

I believe that redesigning the structure of rental properties can change architecture itself. My Nowhere project features a series of leisure homes for rent. They are unconventional, because the real-estate agent makes lifestyle suggestions. These include programmes like hiking, picnic lunches and kayaking; and services, such as how to have groceries delivered to the house. It’s not just about offering a place to stay. 

How do you decide where to build the houses?

Finding a good site for rental houses like these is very important. It shouldn’t be a desert island in the ocean, far from civilization, but it shouldn’t be a holiday resort either. The best location is both near the sea and easily accessible from a city. All forms of entertainment should be close at hand, but occupants should have the feeling that they are far away from daily pressures and other people. The design of these houses creates the desired atmosphere. In the case of Nowhere but Sajima, I based my design on the notion of bundled tubes, which direct the eye towards the sea and block the view to and from other houses on the seaside. 
Is this scheme aimed at making the experience of living in architectural homes accessible to everyone, like the Living Architecture project that Alain de Botton is marketing in Great Britain? Or is it mainly about making money?

Both the container projects and the other Nowhere projects are about making architecture accessible. It’s exciting to live in a well-designed house inexpensively, even when it’s only temporary. Rental homes offer this possibility. I’m not saying this from only a monetary point of view. Don’t you think it’s wrong to purchase an apartment with a 35-year mortgage that influences your lifestyle indefinitely? What if you could buy a house at a price comparable to what you’d pay for a car and could replace that house with one new one after another throughout your life? You’d have a much larger selection of lifestyles to choose from.

What kind of response has the Nowhere series received? 

Architecture magazines paid little attention to it, but a few articles appeared in publications with a more widespread appeal – and this exposure to mass media led to a rise in the number of renters. Generally speaking, high-brow architecture magazines don’t react positively to anything that smacks of commercialism. However, a sound return on investment is a primary prerequisite for sustainability, so a good understanding of finance is crucial for architects. Many people in the architecture industry do not care about the financial aspect of their work. I’m no exception, as I am not particularly interested in making a huge profit from my projects. But that doesn’t mean I think architects shouldn’t experiment as they develop new businesses. New forms of business will lead to new forms of architecture.

Are you interested in city planning?

Large sites that you can work on from scratch are really hard to find in Tokyo. So I’m interested in making individual buildings that influence the city as a whole. It’s that kind of city planning I feel I can contribute to. When I was working at MVRDV in Rotterdam, I was involved in a project called ‘Pig City’. We proposed vertical pig farms as a measure against foot-and-mouth disease. Our proposal resulted from research that revealed the amount of space needed to prevent the spread of the disease: statistically speaking, a whopping 80 per cent of the area of the Netherlands would have to be used for pig farms. Our project was an attempt to link a social issue with architecture. I try to use the same approach in Japan. If we could decrease the density of Haneda Airport by verticalizing its buildings, wind from the sea would reach the city of Tokyo. By redesigning the airport alone, we could increase the building bulk ratio of the entire metropolis. This is somewhat different from the traditional definition of urban planning, but I think it’s a good example of dramatic, large-scale change by means of small-scale, local interventions. I foresee the appearance of many similar examples. I want to explore such methods of change and make them a reality.

This article was previously published in MARK Magazine. Thanks to Arthur Wortmann, Robert Thiemann, Masaaki Takahashi and MARK Magazine for sharing their article.


Text by Masaaki Takahashi.

Images by Yasutaka Yoshimura Architects:

Image 1. Modifications of a Creative Commons House.

Image 2. Portrait of Yasutaka Yoshimura

Image 3-4. Model of Yoshimura’s Creative Commons Houses.