Arakawa died last week. If you aren't familiar with his work, its because you've been swimming the mainstream and have concerned yourself with "serious" architecture over the friskiness and occasional bizarreness of the near fringes, though perhaps Arakawa wasn't so near. i'm nearly as guilty as anyone, though was exposed to his (and his partner's) work a couple of years ago when the Bioscleve House was published online. i remember a grin passing over my face when i first saw it. For the most part, as architects, we are subject to and have bought into the norms of our profession and those of the public at large: planar walls set in orthogonal composition, a bit of window trickery, a color here and there, yawn. Of course, there are the starchitect and one-off exceptions, but they, too, generally fulfill our expectations as to how "proper" and "correct" architecture should behave.
Thankfully, there have always been some freaks out there. The Dean of my school told me the only time he ever walked out of a guest architect's lecture to the school was after the architect showed a slide of some detail the Dean thought was a violation of the architect's duty to protect the safety and well being of the Public. That architect was Bruce Goff. i loved the idea that he could get our Dean so upset as to walk out of a lecture, but that was just my ignorance as a student interested in rebellion. Bruce Goff wasn't so interested in making people angry as following what he believed in, and Arakawa was just such a visionary.
People have been making fun of the fact that he thought people could avoid death through the making of a specific architecture. And like many an evangelical who promised the absurd, his death has made clear the absurdity of his view, though i suppose one could always take refuge in the thought he just got his forms wrong. Regardless, there is no doubting the joy in his work.
Though its clear that the shaping of space alone won't keep us from death, its clear that the nature of the space we inhabit has a significant impact on our well being. One of the curious aspects of these images of the Bioscleve House is how conventional the spaces are. They really don't have the spacial complexity his thoughts conjure when he talks about the ability of space to (re)shape our being, and keep us from death through a questioning of the most banal aspect of our existence.
As Photographer Hans Silvester noted in one of his books, the more severe and straight-edged the architecture, the less happy the cat. Cats thrive in spatial complexity, where they can hide if need be or watch from a perch as they care for their territory. He believed that if we only took more notice of the feelings of cats in the making of our dwellings, we would all live happier lives.
i appreciate the work of Arakawa, but i don't find it to be great architecture. Its fun, but ironically is too conventional in the ways that would make it interesting to architects. Though he created spherical toilet rooms, the movement through his spaces was generally very two dimensional. Full of knobby sloping floors, its not hard to imagine tripping down into the kitchen, and dying with a hard boiled egg lodged in your eye socket.