atelier bow-wow, four boxes gallery, krabbesholm højskole, skive, denmark 2009
four boxes gallery, krabbesholm højskole, skive, denmark 2009.
architects: atelier bow-wow, yoshiharu tsukamoto and momoyo kaijima, tokyo.
the 'four boxes' gallery by atelier bow-wow looks like a tribute to utzon's bagsværd church and to the culture it grew out of, making it an obvious place to end the latest line of projects and buildings here. for such a celebration to arrive from abroad came was no surprise - the Danish architecture scene is currently occupied elsewhere - but no-one could have predicted its authors.
no expert on atelier bow-wow, I have nevertheless enjoyed their work from a distance. from the observations of their early books, true bestiaries of the strange buildings that thrive under extreme conditions in tokyo, through their unique drawings, to their quirky houses, they have shown an uncanny ability to make the traditional disciplines of architecture come alive. and despite the formal diversity of their buildings, bordering at times on the whimsical, everything they do appears connected through their unique understanding of the city they live and work in.
yes, the bow-wows are contextualists, but their careful and idiosyncratic readings of places and use have allowed them a great freedom from mimicry so far. and true to the ethics of their approach, none of the charm and quirkiness of their tokyo work is present in the gallery in skive, skive not really being famous for either. but neither is Danish architecture in general, with its historical focus on classicism and typological studies, and its modernist translation of those into prefabrication and system thinking. it does not sound charming when you say it and frankly, it rarely looks charming either. it does however allow for some intellectually exciting architecture with a hidden structure of game-like rules.
the four boxes gallery is just such a building, and its hidden rules are the rules of prefabricated concrete elements, sandwich elements more specifically, meaning fully insulated elements with a concrete finish on both interior and exterior sides. sandwich elements are the work horse of construction in denmark and deal with sound transmission, fire, load and finish all in one piece, and at a good price. only problem being, as an architect, you can hardly do anything with them.
complex geometry is out of the question, the elements are flat. height is limited to about one floor or you couldn't move the pieces under a bridge; as in all prefabrication, the demands made by transportation are the most decisive. you can make the elements long, trucks are long after all. the logic is simple, the resulting buildings tend to be simplistic. yet strict limitations like these attract architects of a certain mindset. utzon was such an architect and so, surprisingly, are the bow-wows. if cheap sandwich elements only let you build boxes, we shall build boxes, they seem to say, and proceed to build the architectural equivalent of a russian matryoshka doll, a box inside a box inside a box inside a box!
while budget was clearly a decisive factor, there is nothing cynical about bow-wow's application of prefab. in the facade, the elements have been turned on the side, and rather than stacking floors, single elements express the changing height of the building like a graph or the LED display on your 1980's HIFI equalizer. the same elements with different reinforcements act as beams and daylight reflectors in the suspended boxes inside, displaying the kind of terse thinking one would have expected from utzon or korshagen back in the day.
the fourth, outer box is a courtyard, a spatial typology central to both Japanese and Danish traditional architecture, and one of the similarities between the two that meant so much to Danish architects working in the 1960's. the bow-wows are contextualists alright, but they acknowledge that reading context is every bit as personal as reading a book - in skive, their reading has produced a house so Danish, it could only have come from japan.
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