Heaven & Earth

As layers and years of neglect of the Japanese House were peeled away, something interesting emerged: a vision of “the house within the house.” It was not my vision, however. I am not an expert in Japanese architecture or any other. It was the vision of what the house itself wanted to be.

I had noticed that, of the three architects I invited to look at the house (all of whom declared it a total disaster) not one could tear himself away from it. The first was the building inspector. He’d inspected many houses for me, and was very 1detailed and wise. He spent more than six hours inside the house, then called me and said: “Don’t ever let anyone convince you to tear down this house! I did my doctoral dissertation on this period of architecture, which influenced everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright onward. PLEASE save this house.”

The second was a great modern architect, who spent far more time than I could afford, documenting the details of the existing structure; he hoped to “restore” it to the well-established and timeless classical principles of Japanese architecture.

The third and final architect was John Spears, president of the Sustainable Design group, a solar/geothermal design group in Maryland. I grasped at once  that I would not have endless debates with John (indeed, we didn’t even discuss this) over issues of taste or functionality. We could get down to basics at once.

John  knew the principles of Feng Shui – moving living energy through living space; he also understood the classical tatami-mat measurement used in laying out Japanese houses; and he daily practiced the basics of designing in order to let the energy of heaven and earth do all your work for you.

He still had to work with contractors and subcontractors who insisted on knowing where I wanted to put the closets, bedrooms (“What closets and bedrooms?” I said. “It’s a Japanese house!”)… stairways (the existing one was outside of the house)… bathrooms (the current one was smothering the front entry)… On and on. We finally had a meeting.

My first look at this house had already assured me that Teruo Hara was no more a classicist in his architecture than in his pottery. It was not designed according to Japanese principles, but rather, according to the principles of esoteric architecture, which deal with the living human body and its movement through a living space.

My first meeting – completely assured that this comment would make everything crystal clear – I said to the assembled team :  “I want everyone to think of just two words: Richard Neutra.”

To be continued….