Monday, July 2, 2012

Make it Kawaī!

I snoozed the alarm for 1.5 hours. I wasn't perturbed; it seemed perfectly natural; I was building a cliff. In a cliff each topo layer has to be cut separately because they are vertically stacked and there is no offset. My body convinced my mind that each alarm ring signaled the completion of a new piece. Later of course the whole thing seemed ridiculous but at the moment it made perfect sense.

I live in the cheapest room in the most expensive district of Tokyo
On Saturday morning a large truck came to pick up the enormous model we had been working on for the past month. We had worked through the night, putting finishing touches and packing the 22 900x1500mm pieces into large boxes. The monster that had occupied so much of my time this past month is now on a ship, on its way to Venice where it will be displayed at the architecture biennale, curated this year by David Chipperfield and titled Common Ground, and I'm already nostalgic. I've never worked on a scale so large and on details so minute.

At SANAA, you're never finished, you keep making things better and better. I'm told that, once, Sejima-san was rushing to the airport, with Nishizawa-san driving and two interns finishing a model in the back of the car. At the airport, she was told they only had 8 minutes to board the plane. "Oh we have 8 minutes?" she said, and proceeded to open the box to work on the model. So even though Sejima-san was in Paris this Friday, we worked right up to the time when the delivery truck arrived at 8:45 am; thankfully, everyone else in Japan is very punctual.

We have a great group of interns here. We support each other and I wouldn't have been able to survive without them. And everyone at the office is very polite and respectful. They are empathetic even when assigning us impossibly difficult tasks because they have worked longer and harder in our place to get where they are. The office is not bureaucratic at all and there is very little "busy" work. The understanding is that we will devote ourselves to the office and we are free to take a break whenever and for however long. Of course we take many breaks and usually go to the combini to get ice cream. Every Thursday, we have office dinner with all kinds of tasty food (and sometimes unappetizing sea creatures) and every two weeks the office funds an interns' dinner at a nice restaurant.

Anyway, it's been busy, painful, fun, but I haven't had a chance to really think or reflect so far. Having meetings with Sejima-san and Nishizawa-san is priceless. Their movements and expressions are so synchronized they seem choreographed. They are entertaining and lighthearted most of the time, and very intuitive. It's amazing to see their design process and how they think and "imagine". The meetings are usually in Japanese but we get a summary mid-meeting or at the end, and I'm often left baffled. Once, they were saying: of course it is important to show the relevant information but the most important thing at the moment is to make the model kawaī (cute), which is different from beautiful, apparently. 

Though I have done little other than work, sleep, shower, cook and eat, time has flown. Tokyo is one of the most resilient and difficult cities to arrive in as a foreigner but I've come to appreciate it more and more. On my first weekend off (in a month), I visited the Prada store, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.

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