On 4th of December 2009, I arrived in Kanazawa, Japan to start my research at the CAAK & Kapo Creator in Residence Program.

(You can download the Booklet of the Residency here)

I want to explain, how everything started  out and the ongoing process I made here during my stay in Japan. I travelled to Kyoto and Tokyo, where I collected material for my research as well. Next to my writing, I will of course present some images, that I produced during my residency period.

The Beginning

I visited Japan in October/November 2008 for the first time.

I mainly travelled through the part called “Honshu” and visited many cities, among others Nara, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Kamakura and Yokohama. During my travel I shot many photographs, that offered me a new source for my own works. Eventually, this material resulted in a variety of drawings, which I made during the whole year 2009 (selected examples).

As these drawings are abstractions of the photographs I made on my travel, I came across a for me interesting aspect of Edo-period architecture. One key aspect of this architecture is, that it could be re-produced (easily) in case of fire, earthquake or any other destruction. Or to put it in other words: This architecture can be easily ‘copied’. In this aspect I saw a relation to my drawings, because they are also generated throughout a re-productive, copying process. The reason for me to come to Japan again for a specific research was set.

Kanazawa / Machiya

The reason why I chose Kanazawa is, that Kanazawa is one of the few cities in Japan, that actually had not been destructed by any catastrophy or during WWII. Therefore, Kanazawa has plenty of Edo-period architecture.

Due to my stay in Machiya Guest House, the Machiya was the first type of traditional building I experienced in Kanazawa from the in- and outside.

The Machiya is a merchant row house that started to evolve from early 17th century. During the centuries, this type of building has undergone many different transformations, which truly intrigued me. Some key aspects of the Machiya: Originally, they’re placed side by side without a gap between them. And due to building restrictions during Edo period they don’t extend in width but in depth.

In Kanazawa, there are areas in which rows of Machiyas are largely renovated according to the idea of an authentic preservation. However, there are countless Machiya that are not representing a constructed or artificial image and carry marks, hinting at the changes of times, which were either of historical, political or social nature.

I walked through Kanazawa and explored the city, equipped with Atelier Bow-Wow’s “Walking with Atelier Bow-Wow Kanazawa Machiya Metabolism“; a map that contains a typology of Machiyas in Kanazawa and unfolds its history and development. This gave me a lot of insight and a certain understanding how to approach and look at this certain type of architecture, as well as it helped me to develop a view to look at Japanese architecture in a broader sense.

This is an example of a low Machiya (Tei-Machiya 低町家) and has a low second floor for storage. Later on the second floor was build also for living purposes and the Machiya itself was completely spatialized after the post-Meiji period.

Low Machiya, Tei-Machiya


What I liked very much about the Machiya was, that during time, this intially functional type of building underwent several transformations due to political, societal or economical changes, that makes it very special.

In the following image for instance, the front of the second floor is entirely used for a banner, which clearly contrasts with the fully open ground floor.


Or this is a funny ‘half-half’ open type with signage on the lower front roof. Actually, I was also quite impressed by how many Coca-Cola vending machines can be stuffed in front of a Machiya. I almost might call it a ‘Cola-Ya’…However, this example shows to me also how Machiya adapts, or better morphs into its nowaddays urban context. As there is a typology of Machiya it might be of use to consider also a ‘Morphology of Machiya”

But Machiya is not restricted to merchant purposes only, yet are many built and function as a `regular` living place as well.

Also very modern interpretations of the Machiya, as the for instance the `pencil building` (in the middle) can be found. If this is that attractive or inherits and expresses elements of its origins, is certainly another question though.

Pencil Building

These are only very few examples and actually the whole range of various types of Machiyas would certainly exceed the framework of my report. As others have done this also before and way better, I rather intend to depict the visual occurences of my research.

However, what consequently and mainly drew my attention, was how this traditional architecture developed and integrated (or not) in its growing and changing urban context. I might call it ‘Morphology of Machiya’, implying immanent changes as well. I encountered situations, where they really merge with the modern architecture as well as sometimes it creates almost grotesque or somehow humorous sceneries. Here are a few examples:



A very regrettable example, I saw in the shopping area Sanjō (三条) in Kyoto, where in the whole street the frontstores are seamed with a roof ‘blinding out’ its architecture behind it.


However, I realized the countless and various transitions between ‘classical’ buildings and its modern interpretations, as they are seamed next to each other and truly form the scenery of the cities I have visited. Because the Machiya is not easy to maintain, there is a tendency to tear them down more and more. In Kyoto for instance more than 13% of the Machiya were demolished between 1993 and 2003. Very often I saw the `left-overs` of a torn down Machiya on the side walls of other buildings. And this is truly one characteristic of the urban scenery in Kanazawa and Kyoto.

After receiving a certain overview or better: image of Japanese urban context and architecture, I realized at the same time, to achieve a holistic picture of this context is simply impossible.

My focus inclined to the details of transitions and transformations. This change of perspective or view was among others inspired by two essays of Atelier Bow Wow: Insect hunting (虫採り) and Cleaning (掃除). from the book ‘Echo of Space / Space of Echo 空間の響き/響きの空間

The pictures of the building below are a nice example of transformation. You can see the side facade of two buildings, where inbetween a house was removed.

left side

right side









As I zoomed in with my camera to shoot the remaining linkage between these two buildings, I quite enjoyed the detail itself as an ‘autonomous’ image.

Of course, as I know a bit about the architecture, I can draw some information out of the image. On the other hand, as I browse through the later made detail-photographs, I would probably not recall the situation of a detail, where it once was located.

Taking this generated point of view as a starting point, I made a number of photographs, that in the ideal case are experienced as autonomous images, creating a space on its own, where the viewer is asked and also has the freedom to dwell through with his/hers own phantasy. And the work itself carries its potential of what it in the best case can be: A proposal on how to look at reality.

This small excursion is a brief description of only one aspect during my residency in Kanazawa. There are many other experiences and works that I made. And questions like, how the whole process integrates into my former work and which other questions it stirred up, I will describe as soon as possible at another place…






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