In collaboration with: Sumito Takashina Architects; ARUP; SAMMON; Grant Associates
Representation of mountains looms large in the visual art of both Irish and Japanese cultures. Paintings of mountains in Japanese art are a prominent theme – for example the art of the ink wash painter Sesshū Tōyō, from the 15th century. Mountains in Japanese art have a spiritual significance and are depicted in a wide range of artistic styles to convey a range of ideas in terms of the relationship with nature. They are often depicted with buildings or settlements, which in the art of Sesshū are idealised as being almost unified with the hillsides – they have become absorbed into the landscape. The viewpoint and perspective are often defined such that the mountain can be presented as the central subject – the viewer is disconnected from a sense of conventional ground.
By contrast, traditional depictions of Irish landscapes are strongly connected to the ground – the viewer firmly rooted on the terrain. Mountains appear as distant context – context for other foregrounded subjects. Traditional Irish landscape painting celebrates scenic beauty, whilst recognising the struggle of living in such rural settings. The dwellings of Irish life read as objects in the landscape paintings – whitewashed against the green and dun of the earth surrounding them. We reflected upon the works of Paul Henry whilst developing our design proposals. So, while Irish Culture celebrates the land, it sees the act of dwelling in it differently from the aspirations expressed in the work of the Japanese master Sesshū.
So, through these two points of view we have an example of a shared subject matter, but a difference of theme. For us this captured a content or meaning in relation to the project of establishing a new ‘Ireland House’ in Tokyo. In a way, our project lies between these two sensibilities – endeavouring to convey an essential Irish character, whilst also engaging with local cultural values.
Our initial concepts developed from the idea of making a clearly architectural expression of landscape in the city. Early sketches investigated the generation of a series of ‘mountains’ receding back into the site from the street. This idea addressed the iconographic value of mountains in art from both cultures. This generated an architecture that has a strong and distinct figure with opportunities to carve into these forms to define the primary spaces and volumes – and to draw light into the depth of the site and plan. The architectural proposal becomes a series of gabled forms stretching across the width of the site – a series of mountains, with flattened perspective, addressing the street and new park opposite.
Traditional dwellings in the Irish landscape involve simple constructions of whitewashed rubble or stone, and timber roofs and sleeping lofts. The image of such pitched forms is also carried within our proposal – and within the volumetric form of the key domestic spaces of the Ambassador’s private accommodation.
This abstracted landscape of ‘gable–hills’ presents itself very deliberately to the planned new public park across the street – here, we imagined, a passer–by might look across the traffic to observe our project, for a moment, as a kind of built painting – derived from a sense of Irish identity, yet developed to engage and correspond with another culture.