A conversation with Shuhei Endo, Shuhei Endo Architect Institute.
For Shuhei Endo, continuity is everything. In his architecture, he strives to make connections between inside and outside, large and small, space and material, and gesture and form. Inspired by the traditional Japanese calligraphy technique called renmentai, in which the brush doesn’t leave the paper, Endo treats material as a fluid gesture and folds space in upon itself. Inscribed by humble industrial materials like corrugated steel, rooms, entrances, and apertures seem to emerge effortlessly out of the landscape and form a completely interconnected experience.
I am intrigued by your invention of the word “paramodernism.” How do you define this term?
That is an extremely difficult question. Because paramodernism is a new concept, I cannot explain it easily. Para comes from parallel, and is used as a prefix to indicate the possibility for another type of modernism. Could there be another modernism? Could the two terms be used in concomitance? If so, let’s call this new term “paramodern.” For me, modernism is like the Japanese term kangen-shugi, which means atomism, or rather, Platonism.1 If you look at it this way, it has the same meaning—things are divided, small ideas are discovered, parts are divided again, and new ideas are formulated.
In creating architecture, however, this kind of atomism is not present. Architecture is not a composition. Architecture without composition is when there is a thread, there is a needle, and there is a mountain. It is not composed of small parts, but rather a collection of related ideas. This is where space and architecture can emerge. This is what I strive for. This is paramodernism. My architecture is connected, or rather, the outside and inside are connected, and the private and the public areas are connected. There is no break. I am thinking of the possibility for an architecture that is not composed of smaller pieces.
Do you feel it is necessary to create a new vocabulary to describe your work—terms like Springtecture, Bubbletecture, and so on?
First, paramodernism is a gainen, or concept. Architecture is not a concept; rather, it is a thing, an object. As a result, when I think of one project or another, the place, client, and function each differ—they all vary. In these situations, the single concept of paramodernism is not a sufficient descriptor. Springtecture emerged, for example, when I designed a set of projects with a springlike feeling. The springlike framework and the building methods central to these works warranted a merger of the words “spring” and “architecture” to make Springtecture. Similarly, I coined the term Bubbletecture for projects conceived around the structure of a bubble.
Therefore, as a basic concept, paramodernism describes the architectural approach in general terms. However, there are distinctions within this application. I think of architecture in this context of combined levels.
It is interesting that these new terms embody dynamic structural concepts. For example, “spring” describes a structure locked in a permanent state of outward thrust, while “bubble” indicates a delicate shell of minimal substance enclosing a maximum volume. These different material-related themes connect structure to program, and also result in a highly varied collection of work that lacks a singular identity. When clients request a Frank Gehry building, for example, they have a particular image in mind, based on the fact that Gehry’s work is so recognizable. In your case, however, the projects are highly diverse and do not conform to one kind of approach.
Architecture is an extremely diverse thing. Clients and sites vary. Therefore, each building should yield many ideas.
Once you begin working on a project, when do you decide what type of approach you will devise? When, for example, do you realize “Oh, this is Springtecture”?
I usually decide after I have seen the site. Then I think about what would be best after learning the functional program.
One interest I have is the strategy of material programming—the process of conceptualizing, selecting, and deploying materials in the physical environment. Given your structural and material-related design approaches, I would say that your process incorporates a kind of site inspired material program. When you look at a building site, what forces do you consider? Does your work seek a particular relationship with nature, for example?
Gravity is related to the idea of nature. Wind increases, waves get larger, and trees grow due to gravity. Gravity affects the state of nature. Therefore, although architecture is specifically made for human beings, it is always affected by natural forces. It is through the consideration of gravity that I get closer to understanding the natural condition. Modernism is human-centered, but does not consider gravity in terms of recognizing larger environmental forces. However, paramodernism seeks to create a relationship with gravity. Thus, it is a type of modernism that has a relationship with nature. My intent is not to make something close to nature, but the result is close to nature.
[Transcription and translation by Suma Pandhi.]
Read the rest of this conversation in the book Matter in the Floating World: Conversations with Leading Japanese Architects and Designers, published by Princeton Architectural Press.
1. Kangen-shugi also means reductionism.