Phenomena. Discourse. Bricolage.

Kengo Kuma: Water / Glass

Water / Glass. Kengo Kuma & Associates. 1995. View 01.

First in a series.

The liminal space and the politics of being. The either/or between subject and the environment¹ isn't so much eroded as it is iterated  again  as it reinforces the melodrama seriality between subject (i.e. a human) and object (any material essence perceived as exterior to the lopsided weight of exceeding interiority that defines and circumscribes, either dearly or dimly, the seedling self as a singular, unified subject).

By varying accounts, a human is an object. Or an object in a vast field of objects, or is part of an object, or is a stream of unquantifiable data manifesting irregularly upon or against a grid of moments along a theory/line of events. Here is man — perhaps an axis. Whether abstracted toward or without form, a being is identified, mythologized, objectified — first. Before the deeper issue of the integration or reintegration with environs is formally problematized and given value(s) toward reconciliation or disintegration, some actors/agents are suggested: subject and object. Kuma, objecting.

Water / Glass. Kengo Kuma & Associates. 1995. View 02.

But gentle promenade through corridor toward glass veranda. Passageway, transparently textured in light emanating from floor, calmly collects cool aqua breeze sampled from environs. This is a vehicle transporting you from one tome of object-hood to another. Veranda, dematerialized through delicate glass and pool of water, awaits. Veranda regenerating, abstracted through this outward engagement, call and response. Veranda as verticality². Mock passage onto sublime infinity of pool as ground — artificially set and separated from ocean — narrowly interrogates edge through liminal dip of liquid datum dissolving gently at the seams, recirculating³. A slight dithering at this new horizon line between an “out there” and an “in here.” Touch of the dichotomous, again.

But the ambling that is set into motion through axial glass corridor on the way to (and beyond) island-like veranda is abruptly ruptured by brutal but dear column of concrete sporting its structural entelechy, defiant. Gesture to end business of seascape incorporation by subtle but clear obstruction of otherwise continuous expanse of ocean beyond. It is the looming visual/structural obelisk standing stubborn in the corner of the plane, re-materializing this alien volume and recapitulating the material weight of the container as object divorced from nature, synthetic, separate. Aberrant scar on the canvas, optically distorting otherwise seamless tableau. Structural element, whose counterpoint potentially terminates an otherwise willful suspension of disbelief. Mies and others have accounted for the treatment of corners sandwiched between planes in transparent containers, by removing the structural element and/or shifting it so that the engagement with the borrowed ‘beyond’ continues, fluid like time or its assumption. Attempted, anyway.

Water / Glass. Kengo Kuma & Associates. 1995. View 03.

Environs are old, temporal stock anchoring their reception in our being like ancestors. Distant, vague, felt. Kuma’s architecture, or lack thereof, is gestural in this regard, formalized by an aesthetic toward reunion, mimicry, and dissolution in order to render live a new being out of the asymmetrical encounter between visitor and environment. All, mediated by an architecture of self-effacing transparency. Sea is larger/older, so one defers, for instance. Kuma proposes a more humble path to intimacy — though somewhat separated from it by devices, gestures, architecture — derived from nature.

And the column. More solemn than all (by now), preparing a more difficult gaze at the other out there, soiling the edges (now re-centered) of your terministic screen. And the distant, borrowed.


  1. See Kengo Kuma & Associates website where WATER / GLASS villa is described as having challenged the relationship between subject and environment.
  2. See Poetry is Vertical.
  3. See Kuma, Kengo. Anti-object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture. London: Architectural Association, 2008. Kuma’s intention was to create a veranda made of water that loses its border to the ocean in the background so long as veranda water continues to “brim over.” 

  4. See Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois.
  5. See Anti-Object, where Kuma orients his theory toward the erasure of architecture and objects that are aesthetically, temporally, and actually isolated from their environments — disassociated.
  6. Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action and chapter on Terministic Screen. A Terministic Screen “directs the attention” to certain symbolic constructions, and therefore interpretations, at the expense of others. Like Maxwell’s demon, it selects, reflects, and deflects meanings through a kind of subjective screen, minimizing measures of infinite meaning, infinite play. In the present context, the column is part of this language, indeed reflecting, selecting, and deflecting possible interpretations and experiences of the ‘beyond’ and its unity with the Water/Glass villa/volume.
  7. Shakkei , from Japanese garden design, involves this practice and discourse of seizing the genius loci of place and environment, while capturing and/or responding to nature through design via embodiment. It is slightly more nuanced than simply collecting or arranging impressions of the irregular in nature out there (English Picturesque)  and implementing that in your garden design. Their is a logic that beckons the communion of minds. The natural and the man-made as interlocutors, as common language.