Tuesday, June 29, 2010



"I wanted to show that the loss of reality in the life of the city is the other side of the coin in the image of architecture"

Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito is, along with Tadao Ando , the most internationally recognized Japanese architect of our time. But, unlike Ando, whose work is based in the Japanese tradition, particularly in the use of light, and maintains a rational, geometric, massive vocabulary and style, Toyo Ito is not tied to any style, experimenting with metaphorical themes, transparent forms and electronic gadgets. Therefore, his works are closely related to another aspect of the culture in Japan, that is in many respects, the most technologically advanced country in the world.

Toyo Ito

Born in Korea (although Japanese descent) during Japan's occupation of that country (1941), and owner of a simple, affable personality, Toyo Ito recognizes the importance of Ki (気), the energy flow that runs in the architecture and all things.

"The spirit of Ki, while circulating in the cosmos as air, it condenses and solidifies to form the body of living beings. The body is made of liquids and solids, but is mainly gas. At the same time as the gas condenses and solidifies to form the body, the air that is inhaled into the body fills it. In this way the Ki sustains life. once inhaled the air is exhaled rapidly and there is no distinction between the self and the others.

Toshio Kuwako mentioned by Toyo Ito when he wrote "Tarzan in the forest of the media"

Hence Ito's architecture combines the wind flow with the flow of electrons and propose an architecture sensitive to the effects of the environment through the use of technology.

In this regard, two of his early experimental projects are the Egg and the Tower of the Winds, since it is light and almost ephemeral character, and its technological paraphernalia.


There used to be an old water tower and ventilation ducts in front of the the Yokohama bus station was, an anonymous, brutalist and made-of-concrete structure .

The Tower of the Winds is located in front of Yokohama Bus Terminal
An architectural competition was organized with the idea of improving the first impression of visitors arriving to this city by bus.

The oval cylinder geometry of the Tower of the Winds is distinguished from the other volumes in the surroundings.
Photo courtesy of El Croquis.

Ito's proposal was to cover the tower with acrylic mirrors. A metallic oval-cylindrical structure, 21 m in height and 9 x 6 section was installed around the tower, lined with a perforated aluminum coating that reflects the sky during the day.

The tower is covered with a perforated aluminum plate. Photo C. Zeballos

I must say that my first impression was a bit disappointing, perhaps because I visited it on a cloudy afternoon and the tower did not seem to be anything special. However, the tower became much more attractive at night, when 1300 lamps in coordination with 12 rings offered a multicolor light show.

The same view at night . Photo C. Zeballos.

An electronic system recognizes the differences in wind speed and the sound waves in the noise around and translates them into light and color codes. For this reason, unlike a traditional arrangement of lights, this installation does not follow a predetermined program or routine, and offers an ever-changing spectacle of light and color.

Light Sequence of the Tower of the Winds. Photos courtesy of El Croquis
Floor plan of the Tower of the Winds. Image courtesy of El Croquis

The following concept video shows the components and operation of the tower


Ito proposed a kind of "Building of Tomorrow", an "video gallery oudoors." There are two versions of this, one in Brussels and the other in the Japanese suburb of River City 21 in Tokyo.
It is a structure of a oval geometry -a recurring form in their designs at the time, contrasting with right-angled parallelepiped volumes of its surrounding.

This capsule is attached to a wall, suspended from the floor by metal legs, and gives the impression of floating in the air, especially from a small public space located on the mezzanine.

Day and night view of the Egg of Winds. Photo C. Zeballos

Using a coating similar to that of the Tower of Winds, this 16 x 8 m ellipsoid is covered with a perforated aluminum plate below which liquid crystal screens displayed pictures and news.

Schemes Egg of Winds. Pictures courtesy of The Sketch.

While in operation, the effect is very interesting: the images appeared as if they were floating on a curved surface, almost like a hologram, very different from the effect of the giant screens hung on the facades of buildings.

Egg of winds. Photo courtesy of Philip Jodidio.

Initially conceived as a futuristic house, the Egg of Winds "is the object of the images that come with the wind and move with the wind."

Interesting formal contrast with the surrounding volumes. Photo C. Zeballos.

For Toyo Ito the wind and its meaning are very important, not only because his architecture and especially his urban sculptures are characterized by lightness and transparency, but because it interacts with the environment and the user, making him aware of energy that surrounds it.





Seen from the upper terrace, the ellipsoid gives the impression of being floating. Smaller than it looked in the photos, I was not lucky enough to find it functioning.

Monday, June 21, 2010


"...that city of Cuzco was house and dwelling of gods, and thus there was not, in all of it, a fountain or passage or wall which they did not say held mystery."
Juan Polo Ondegardo, 1571.

It is for me inevitable to establish a similarity between Japanese culture and pre-Hispanic Andean world in terms of the relationship of landscape and traditional architecture.
In the specific case of public baths, both cultures established a link between water, the spiritual world and the landscape.
However, perhaps because the rains are less frequent in the semi arid Andes than in the forested Japanese archipelago, the baths in the Inca empire belonged to a more exclusive social group, a circle associated with the divine and sacred and linked to worship of water. Therefore, according to Fernando and Edgar Ellorrieta, it is noteworthy that from the nearly three hundred and fifty temples surrounding the city of Cusco in Peru, ninety-two of them were destined for the cult of springs and water sources.
Impressive masterpieces of engineering and fine architecture associated with fountains can be found at Tipon, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu among others, and the baths of the Inca at Cajamarca were considered a place for relaxation for the ruler of the Incas.
This post will be focused on a small complex called Tambomachay, located about 8 kms. north of Cusco and close to the ruins of Puka Pukara.

Location Tambomachay

Tambomachay comes from two Quechua words: Tampu it was kind of accommodation and Machay, meaning cave, and refers to the many caves that surround the place and, according to the tradition, would have been venerated.
It is likely, however, that Tambomachay has been a nearby accommodation, a house, and this site, according to Bernabé Cobo (1653) it was originally called Quinua Puquio (the source of quinoa), "a fountain of two springs near Tambomachay. "

Cave in Tambomachay
The complex is set in a stunning scenery embedded in the foothills of the mountain, carefully built around an underground spring water, a tribute to water as a source of life. Integration into the landscape is so successful that the complex seems to be part of it: not just a place where you can contemplate nature, Tambomachay is indeed part of the landscape.
The main complex consists of four walls that define terraces built on the hill, arranged to generate a depth effect whose layers rise from the topography.

Photo courtesy of Enrique Aguilar
The building uses the famous Inca stone masonry composed of irregular blocks finely carved and impressively assembled, although their quality is not as perfect as that found in some temples of Cusco.
Photo courtesy of boletoturisticocusco.com
On the upper terrace four trapezoidal niches are located approximately 2 meters each. According to archaeologist García Rossell, the foundations of the complex seem to indicate that it was originally an enclosed area, and in front of it a circular tower stood, probably for defense and communication.
"Everything suggests that the location of the ruins has been one of the favorite places for residences of the Incas, a kind of resort homes, while at the same time was one of the pillars of the defense system of the valley of Cusco" he mentions.

At the bottom, the so called "Inca baths" are located, a liturgical fountain in which two canals are artistically carved, pouring water already for centuries, every day of the year, every hour of the day.

According to the American researcher Jerry Fairley, the Inca construction controls groundwater discharge between two limestone cliffs. The stone walls collect and filter the water, slowing its discharge and achieving a continuous and controlled flow.

To the right of the complex some small steps are located, preceded by a wall that has two dissimilar-size niches. Below there is a portico of double jamb, often used in other Inca constructions for give hierarchy to the entrance. Next there is a small enclosure that serves as a prelude to the spring.

Tambomachay is an interesting complex, but unfortunately most of the thousands of tourists who visit it a year, usually spend no more than 15 minutes on the site. However, looking it closely, it is notable for its profound significance, the complexity of the stonework around the spring, the meticulous knowledge of the natural environment, the powerful aesthetics yet integrated to the landscape, the simple spirituality that transmits the sound of water, and the technological inventiveness which interacts with the earth.

Un trabajo de este nivel denota la topofilia de la sociedad inca, la que se expresa claramente en la sobriedad!!! sinonimo!!! de su arquitectura.

This is also an example of the topophilia of the Inca society, which is clearly expressed in the sober and powerful simplicity of its architecture.

"Topophilia... is useful to include broadly all of the human being's affective ties with the material environment... The response to environment may be primarly aesthetic: it may then vary from the fleeting pleasure one gets from a view to the equally fleeting but far more intense sense of beauty that is suddenly revealed..."

Yi-Fu Tuan
Topophilia. A study of attitudes, perceptions and environmental values.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Japan is a mountainous country with high volcanic activity, and therefore it is common to find hot springs called onsen (温泉). But beyond a purely geological phenomenon in Japan onsen are part of an ancient cultural tradition, an intimate relationship between man a nature, frequently framed by architecture.

As Suehiro Tanemura mentions, the first users of the thermal baths were the gods.
According to the Guide to the seven hot springs, "before the ancestors descended from heaven, the gods Oonamuchi and Sukuna-Hikone reigned the Central Land and the Reed Plains. Commiserating for the short life of humans, they established methods to relieve their ailments: the medicine, abstinence and the thermal baths. "

Thus, the onsen were used primarily as a form of archaic medicine. It was common to find hot springs to alleviate, for example, wounded soldiers, and this practice spread even during the Second World War. Their privileged location in the heart of the mountains also allowed to experience the healing properties of mineral waters, while establishing a close contact with nature.

Today onsen are one of the greatest tourist attractions in Japan, as they relief stress from work and they welcome, stripped from all clothing, people from every social strata: managers and salarymen, rich and poor, young and old, men and women ... Men and women?! Well, until a few years ago yes, it was common, but now almost all onsen baths are gender differentiated.

Mount Kurama, located 12 km north of Kyoto is a prime setting for an onsen, set among wooded slopes thickly covered with cypress trees.


Mount Kurama has been important for the people of Kyoto from its founding in the late eighth century up to today.

The Kurama temple dates from 770 and was built by the monk Gantei as guardian of the north of the newly founded city of Kyoo Heian (now Kyoto).

Niomon (Gate of the Guardians) at the entrance of the temple.

In fact, it is a complex made of multiple religious buildings scattered on the mountain. The road follows the ascent of the pilgrim, often flanked by lanterns or stone steles engraved with prayers, and eventually offers spaces for relaxation from where is possible to contemplate breathtaking views of the city.

Although this temple originally belonged to the Tendai sect, the temple of Kurama is today the headquarters of the Buddhist sect Kurama Kyoo.

Every October 22 one of the most popular events in Kyoto is held at Mount Kurama, the festival of fire or Hi Matsuri, a celebration to welcome the deity of Kurama. At 6 pm hundreds of torches populate the vicinity of the temple of Yuki jinja, especially giant torches over 3 meters high, made of pine and about 80 kg each. The procession of giant torches carried by men half naked, dressed as old warriors, attracts tens of thousands of visitors.

Mount Kurama is also the birthplace of the Reiki, a practice of spiritual healing with the laying on of hands, created at the beginning of the twentieth century. The story goes that its founder, Master Usui, went into the mountains and after 21 days of deep meditation and fasting had an enlightenment. He was so excited about his experience that rushed down the mountain and at some point stumbled and fell, hurting himself. He instinctively put his hands on the wound, which healed quickly. So he discovered his ability to heal, and spent the next four years perfecting his philosophy of self-help and healing.

Dr. Mikao Usui


But, as we said, Mount Kurama is also known for its onsen which can be enjoyed during the spring with cherry blossoms, in summer, escaping the heat of Kyoto, or fall, immersed in a landscape dotted with red and yellow maple leaves. But this time we decided to visit in winter, on a day when some flakes of snow fell on the city, melting as soon as they made contact with the earth. In just 20 minutes on the train ride the landscape changed completely as we climb towards Kurama the trees are covered with thick snow.

Upon reaching the station, we met a huge long-nose mask representing Tengu, the mythical god who lives on top of Mount Kurama, and who possesses supernatural powers, a deceptive sense of humor and extraordinary martial skills. Because of that he has been the main character in numerous stories and legends. As Lucy Moss mentions, one of the most famous ancient legends tells how the King of Tengu, the old Sojobo coached the XII century hero Yoshitsune Minamoto in the art of fencing, martial arts and military strategy.

The Kurama baths are located just a few minutes from the station, and we approach at the place through a winding path of stone, which blends with the natural character of the site.

The baths for men and women are differentiated by a small curtain, called noren. Usually, subtle details like these are sufficient to determine the public or private character of the spaces.

Once inside and after taking off the shoes and then the rest of the clothes, the bather must first washed himself or herself with soap in the showers specially prepared for that purpose. It is against the custom to enter the onsen without having previously take a shower.

Once these preparations are completed, it is possible to enjoy a spectacular open-air bath (otemburo), gliding noiselessly over the hot water. It is not advisable to attempt a double mortal jump, as the possibility of a fracture may involve a serious problem of social discrimination: blood in the water would imply an unacceptable impurity.
Moreover, the idea is part of a bucolic experience, in awe before the gray landscape, lulled by the gentle murmur of water, semi-levitating between vapor and fog, while snow flakes play over our heads ... a healthy and wonderfully relaxing experience ...

To see a video of our visit, click here


My name is Neo ..