Zero yen House
September 23, 2006 - January 1, 2007
as NEXT: A series on emerging artists from the pacific rim at Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
curated by Makiko Hara (Centre A) produced by Bruce Grenville
photo by Tomas Svab
I first met Kyohei Sakaguchi in the fall of 2001. He had recently completed the Graduate Program in the Department of Architecture at Waseda University, and he showed me his inspired and amazing book Tokyo House, which was his graduate thesis. Already dog-eared and tattered from use, this handmade, 200-page book consisted of photographs, sketches and technical drawings of houses built by people in Tokyo who are generally referred to as ghomeless.h Sakaguchi became fascinated with this type of architecture when he stumbled on a carefully constructed dwelling built by a ghomelessh man on the side of the Tama River. With this encounter, Sakaguchi became aware of the great human potential for self-built dwellings. This discovery, along with Sakaguchifs other field research, is the point of departure for Zero Yen House.
Sakaguchifs images of homeless dwellings do not portray the occupants, nor attempt to reflect on the ownersf individual backgrounds. Rather, Sakaguchi focuses on the structural peculiarities of the dwellings in order to foreground the distinctiveness of each ownerfs vision of the world and their various strategies for gbuilding a house.h Sakaguchifs engagement differs from the general discourse on contemporary architecture. He seeks to reveal an emerging form of architecture created with the instinct, consciousness and capability of human beings not entrapped by preconceived ideas, a manifestation of ga primal (architype) urban architecture.h
His investigations of this sub-culture have also revealed that street peoplesf dwellings tend to be treated with silent contempt. Sakaguchi is attempting to defeat this prejudice and, while not idealizing the situation of homelessness, bring recognition to the ingenious and artistic ways this architecture can challenge bias by showing how anyone can take positive action in onefs environment.
Until I met Sakaguchi, I had never encountered such a radical approach to architecture, with such an enormous potentiality for the field. Sakaguchi considers the starting point of architecture the experience of sleeping outdoors: gif we want to talk about architecture, first we should have experienced a bivouac situation with no roof, nor a wall.h This principle stems from his former experiences such as, a 1500- kilometer road trip from Kumamoto to Tokyo on a small, discarded motorbike in 1998, and in 1999, his gZero Yen triph in which he hitchhiked throughout Japan and India without money. These experiences were later conceptualized in a series of video documentation of his fieldwork and actions including Living in the Water Tank (1999) and Moving Rider (2000).
In 2002, Sakaguchi produced another handmade book entitled ROAD IN, a collection of photographs of street dwellings in Nagoya and Osaka, and in 2004, his Zero Yen Houses was published by Little More Co. Ltd. The innovative and unique viewpoint of these books reverberated throughout Japan and elsewhere, and he began to receive international attention.
Sakaguchifs Zero Yen House confronts issues that reach outside the specific field of architecture. The dignity, sense of freedom and vitality of individuals existing in a degenerated urban society of advanced capitalism; the wisdom and creativity which can produce something by hand; the capability to manage the crisis of destitution and take action in a society highly regulated and institutionalized\these virtues, which at times seem all but lost, Sakaguchi finds embodied in the elegant functionality of homeless architecture.
Consider a row of homeless peoplesf houses built on an urban street in Japan. If we look at these houses from an architectural perspective, we can discover many of the capabilities and elements in their architecture of which modern architecture has neglected and lost. These houses are built on a shoestring budget by diverting and recycling the rubbish thrown away on the street. In this respect, these houses are built out of the resourcefulness of human nature, not by purchasing power. I call them eZero Yen Houses.f (Kyohei Sakaguchi, artist statement, 2006)
What is remarkable about the Zero Yen Houses is not only the technical and creative achievement of gmaking a house by oneself,h but also the economical and ecological methodology of greusing urban waste, it being cheap, and making a dwellingh in a realistic and pragmatic way. These structural forms differ in accordance with each individualfs way of life.
In 2000, Sakaguchi discovered a dwelling on the banks of Sumida River in central Tokyo owned by a former camera engineer. This 60-year old man had installed a small, inexpensive solar panel sufficient to supply energy for lighting, television, and radio for about six hours a day. Since it is illegal to erect a structure on public land, the dwelling had to be collapsible and mobile. A raised bottom floor functioned as storage space and the minimal structural plan allowed for accurate reassembly of every part of the house, such as the entrance, window, joints, solar panel and so forth. Furthermore, this house offered an opportunity to re-examine the idea of the architectural gmoduleh as an extension of the human body, a notion that is almost entirely neglected in the major building industry because of the need for ruthless economic efficiency. In Japan, standardized building material is either 91 x 182 cm or 123 x 243 cm so, consequently, the floor size of every regular Japanese house is based on this module. However, the former camera engineer scaled the floor size of his house to precisely 90 x 220 cm, a scale that was most comfortable and natural for his body size. In this sense, he rejected standardization and created an architectural module based on its appropriateness to his own body.
As an architect, Sakaguchi was inspired by this strategy and considers the Sumida River dwelling ga new possibility of architectureh and named it gAn Evolving House.h For this exhibition, it has been renamed gZero Yen House with Solar System,h and Sakaguchi made the replica based on his detailed technical drawings of the original structure. It is worth noting that he refers to it not as gthe evolved househ but as the gevolving house,h\an unfinished project in the present moment. Therefore, the replica, technical drawings and sketches presented in this exhibition should not be perceived as a static archive of a certain form of architecture. Instead, they are presented as a corollary to Sakaguchifs own continuous evolvement and his challenge to always exist in the process of change and movement.
Makiko Hara, Centre A Curator