Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Abstract

Like practitioners of many other occupations, architects are often asked to justify the meaning behind their creations or are required to envelop their proposals in appealing narratives to attract clients, to promote their projects, or to convince neighbors, city authorities, and competition jurors.
In this chapter, I explore the long-held conviction that Kyoto is a city animated by various invisible agencies and how this notion has influenced its architecture between the 1990s and the early 2000s. Inspired by the belief that the city was designed and built in the late eighth century according to the core principles of site divination––popularly known as geomancy or fengshui (風水 Ch. fēng shuǐ, Jp. fūsui)––, it is generally assumed that Kyoto is vitalized by the invisible flow of qi (Ch. qì 氣, Jp. ki 気, “life force” or “cosmic breath”) and protected by the guardians of the four directions.
Starting in the 1990s, when a fengshui boom gripped Japan, several architectural projects in Kyoto were conceived, announced, or justified with explicit reference to these practices either because of the architect’s personal beliefs, a particular client’s request, or to convince the general public of the project’s suitability to the city. Be it implicitly or explicitly, from the outset or post hoc, fengshui-derived concepts informed––at least in part and for different reasons––the design of the architectural projects discussed here. Moreover, it will become clear that the three architects behind the projects, Hara Hiroshi 原広司, Isozaki Arata 磯崎新, and Umebayashi Katsu 梅林克, each differ in their level of commitment to fengshui, ranging from a near-total immersion to a more casual engagement with and isolated application of its principles.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInvisible Empire: Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan
EditorsFabio Rambelli
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Pages81–94
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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  • Activities

    • 1 Hosting an academic visitor
    • 1 Oral presentation
    • 1 Visiting an external academic institution

    University of California at Santa Barbara

    Ellen Elza Melina Albert Van Goethem (Visiting researcher)

    Jan 22 2017Mar 15 2017

    Activity: Visiting an external institution typesVisiting an external academic institution

    Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto

    Ellen Van Goethem (Speaker)

    Feb 25 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

    Fabio Rambelli

    Ellen Van Goethem (Host)

    Dec 2015Mar 2016

    Activity: Hosting a visitor typesHosting an academic visitor

    Cite this

    Van Goethem, E. (2019). Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto. In F. Rambelli (Ed.), Invisible Empire: Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan (pp. 81–94). Bloomsbury Publishing.