Several years ago, when Rem Koolhaas became one of the most talked about architects, I had the rare opportunity not only to visit one of the houses he designed, but also to stay there for a few days while in Paris. The house called Villa dall’Ava, which was completed in 1991, had received worldwide attention in the architecture world.
I had first seen Rem Koolhaas’s work (it was an architecture model) at MOMA in the early ’90s, right around the time the distinguished Japanese architect Tadao Ando had his major exhibition at the museum. Ando back then was considered to be one of the ten most important architects in the word, and Koolhaas was still on the rise. However, although I don’t remember much about Ando’s exhibition at MOMA, I can still clearly visualize the architecture model by Koolhaas in my mind.
Generally, for Japanese, precision craftsmanship means average in skill, and the architecture model I had seen at MOMA was almost sacrilege in that respect. Everything was out of alignment and irregular, hardly anything was straight. I couldn’t understand how someone could make something with such a lack of precision… and had wondered how the actual architecture would look like, especially the details of it.
An architecture model is neither a sculpture nor a painting – it is merely a tool to examine the design and get some degree of understanding of how the actual architecture will look. Much against my expectation, Villa Dall’Ava turned out to be an architectural gem. There was a strange harmony of strength and fragility. To tell the truth, I was disappointed not to find any sign of “sacrilege” there. However there was something convincing and persuasive about the design… the house was whispering in my ear, “Imperfection is beautiful.” The house felt like it has its own life. It was cold but warm, heavy but light, filled with intimate contrasts which I’ve never found in Tadao Ando’s architectures.
This is, of course, not to say imperfection would necessarily add a human touch to a work of art, but after having used my hands to create art for many years, I have finally realized that a work with impeccable finish often lacked the warmth of human ki (qi or 気).
The video below was added to this post in May, 2008.