Nestled in the mountainous region of Taipei’s Xindian district is a new home by Yuan Architects that mirrors the stately landscape outdoors. In “Lan Villa,” the international design firm constructed a central, curved wall that sweeps upward as it follows the two staircases from ground floor to ceiling. It mimics the roving scenery that can be viewed through the large, glass windows covering the back facade.
Cloaked in wooden slats, the striking enclosure spans all three stories of the 2,390-square-foot home, which features a kitchen, dining area, and large deck on the first level, main entrance and mezzanine on the second, and bedrooms on the uppermost floor. The bowed wall “represents the flow of life through an architectural structure,” the firm says in a statement about the project. “As a collector of seasonal changes outdoors as well as an interface of the living space, the wall reflects every variation of light and color on the rolling hills and casts different colors of light into the living space accordingly.”
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Architect Naohiko Shimoda’s interpretation of a kamidana—a small altar or “god shelf” that’s part of a tradition to bring Shinto shrines into private spaces—strays from the simple ledges most often found in Japanese homes. Designed with an intricate foundation and slatted roof, the wooden structure lines an inner corner and is installed high on the wall following the custom. The precise and detailed construction is built on a 1:1 scale, allowing it to “be regarded as architecture with unique proportions and beauty.”
The size of many Japanese houses today limits the placement of the miniature shrines, Shimoda says, which spurred the original 2018 design that’s similar in style but wraps around an outer corner. “Unlike other architectures, the kamidana is usually represented only in the front half of the building. It makes people imagine ‘something behind’ that was not represented and (setting it up) in a corner make it even more effective,” he says.
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Wrapping a gallery space at the 2020 NGV Triennial is a bowed pavilion of tessellating wood. A collaboration between renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (previously) and Australian artist Geoff Nees, the large-scale installation is constructed with trees felled at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens during the millennium drought. The pointed slats interlock without the use of additional supports, a design derived from traditional Japanese joinery, and create a scaly pattern that allows light to stream through.
Titled “Botanical Pavilion,” the curved structure features foraged timber—some of which predates European colonization on the continent—arranged by color rather than species. “By prioritizing natural phenomena over scientific order, the designers call into question the reductive nature of science during the colonial era, a mindset at odds with many Indigenous cultural beliefs and knowledge systems,” a statement about the piece says. At both ends, the walkway opens up to reveal South Korean artist Lee Ufan’s 2017 painting titled “Dialogue.”
“The semi-circular shape of the pavilion invites the visitor into a journey to explore the space and experience the various essences of wood,” Kuma told Dezeen. “The porous structure is assembled like a tridimensional puzzle without the use of metal connections to be able to reassemble it in a different location.”
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Vintage clothing and nature collide in the trompe l’oeil works of Ron Isaacs (previously). Autumn leaves flow from a pastel pocketbook, songbirds emerge from a dress seam, and branches extend the length of formalwear. Despite appearing as fully formed sculptures complete with layered textiles and organic ephemera, the illusory works are constructed as reliefs with Finnish birch plywood that’s painted with matte acrylics.
Isaacs’s oeuvre is poetic and deliberately evasive as the Lexington-based artist renders vintage garments that represent an imagined figure. Whether appearing to be lying flat or slowly drifting to the floor, the slips and blouses evoke a “vivid human presence, as well as their own histories and mysteries,” he says. Brush, withered leaves, and raw elements further enhance the lively qualities while drawing connections between people’s lives and nature.
In a note to Colossal, Isaacs shares how his art and experience intersect:
My work evolves slowly, mostly as a matter of increased and prolonged stages of refinement, and perhaps of concept. The passage of time continues as an undercurrent to the work; as I am now seventy-nine, I have to consider things like what constitutes a life-time supply of plywood and paint—and that I have to make proverbial hay while the proverbial sun shines.
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Since the 12th Century, Japanese artisans have been employing a construction technique that uses just one simple material: wood. Rather than utilize glue, nails, and other fasteners, the traditional art of Japanese wood joinery notches slabs of timber so that the grooves lock together and form a sturdy structure. Yamanashi-based carpenter Dylan Iwakuni demonstrates this process in the endlessly satisfying video above, which depicts multiple styles of the angular joints and how they’re slotted together with the tap of a mallet.
As Iwakuni notes at the end, new joineries often are used in traditional architecture to replace a damaged portion, maintaining the integrity of the original edifice. “Structures built from natural materials and the knowledge and skills passed down generations,” he says. “Through the fine skills and knowledge, Japanese Wooden Architecture has been standing for (thousands of) years.”
If you’re interested in trying your hand at the centuries-old artform, Iwakuni recommends reading The Complete Japanese Joinery and Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use. He also offers a collection of tutorials and videos on his Instagram and YouTube. You might enjoy watching the creation of this kokeshi doll and the fine art of Japanese marquetry, which uses razor-thin slices of mosaics, as well. (via The Kids Should See This)
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Woven throughout Selva Aparicio’s cicada veils and fringed floor coverings are the complexities of rebirth, transition, and beauty’s ability to endure. Organic ephemera—human hair, thorned branches, scavenged wings—become poignant installations and smaller artworks that ruminate on a myriad of global issues, including the climate crisis and the infinite failures of the medical establishment.
Aparicio shares that her explorations of life and death began during childhood when she watched the natural world cycle through growth and decay in the woods outside of Barcelona. This lasting fascination has crystallized in the artist’s body of work, particularly in pieces like “Velo de luto (Mourning veil),” which sews together 1,365 seventeen-year cicada wings with strands of hair taken from two generations of women. The shrouds typically are worn to honor a spouse who’s died, and Aparicio notes the material and form exemplify that “as the fragility of the veil of wings decay so does the patriarchal veil of history that it represents.”
Overall, the artist says that her “practice has evolved beyond the individual to encompass environmental, social, and political activism and evoke the change and rebirth I witnesses in nature.” “Childhood rug,” for example, merges personal memory and a domestic object with larger themes of covering and exposing trauma.
Similarly, Aparicio cites her own experiences in “Hysteria,” an installation that surrounds an antique gynecological table with a curtain of thorned branches. Commenting broadly on the unjust power dynamics inherent within traditional healthcare, the artwork draws a direct correlation between the invasive and painful processes of medicine for women and their ability to bring new life into the world.
Although she spends half her time in Barcelona, Aparicio is currently in Chicago and has work on view at two locations: her piece “Hopscotch” is part of MCA’s group exhibition The Long Dream, while her solo show Hysteria is at the International Museum of Surgical Science, where the artist is in residence. Both are slated to close on January 17, 2021. Head to Instagram for glimpses into Aparicio’s process, as well.
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