Famous architects take a canine view of comfort at Japan House exhibition with dog-scaled architecture
When renowned designer Kenya Hara (creative director of MUJI) was a child, he owned a dog who – like Snoopy from Peanuts – preferred to lie on top of his kennel rather than in it. This ill-crafted edifice was squeezed into a narrow alley, so the dog developed a taste for rooftop living.
Architecture, Hara observed accordingly, has developed according to human needs, scales and ergonomics. Dogs meanwhile, one of our earliest domesticated companions, have adapted to this human-centric setup, but rarely do we consider design from our pet’s perspective. ‘I somehow sense new possibilities for architecture,’ muses Hara. ‘What would come of a dog-scaled architecture?’
Since 2012 Hara has collaborated with acclaimed architects to create the delightful ‘Architecture for Dogs’; this charming exhibition’s first showing in Europe opened on Saturday 19 September at Japan House in Kensington, London.
In his opening speech, Michael Houlihan, director general of Japan House, observes that ‘finding aesthetic pleasure in the functional ordinary’ is uniquely Japanese. These pieces are functional, but delightfully out of the ordinary. Torafu Architects’ ‘Wanmock’ (wan = woof) meets the needs of a particular Jack Russell who enjoyed sleeping in his owners’ laundry. The design is a plywood frame with a jumper stretched into a two-layered hammock. Toyō Itō’s ‘Mobile Home for Shiba’, a covered woven structure on wheels, was designed for his elderly Shiba Inu. Hiroshi Naitō’s ‘Dog cooler’ is a curved platform of alternating wooden slats and aluminium tubes that can be filled with bags of ice. Inspiration came from his own dog, cooling itself on the bathroom tiles during humid summers.
We are starting to get a rare insight into our architects’ sensibilities. One wonders: if dogs resemble their owners (and far be it for me to comment on the appearance of these world-class professionals), do architects’ dog buildings resemble their human ones?
In short: Yes. Visually, many of the pieces leave little doubt as to who conceived them. Sou Fujimoto’s ‘No Dog No Life!’ – which seeks to redefine the boundaries between human and doggy environments by housing a Boston Terrier in a hinoki (Japanese cypress) grid frame, populated with household artefacts – bears similarity to his 2013 Serpentine Pavilion.
Shigeru Ban’s love for cardboard tubing finds its way into ‘Papier Papillion’ where it is threaded into an undulating dog labyrinth. Likewise, given Kengo Kuma’s penchant for geometrically complex wooden lattice formations – such as Land Station, Hakuba, or Mikuni Izukogen, Honshu – it’s no surprise that an intricate construction of jigsawed wooden components called ‘Mount Pug’ is his brainchild.
A newly commissioned piece by Asif Khan (better known for the Museum of London/Smithfield Market) is also on display. ‘I see you !’ is a minimalist, table-like construction covered in an assiduously handmade sheepswool felt, with a crater in the top for a dog to burrow into; inspiration came from watching a friend’s dog hollow out a tree stump to hide in. Rather than focus on a particular breed, Khan’s piece services all manner of black-furred dogs, camouflaging them and engaging them in a game of hide and seek. The curved, smooth sides derive from dogs’ spatial experiences: ‘whereas humans perceive volume, a dog’s perspective is horizontal and surface bound’, Khan tells us.
Khan continues: ‘This project forced us out of our comfort zone; it scrambled our preconceptions as architects, forcing us to imagine the dog as client’.
So what sort of client does a dog make exactly? Maybe some sort of Jekyll and Hyde character who initially seems obedient but imminently bulldozes over the architect’s perfectionist creation? The prosaic dog owner within me cannot help but question certain practicalities. Hara Design Studio’s paper tipi ‘Pointed T’, and the fluffy covering of Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA)’s den for a Bichon Frisé would not survive my lurcher’s appetite for destruction.
An inconsiderate client did leave pawprints over Khan’s work. And according to director of programming Simon Wright, MVRDV’s minimalist and elegant rocking-kennel (a lightweight wooden construction with a gently bowed roof and floor) was summarily rejected by a hard-to-please beagle. This may be the closest we get to a post occupancy evaluation.
Blueprints of the designs are available online, offering dogs a choice of Pritzker prizewinning architect designed houses. I’d advise addressing your dog’s chewing behaviours before engaging a contractor.
Architecture for Dogs is held by Japan House London with cultural partner London Festival of Architecture and as part of London Design Festival 2020 from 19 September 2020 – 10 January 2021. Admission is free, but see https://www.japanhouselondon.uk for booking information.
Blueprints are downloadable at https://architecturefordogs.com/architectures/
Top images: Dog Cooler for Spitz by Hiroshi Naito; Mobile Home for Shiba by Toyo Ito; Beagle House Interactive Dog House by MVRDV. All credit Hiroshi Yoda