Move, Art of Life, Kazuyo Sejima, 1989; Plataform II, Kazuyo Sejima, 1989-90

“Marta’s dubbed the unconventional furniture and elemental cabins designed with so much panache ‘Petite Architecture.’ And she clearly demonstrates why we’ve all been idiotic to overlook the value of these early efforts. It turns out small things are not unimportant. In fact, inside these covers is the inspiration we all need today.”

Dana Buntrock, UC Berkeley, 2020.

Charlotte Perriand in the Chaise Longue, Paris, 1929; Kazuyo Sejima in Pao I, Tokyo, 1986

Charlotte Perriand & Kazuyo Sejima: A Subtle Revolution (Diseño Editorial, 2021), by Marta Rodriguez, reveals the unique role of Kazuyo Sejima and Charlotte Perriand in initiating a paradigm shift in Japanese and French architecture, which continues to resonate in present day architectural practice. Drawing on the inspiration of Charlotte Perriand a half century before, Sejima was a pioneer in blurring the frontiers between the scale and sensibility of building (immeuble) and furniture (meuble) by emphasizing the human body as the primary medium of her projects. In doing so, she was able to transcend the prevailing architectural dogma, moving away from innovation driven exclusively by technology and questioning the implications of the autonomous monument in the urban context.

The book lays out the relevance of Perriand and Sejima as initiators of a subtle revolution that connects France of the 1920s and Japan of the 1980s. Through sensitive approaches between architecture and furniture, they have advanced highly innovative design solutions, across multiple scales without sacrificing bodily awareness. Both architects began their careers designing houses as if they were chairs; that is, with the same dimensional precision and careful attention to detail, as well as material specificity and spatial fluidity. These prototypes of precise limits were developed for the hedonistic enjoyment of the urban nomad, that fit within what I call Petite Architecture: habitable furniture with the potential of urban transformation.

Refuge Tonneau, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, 1938; Plataform I, Kazuyo Sejima, 1987

In the architecture of Perriand and Sejima, the slogans of their predecessors no longer make sense; the individual is the context. Their work reminds us that the house is neither “a machine to live in” nor “a work of art,” but an open and flexible stage in which life can happen. Both have created from and for the present; and, free of conventions, they have introduced a playful and experimental component, which incorporates the everyday, the consequence of which is intrinsic elegance. Their work has transcended borders and times, and ultimately, inspires and challenges us to introduce the present time as a fourth dimension through which the bodily experience is fuel for dynamic evolution —from the chair to the city.

“Bigness”, Rem Koolhaas, 1994; House in a Plum Grove, Kazuyo Sejima, 2003

Berkeley, August 23, 2022

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