at Moriyama’s house…

While staying at Mr. Moriyama’s house … When visiting Mr. Moriyama’s house to find a spot for my sculptures, I could hardly describe where I was. This was no normal house. Where was the front door? Perhaps it contained several houses? Were they distinctive rooms, units with a special function or spaces that had been erected here temporarily? Was the space in between a garden or a room? Was I in a small village or was this simply a piece of land with an unusual structure/building on it? I was provided with the answer when I met Mr. Moriyama, the hospitable owner: it was a house, his home.
In the Dutch language there are various words that are associated with the home and living, and these originate from different parts of Europe. Words evoke ideas and images. The word vertrek, for example, a standard Dutch word for a ‘room’, is related to the Middle Dutch verb hem vertrecken which means to retire, to withdraw, so the vertrek in a home is a place to which one withdraws. The Dutch word ruimte is derived from the verb rooien, which means tidying up old branches and cutting back undergrowth in a forest to create an open clearing. A ruimte in a house is therefore an empty, open area. The word plaats also denotes an open space, but then very specifically in the sense of here, and ‘here’ is a place that is usually surrounded by space. The Dutch word verdieping in the sense of first, second and third floor means ‘perception of depth’ perspective. The word kamer a ‘room’ or ‘chamber’ is not Germanic but has its origins in the Latin camere, which is associated with a special building technique used by the Ancient Romans, namely vaulted roofing. The word huis like the English ‘house’ ¬≠has been passed down to us from the Latin custos, meaning a guardian or protection, and via the Proto-Germanic word khusan to give shelter. The renowned play by Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Huis Clos’ (originally translated into English as ‘In Camera’ within chambers, in private session though better known as ‘No Exit’), is about the realisation that ‘one receives one’s being through the eyes of others’. The roots of the Dutch word venster, like the English word ‘window’, can be traced back to the Old Norse word vindauga ‘wind-eye’ an opening in a wall through which the wind blows. The word deur ‘door’ in English has links to the Slavic word dva, which also means ‘two’. This vividly reminds me of Wittgenstein’s house in Vienna, where the spaces are always interconnected by pairs of doors: one door to open and one to close.

If I cast my mind back to Mr. Moriyama’s house, then I see spaces and white walls with windows, elevation and depth. The various spaces are interconnected by passageways or windows, but that distinction is sometimes absent. The in-between spaces are rooms with no fixed boundaries and are at one with the house. A plant or a small tree is enough to conjure up the intimacy of a room. Everything resonates with the notion of a welcoming reception: one space welcomes the other and without noticing it the visitor is participating in this interplay. I very much wanted my sculptures to be part of this.

If I think back to this past summer in Japan, after visiting Tokyo and Mr. Moriyama’s house I spent some time travelling by train, and in my mind’s eye I can see the little houses in the landscape. With my eyes wandering across fields, my gaze roving from house to paddy field, from narrow irrigation ditches to a small concrete bridge, and then to the next house. I was knocking at the doors with my eyes and found someone who was waiting for me, standing on a narrow path between the paddy fields. Now and then I saw a grey, upright stone with engraved characters. Clouds floated immobile over the mountains and in the evening the shadows cast by the houses grew longer. The dark water of the river drew the penumbra of night into the valley from far away. I understood how life was perfectly at home in the world. The motion of the train no longer had any hold on my perceptions. I brought the world to a standstill and rendered it perfectly still. Everything was in its proper place. There are, of course, reasons for why the world is as it is, but there was no evidence of rationale in the structure of houses, little waterways and paddy fields, or the place of people and things within this. That was not at issue. The people and the things were in harmony with the landscape and this was what I saw. It was as if the world was honouring the landscape that resided in it with a place. The landscape comprehends how people want to live.

In the Western world there is also a metaphysical significance to ‘living’ in the sense of being accommodated and residing somewhere, enjoying shelter and leading one’s own life. The home reflects its inhabitant’s consciousness. The house is the physical expression of his or her self-awareness. Building a house is a methodical realization of one’s self-awareness in the vector of temporality. This implies that the house is a space for the future, a space of possibilities.
Mr. Moriyama’s house in the city is to the visitor who temporarily joins those who reside there as a country is to the traveller. In both worlds I encountered the same openness, which provided exactly the right footing that one needs to feel at home there.

The evening with its many visitors slowly faded into night, and it became still. Anything and everything was possible still. My sculptures found a place, just like me, because there is a place for everything in Mr. Moriyama’s house.

Henk Visch
March 2007
Published in 2007 in the Architectural Magazine Kenchiku Note

Top