If you take a stroll nowadays through one of Tokyo‘s trendy districts, such as Daikanyama or Omoto-Sando, you will repeatedly come across kyosho jutaku. Often just a few metres wide, these architecturally brilliant micro homes made of exposed concrete, glass and wood are to be found in the urban niches of Japan’s huge metropolis. According to the architect Kengo Kuma, whose Olympic Stadium will be the centrepiece of the Summer Olympics to be held here in 2020, the tradition of these simple city homes goes back to the 13th century. The mini homes became an artistic form in their own right, however, in the 1990s, when young architects, creatively and intelligently using leftover land, had complete single-family homes built on areas the size of a parking space and in the narrow, unused spaces between buildings that inside feel much more spacious than they really are. The secret recipe – using open floor plans, strategically placed tubular skylights to let in the daylight, balanced proportions and exciting tactile materials, spaces are created that are much more than the sum of their parts.
But you don‘t have to travel to Tokyo to experience the architectural tradition of the kyosho jutaku: in the remote and rugged mountain village of Vals in the Swiss Canton of Grisons, you will not only find the almost severe Zen Buddhist austerity of the Therme Vals, the spa designed by Peter Zumthor and built almost entirely of locally quarried quartzite slabs – in the adjoining 7132 Hotel, Japan’s grand masters of architecture, none other than Kengo Kuma and Tadao Ando, have also immortalised themselves with individually designed micro suites. Anyone who has ever spent the night in Ando‘s tiny, 20-square-metre homage to a Japanese tea house or in Kuma‘s equally compact oak-panelled will see the possible ways of using living space in a totally new light.
A philosophy of things is something you encounter frequently in Japan. At first sight, buildings and objects appear to be simple, almost banal – but on closer examination, however, turned out to be well thought out and beautifully balanced down to the finest detail. The aesthetic objective is not a craving for admiration at all costs, but rather harmony. And a clear attitude that is evident behind the form. There’s a perfectly good reason why the small black Braun alarm clocks created by the designer Dieter Rams, which you will only find in Europe these days in antique shops, are still being produced and held in reverence in Japan. Why reinvent what is ultimately a perfect product, if it already exists? Porsche too has been building the 911 for more than 50 years now and has never compromised – and is loved for its consistency and timelessness by design purists and sport drivers alike. With the paradigm shift resulting from the arrival of e-mobility and automated driving, however, Porsche is now being forced to take a fresh look at the car as a space in which we live and communicate. And with its “Mission E“, has chosen to take an approach that is impressive in terms of both its aesthetic and its functional consequences.
The evolution of e-mobility and automated driving has ultimately resulted in a change in the principles of car design. No longer does the position of the engine or the main purpose for which it is used determine the car’s appearance. Instead, cars in future will be designed around the space the passengers occupy during the journey they are making and in which they react with each other with the aid of harmoniously integrated interfaces between the car and the environment. Car brands will no longer represent individual products, such as sports cars or SUVs, but – in much the same way today as a brand, such as Apple – will stand for a recognisable design philosophy and the persuasive power of their ideas. Instead of creating new levels of complexity, the cars of tomorrow should rather stand for clarity and ease. And instead of audio-visual noise, they should represent contemplative silence.
Even the new Porsche, which is now celebrating its debut in Geneva, does not intend to impress potential buyers with flickering ornamental shapes and decorative frills. It is not a multifaceted object that changes its character every time it is seen from a different angle, but is rather a fully-integrated concept that has taken the interplay of countless elements – from the side window line to the interface – to create a single, coherent and harmonious whole. A minimalist tea house on wheels, as it were. Even if, admittedly, a very fast one.
The members of the design team have consistently taken full advantage of the most advanced technical means available to them to create space and expand it digitally. Instead of loads of fancy details and endless rows of switches, you are now presented with an imposing, monochrome-looking interface and a lighting concept designed to create moods with colours. In terms of its exterior design, Porsche‘s electric supercar is also breaking new ground – and with its science-fiction look is certain to make its presence felt in the series: the three-dimensional rear lights made of glass with integrated Porsche lettering alone have what it takes to become a third distinguishing feature alongside the brand topography and Porsche crest. “When I design buildings,” the Japanese master architect Tadao Ando once said, “I think of the total composition, much as the parts of a body would fit together. On top of that, I think about how people will approach the building and experience that space.” It is the composition of the kind of holistically conceived architectural experience of space that will play a key role in future car designs and is expressed in Porsche’s current “Mission E” concept cars.