Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Like practitioners of many other occupations, architects are often asked to justify the meaning behind their creations or are required to envelop their proposals in appealing narratives to attract clients, to promote their projects, or to convince neighbors, city authorities, and competition jurors.
In this paper, I explore the long-held conviction that Kyoto is a city animated by various invisible agencies and how this notion has influenced its architecture between the 1990s and the early 2000s. Inspired by the belief that the city was designed and built in the late eighth century according to the core principles of site divination––popularly known as geomancy or fengshui––it is generally assumed that Kyoto is vitalized by the invisible flow of qi 気 (Jp. ki) and protected by the guardians of the four directions. Starting in the 1990s, when a fengshui boom gripped Japan, several architectural projects in Kyoto were conceived, announced, or justified with explicit reference to these practices either because of the architect’s personal beliefs, a particular client’s request, or to convince the general public of the project’s suitability to the city.
From the three projects presented here, it will also become clear that their origin narratives are not constant, nor are they linear as multiple spirit realms may be referenced at the same time and projects may accumulate multiple layers of meaning even within a short time span.
PeriodFeb 25 2017
Event titleInvisible Empire: Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan
Event typeConference
LocationSanta Barbara, United States, CaliforniaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational