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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


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 chapter, 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 (風水 Ch. fēng shuǐ, Jp. fūsui)––, it is generally assumed that Kyoto is vitalized by the invisible flow of qi (Ch. qì 氣, Jp. ki 気, “life force” or “cosmic breath”) 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. Be it implicitly or explicitly, from the outset or post hoc, fengshui-derived concepts informed––at least in part and for different reasons––the design of the architectural projects discussed here. Moreover, it will become clear that the three architects behind the projects, Hara Hiroshi 原広司, Isozaki Arata 磯崎新, and Umebayashi Katsu 梅林克, each differ in their level of commitment to fengshui, ranging from a near-total immersion to a more casual engagement with and isolated application of its principles.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInvisible Empire: Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan
EditorsFabio Rambelli
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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