Could Architecture Help You Live Forever?

Could Architecture Help You Live Forever?

The “study room,” a bright yellow sphere, has the reverberating acoustics of a concert hall. All the apartments consist of largely the same components, configured differently, and some residents have chosen to leave the study empty, naked in its novelty; others have decorated the ceiling with photographs to make a reclining gallery, and a few have lined the bowl-shaped floor with pillows, transforming the space into a ’60s-style crash pad.

The constant change in elevations can be disorienting, which is the point. Depending on where you are, the apartment can make you feel like a giant, or a child. From inside the circular sunken kitchen in the middle of the living room, the counter is level with your torso; on the other side of the counter, it only reaches your knees. The result is an exercise in a jarring sort of mindfulness, one that forces you to constantly recalibrate, adapt and adjust. Waking up in the middle of the night and moving around is a bit like negotiating the surface of the moon.

The apartments come with directions — 32 in all. The preface suggests a resident be “a biotopologist,” defined as someone who “produces and lives within a multidimensional interactive diagram.” Other directions include: “Go into this unit as someone who is at the same time both 2 or 3 years old and 100 years old” and “Every month move through your loft as a different animal (snake, deer, tortoise, elephant, giraffe, penguin, etc.).”

CreditArakawa and Madeline Gins, “Reverse–Symmetry–Transverse Envelope Hall,” 1987, graphite on paper © 2018 Estate of Madeline Gins, reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins, photo by Nicholas Knight

Nobu Yamaoka, a filmmaker who lived in unit 201, a two-bedroom, between 2006 and 2010, with his wife and their two young children, took his mission as biotopologist seriously. During his time there, he worked on “Children Who Won’t Die,” a documentary released in 2010 that blends the intimacy of family life — the birth of his daughter, the death of his grandmother — with a philosophical exploration of Reversible Destiny. The film includes footage of Arakawa speaking at a conference, expressing his frustration with the status quo: “Even though we’ve been given these incredible organisms, we ignore them. We make fantastic highways for cars, leaving only a tiny space for people. We’re profoundly wrong about the way humans live.”

Yamaoka says Reversible Destiny forever changed him, both emotionally and physically. The constant stimulus of merely living in the space was like practicing yoga; in the first few months, he lost weight, felt more energetic and was no longer bothered by hay fever. The only reason the family gave up the loft was because the children began attending school in a different neighborhood. Moving into a conventional home with muted colors, level floors and flat walls after living in Gins and Arakawa’s work was enervating. “It was so strange,” he says, “and I was so tired.”

ALONG WITH PRIVATE residences, Arakawa and Gins also made public works, including the Site of Reversible Destiny Park in Yoro, about 30 miles northwest of Nagoya, which was completed in 1995. Part fun house, part obstacle course, the four-acre park, which is frequented as much by young couples as by families, has brightly colored buildings and labyrinths, undulating hills and sloping paths — the sharp inclines, unexpected craters and blind corners can be perilous (helmets and sneakers are available upon request). The architects strewed decaying relics of domesticity — sinks, desks, bed frames, couches, mattresses, toilets — throughout the space, some planted amid the mazelike structures, others, like subterranean artifacts, buried but visible beneath transparent walkways. The detritus seems to pose existential questions: How much of this stuff do we need, and what does it say about us that our things last longer than we do?

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