Make It New: Aaron Betsky on Atelier Bow-Wow

By Betsky, Aaron | Artforum International, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Make It New: Aaron Betsky on Atelier Bow-Wow

Betsky, Aaron, Artforum International

"TO CHANGE the Japanese government, you could begin by altering the seating arrangement in parliament," says Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, one of the partners, with Momoyo Kaijima, behind the Tokyo-based Atelier Bow-Wow. Linking grand ambition to small-scale gesture marks the ideology of these architects who, like many of their colleagues, move through the realms of art and politics with as much relish as when they build houses. For them, architecture is about rearranging the ordinary so that moments of epiphany, strangeness, and beauty can slip into a home or museum like an uninvited but welcome guest. It is also their craft to allow such surplus to arise through an obsessive engagement with the most basic levels of architectural experience. "Even right now, the fact that we are able to keep on talking like this is due to the desks and chairs," continues Tsukamoto in a dialogue the firm printed in its new monograph, Bow-Wow from Post Bubble City (2006). "If there were no furniture, we would become distracted by lying down or standing up. By fixing the orientation and posture, people can concentrate on work."

A similar attitude may be attributed to a whole multigenerational collection of "slash" makers working today--architects whose practice suggests that of artists or performers--the most famous of whom in the United States is undoubtedly Diller + Scofidio (now, as the firm is more serious and designing large structures to house art as well as making art, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with more than thirty people in the office), but whose ranks include up-and-coming stars like David Adjaye in London and Jurgen Mayer H. in Germany. While the work of these architects is diverse, their scientific or semantically derived approach distinguishes their output from artists' installations and site-specific projects. To generalize, one might say that artists view the potential for inserting their art into everyday life as magicians, in the sense employed by Claude Levi-Strauss: They collect and assemble found objects, teasing out implied but unarticulated relationships among them to arrive at complete, self-sufficient worlds. Architects such as Atelier Bow-Wow, however, start not from observation and representation but analysis and documentation: They seek the hidden structures lurking behind the sensible world, breaking down different environments into abstract elements, and then assemble things that are self-consciously new, even if still clothed in familiar forms. Indeed, Kaijima, who trained at the Tokyo Institute of Technology's architecture school, did her thesis work on the syntax of architecture, and both partners have been heavily influenced by semiotic analyses by the likes of Guy Debord and Henri Lefebvre.


It is the application of such theory to the assembly and analysis of buildings and spaces that first brought them notoriety. Two of their books, Pet Architecture and Made in Tokyo (both published in 2001), are wonderfully wry catalogues of the strange constructions filling their native city, redrawn and described in such a way that they resemble insects under glass. Pet Architecture is concerned with structures appearing in the city's leftover spaces--odd triangles and deep curbs where anything from a line of soda machines to an impossibly small building might appear. These adorable little buildings, which Bow-Wow documented in photographs and axonometric drawings, show all the aspects of their grown-up counterparts, but in a somewhat undeveloped, often contorted manner--and they prompted Bow-Wow to investigate the adoption and adaptation of inventive solutions for tight and unusually shaped sites, a handy skill to have in dealing with the small commissions they were receiving as a young design office. It allowed them to create forms that employed a familiar Japanese architectural vernacular, but one that was adjusted to accommodate rapid urban growth and technological artifacts that surround one in Tokyo--and any other major city. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Make It New: Aaron Betsky on Atelier Bow-Wow


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.