At the end of the 7th century, Empress Jito, the third of until today only eight women to lead the world’s oldest continuing monarchy, did something striking. She had a shrine deconstructed only to have an exact copy reconstructed right next to it. What would become one of the world’s most influential rituals had begun.
Today, some 1300 years later, this ritual is still repeated, alternating on two adjacent sites every 20 years. The occupied site is rendered strangely mundane and at the same time elevated by the absence on the other where the traces of the past indicate the future. In a permanent state of transition, the shrine is both old and new.
While Ise is exceptional in preserving the original by continuously de- and re-constructing it, the state of permanent transition has been driving the evolution of an entire culture.
Ise reminds us that culture is a living process. Its origins are humbly pragmatic: Rice storages in the Yayoi period had to be rebuilt frequently and —since they were sustaining the life of a people— with seamless continuity.
In a culture which has, even after becoming sedentary, kept favouring the temporary over the permanent, process over completion, openness over closure, emptiness is the space of opportunity. Architecture is about temporary occupation of emptiness.
Moving between rituals and language, art and urbanism, fashion and food, the lecture looks at absence as a defining concept for a culture of permanent transition and discusses some of FBA’s findings whilst exploring what this could entail for architecture and urbanism.
[selected slides from the lecture]