The Very Narrow House
Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.
―Jean Luc Godard
When C. first contacted us with a request to find a site for —“perhaps”— a building, it was clear that, despite knowing anything else, the insertion of a self-assured “perhaps” would make it difficult not to accept. It was too intriguing.
Did the “perhaps” mean that she felt a building too defined a concept for what she was after?
Or merely that very likely nothing would happen?
But, C. insisted, she was committed to buying the land. As long as it was central and perfectly connected. She needed to be everywhere in no time. Her day, she continued, revolved around infrastructure. So much so that there were hardly any intervals greater than one hour during which she would not in some way or another be using the city’s many means of transportation. Except for what she called the “necessary, yet essentially boring routine intervals”: sleeping. Her “staying connected” was very physical, face-to-face, and for that reason she considered herself a traditional worker, not hiding that she enjoyed when others described her as charmingly anachronistic. She often had difficulties explaining to these others that her mind was only allowed to rest when her feet and arms were in action. The meditation of a long-distance runner.
2: The Presentation
The presentation took place on a Sunday morning four weeks after our first meeting. It began with peeling sheet after sheet of urban layers, slowly zooming in on the most logical locations. We were looking at Tokyo’s infrastructural nodes, maps showing physical space distorted by travel-time, the distribution of major underground pockets.
Most of the four weeks had been spent dissecting. The actual “house”, which we had known from the beginning to be inseparable from the site and proposed despite having been tasked with finding the site only, was a logical byproduct of our search: not more than the anatomist’s blade that separates and thereby connects. Looking for a site had become the project.
“The Very Narrow House is a staircase. It cuts through the fabric that makes up the city. Occupying a footprint of merely 13 square metres in a 150-centimetre-wide urban gap, it stitches vertical layers of the city’s infrastructure. You can enter it on street level on one side, exit, a few flights up, onto an elevated highway via a park deck for your 750cc Kawasaki, or access it through the underground passage leading to the Iidabashi metro station.
Although there are doors on many levels separating what one might be tempted to call the inside of the house, there is no clear beginning or end: The very narrow house continues the way you move through the city. As you change direction, speed, focus, you never cease to be part of the city’s flows. Because it is more open than closed, the house is, perhaps, the ultimate inside of the city. It is the city’s anywhere.
The fascination of the site is its problem. It is more than a phantasm. We have hunted it down. It exists. In fact, it exists everywhere.”
From the moment she saw our proposal, C. confided later, she was in love with the space. She said it was the tension between constant motion and confined concentration that she felt by looking at the models and drawings. It was about feeling one’s bare bones. Like the city, the house did not force her to stand still. Indeed, a sequence of stairs that “look like an accordion which must be pulled apart to fill it” was the embodiment of her idea of movement. It was giving the horizontal squeeze of the narrow gap the freedom in the vertical.
Several weeks (we refused to call it months) went by with no trace of C. other than a transfer to our bank account. Had reality cooled the love of the first moments? Was there simply no time in her schedule? Older projects were completed, new ones began, but the one that we wanted the most was drying up. There are projects that continue without client, driven by the involuntary curiosity of the reader of an unfinished book who cannot help but continue the story to find out what happens after the end. With the twist that reader and author have been the same from the beginning.