Ryo Kitazawa - Kanagawa Japan
December 2010 - Marina van den Bergen
In the 2009 edition of Archiprix International, the MArchitecture  by Ryo Kitazawa was nominated as participants favorite and was one of the projects that won an Archiprix.  An interview about a profound concept (MA) and studying in Switzerland.

Can you tell something about your graduation project?
In Tokyo there are a lot of voids and alleys in-between the buildings. The character and atmosphere of these places differ enormously from the character and atmosphere one usually experiences in similar places in other countries. In Tokyo these voids in-between the buildings are mostly hidden, they don't present themselves to the formal city. But these informal public spaces are very important for the inhabitants, this is where they meet. In a sense, these voids help to build and maintain the community.
During my research, I found similarities between these specific urban spaces and the Japanese concept of MA ('gap'). So for my graduation project, I use the typology of a so-called pencil building - a high-rise apartment building - and filled it up with MA. The circulation spaces of the pencil building, which are primarily cramped and dull corridors, are replaced by three-dimensional Ma. By doing so, the circulation spaces are dramatically changed, and it is now possible to stroll in the building just as one would stroll in a city. Because of the MA, the people who live or work in these types of buildings can now interact with each other. In MArchitecture, various attractive spaces existing in the city are collected in one building. MArchitecture  is therefore an alternative to the architecture that is completely separate from the city and has no relationship at all with urban life.

Can you explain to non-Japanese readers what MA represents? You state in your project text that Ma is different from a void or a empty space. So what is it?
That is a difficult question to answer. When you look at a Japanese garden or at Japanese art, you can sense the importance of the space between the different elements. Actually there is nothing between the elements, but without this space the garden and the art cannot exist. In this MA space there is something that every individual feels and relates to in his or her own way. Human and human, object and object, each of them has a proper distance between them and the distance depends on relationship between the human and the object. So, in other words, MA shows the relationship between things. MA consistently differs, it is not distinct or fixed. This concept is different from a void and an empty space. MA is an interesting concept because it not only applies to space but also to time. For example, when we speak to each other, I wonder whether I should say something in a more serious way. Japanese people always feel the relationship and atmosphere, perhaps that is one of the reasons the Japanese appear shy. So MA is a profound concept.
In my project I designed MA so that people could behave in the same way in a tall building as they would in one of the urban voids or alleys; in other words, in spaces where people can relax, talk and gather. I designed various space with different proportions, but all the spaces are smaller than the squares and streets that can be found in countries outside Japan. To the Japanese, these urban spaces feel like they are too big.

Am I correct in thinking that Ma is a little bit like the public space in former walled city of Kowloon?
Yes that's right, in my research I also refer to Kowloon. But Kowloon was too dense, there wasn't enough space as public space. If a building is huge, it is like a boring new town. I mean, neither a huge nor tiny space is quite right. It's about having relationships and making a community, and spending time there. As for my graduation project, the void and the alley, which I call urban MA, are moderate in space and scale for that reason.

Why did you choose this subject?
When I looked carefully the city, I saw a lively space in-between buildings. In that space you can still find elements that seem to have been lost due to our rapid economic development, such as the human scale, community and so on, for example. The reason that people gather in voids or alleys is that they prefer the scale of these, and within this mental state, the Japanese share the feeling of this particular concept of MA. Those are the reasons why I have chosen this subject.
What are you doing right now?
I obtained my Bachelor's degree in 2008, and after that I enrolled for the Master's degree course at the  Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan. Right now I'm studying at the ETH in Switzerland as an exchange student for one year, and I have an internship at Miller & Maranta Architects in Basel.

 Why did you choose the ETH?
When you look at my graduation project, you can see that it is only one idea.  In Japan the only thing on my mind was how to make a new and attractive idea that no one never had thought of before. My graduation project is the result of that.
During the process I started to doubt that line of thinking, that way of designing architecture. There is much more you have to think of when designing architecture and space, but I failed to do that in Japan. At the ETH, you study the essential elements that compose architectural space, such as proportion, material and light for example.
Swiss architecture is not novel, it's more about exquisite special sensations. The tutors try to teach us how to evoke sensations when we design spaces. When you enter the buildings they designed, you can feel the spaces. We have to present our projects in drawings and perspectives, and sometimes the tutors argue for an hour over a single drawing! In one sentence: I am acquiring invaluable experience at ETH.