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Architecture of the Interval

An analysis of ma with Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre on the London South Bank Ricky Kwok University of Brighton: L3 Architecture rgkwok@gmail.com History and Theory in Spatial Design: Dissertation [AD373, AD392] Tutor: Yat Ming Loo submission:14.01.2010 Word Count: 6748


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Contents

Introduction é–“ - Ma

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Of architecture and Symbiosis A sense of context

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The Fourth Theatre

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Space Time Perception

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Conclusion

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Source of Illustrations Bibliography

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Introduction

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” – Mahatma Ghandi

Modern society today operates faster than it ever has, technological advancements have sped up our way of life. We work faster and faster, producing more and more, communication becomes more efficiently than ever and pervasive than ever in our information age. media touches all aspects of our lives, there is little time when something is not being communicated to us. Architecture and urban space too are becoming ‘faster’. City transport enables us to our destination faster, stores find ways to make shopping more efficient. There are fewer and fewer gaps to rest in our society. Time and space are squeezed together, Spaces crash into each other, but occasionally we do find places of respite and they are treasured. I became interested in the concept of ma after first encountering it in its use by Japanese architects such as Kisho Kurokawa and SANAA. The appeal of an idea that prizes the importance in the ‘space’ between spaces or the ‘space’ contained in a room were very interesting. Perhaps in this idea, modern architecture; which still appears cold 4

and alienating at times, can become more human. This dissertation attempts to explore some aspects of ma to unravel the mystery behind this term, one which has had much difficulty in crossing a language and cultural barrier. I believe that the idea of ma is one that can be applied universally and need not be restricted to the Japanese archipelago. I believe that Denys Lasdun’s Royal National Theatre on London’s South Bank has some qualities of ma. I would like to explore the intermediary space of the foyer with the use of ma to come closer to the understanding of the ‘interval’ that is ma. Perhaps first it is important to understand the word ‘ma’ and its etymology.


間- MA [ma 間]     1.(space inbetween) INTERVAL, space, opening, distance     2. (time between) INTERVAL, duration of time, period     3. BETWEEN, among     4. timing, situation, occasion     5. room, chamber -The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary

Together, the character depicts the moment moonlight shining through the gap of an entranceway.1 Suggesting the gap holds the greatest potential, the light shines through ma. Günter Nitschke observes that the ideogram expresses the ‘simultaneous components of a sense of place: the objective given aspect, and the subjective, felt aspect.2 The dictionary defines ‘ma’ primarily as space. However in Japanese usage, it has temporal connotations as well as spatial, an interval. Ma occupies a different territory to the English usage of space. Space in the English languages speaks of volumetric area. Ma is; as Nitschke terms it, a consciousness of place.3 Dealing with continuity in the relationships between object, intervals and also the subjective personal experiences.

In Japanese, the Chinese character is used to write ‘ma’. The singular character is comprised of two components.

門-

The character for door, pictographically representing the two swings of a door.

曰- The character for sun. This was originally written as 月meaning moon.

To put simply, Ma is the temporal interval between two different phenomena or between two contradictory elements or between dimensions of varying natures4.

Günter Nitschke, “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.” Architectural Design vol. 36, (March 1966), p117. 2 Günter Nitschke, Ma: Place, Space and Void, Kyoto: Kyoto Journal No. 8, (1988), p. 49. 3 Günter Nitschke “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.”, p116. 4 Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, (Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1988) p55.

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fig 1. The intermedieatry space of the Japanese Engawa House of light, 2004, James Turrell (photo by Joi Ito)

To further understand the character of Ma, it is maybe useful to understand a little of Japanese culture. Kisho Kurokawa states that the “Spacial[sic] character of Japanese culture can perhaps best be described by its multiplicity of “greys”.5 Grey represents the Japanese “multidimensional cultural essence, a synthesis of contradictions”.6 Ma is an embodiment of this essence, describable as a grey-zone or buffer-zone. The Japanese traditionally understood the world as a network of events separated by non-eventful intervals. This ‘sense of place’ stems from the belief that certain objects in nature; with unusual physical phenomena, were locations that kami (spirits) were believed to occupy. These objects were called shintai when permanently occupied and Yoshiro when intermittently occupied. The “spatial

and temporal ‘events’,”7 of these unusual forms with the temporal occupation by kami form the basis of the Japanese sense of place. The identity of the place is thus derived from this intertwining of space and time. The non-eventful intervals between ‘events’ are what is defined as ma. The ‘space’ that Ma expresses is different to the opposing concept of objective three-dimensional space. An example of Ma can be illustrated by the Japanese engawa (veranda). Engawa (fig. 1) runs the perimeter of a house and sit under extended eaves. Serving multiple purposes, it acts as a corridor connecting rooms; sheltering from sun and rain, and as a welcoming area for guests amongst other functions8. It is a space which does not belong exclusively to exterior or interior but mediates be-

Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by Way of Cyberspace, [Japan: Muroran Institute of Technology, 1999], p3 8 Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p53. 7

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ibid., p53. Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p54.


fig 2. Inkwash painting, note the large areas of untouched space. Mynah Bird on an Old Tree, Zhu Da (source: Wikipedia)

tween the two. Seeking to maintain an in-between quality, a third realm merging exterior and interior. This is the gray essence of Ma that Kurokawa speaks of. Ma can be said to have Ku, Japanese for void. Ku relates to Buddhist concepts of sunyata, absolute emptiness. Sunyata postulates no delineation between existence and nonexistence, but that both exist in tandem within Ku. Ku is therefore an idea or possibility that “embraces all contradictions and paradoxes.”9 Thus the void has limitless potential for expression. An awareness of Ma is one that cannot be grasped on a “basis of functionalism and rationalism alone.”10 Ma responds to the mental, spiritual or philosophical needs of the occupant. Ma is an integral part to many forms of Japanese art; in painting, calligraphy, music and theatre, Ma is used 9 10

ibid., p55. Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p56

to imbued meaning and expression. Oriental ink painting (fig. 2) is characterized by its use of simple expressive brush strokes, against a background of largely ­­ untouched white paper. The aim of this sumi-e style is not to simply reproduce a subject, but to capture its soul or essence. The dimension of time manifested as the speed and rhythm of strokes imbued the subject with feeling11. The craft of non-form as important as the form of strokes.­­The technique of leaving space is the Ma in painting. The effect allows the stimulation of the viewer’s imagination. And so the space possesses “fullness of meaning”12 and expression. The usage of Ma in Japanese as to mean time interval, presents to us a perception of time as ‘space in flow’13. The Günter Nitschke, From, Shinto to Ando Architectural Studies in Architectural Anthropology in Japan, (London: Academy Editions, 1995), p56 12 Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, (1988). p55 13 Günter Nitschke, From, Shinto to Ando Architectural Studies in Architectural Anthropology in Japan, p53 11

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experience of space is a time structured process. As with the example of sumi-e, the notion of time allows for event to define space. In Noh theatre and music, Ma is also a device for the expression of ‘fullness of meaning’. Noh theatre (fig 3.) contains these moments of ‘silent fullness’. The music stops and the actor holds all movement, yet within these pauses the most profound meaning is contained. The actor is able to express his role in greater capacity than other means of performance, through non movement.14 For Japanese music, ma is employed as the space between beats, the musician is allowed ma to express himself through improvisation. fig 3. A Noh actor performign on stage Noh Actor (photo: Jim Eplar)

Komparu Junio, The Noh Theatre: Principles and Perspective, (Tokyo: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983) 14

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fig 4. Plans of traditional Japanese houses

Left: Plan of the katsura Rikyo, Kyoto Right: Plan of the Rinshun-kaku now in Yokohama (source: Architectural Design vol. 36, (March 1966)

Architecture and Symbiosis

and nature, transcended into architecture.

The control of space through organization of form and space in Japanese culture evolved through many stages. Through attempts to create order, an appreciation of natural order was revealed. Nitschke separates this evolution into three stages: APPARENT DISORDER, GEOMETRIC ORDER and SOPHISTICATED ORDER. Within ‘sophisticated order’; an accumulation of previous modes of organization results in an awareness of natural order. This results in a ‘sense of beauty dependent on accident and incompleteness, as found in nature’15(fig 4). The ‘greyness’ of Japanese nature again reveals itself again. The affinity of nature found in Japanese architecture is displayed through “humanly conceived dynamic and changing structures, analogous to those visible in nature.”16. Out of this, the symbiotic relationship between humans

The relevance of Ma to architecture can be understood with the idea of symbiosis. If a building is to be considered a part of the ecosystem of urban fabric, it would follow that it supports ‘life’. Therefore being part of an eco-system is to be incomplete and intertwined. A building should have emptiness. In Ma “we see in something incomplete the chance for continuation”17.

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Günter Nitschke, “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.”, p116 ibid., p131

Much architecture today, particularly commercial architecture such as shopping centres, lacks this Ma. Here lies the problem with much ‘post modern’ architecture. Michael Benedikt writes, “The urge to make a building complete in itself and finished, a totally encompassing, dazzling, climate-controlled and conditioned experience…at

Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality (New Mexico: Lumen Books, 1987), p56 17

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fig 5. Exterior view from Waterloo Bridge, the theatre connects with its context at various levels. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Al Richardson)

the expense of realness.”18. Perhaps lacking realness refers to the inability toexpress meaning or feeling; due to a saturation of Design, commercialism, iconography, and caricatures of foreign and historic cultures, “spaces within spaces within spaces overlaid and layered four deep with thin walls and theories…no room is left for us to enter… they are full of themselves and their cleverness.”19 I would now like to further explore Ma in relation to the main foyer of the National Theatre. I believe it to be a space that embodies the notions of Ma, with many qualities that lead to a rich animated space. As a transitional interval space, the foyer is a relevant subject of discussion.

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Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p60 ibid., p60

A SENSE OF CONTEXT The National Theatre (fig 5.) was designed by Denys Lasdun and completed in 1976. It is situated on the South Bank along the River Thames, west of the Waterloo Bridge. William Curtis writes that the National Theatre embodies the main guiding ideas of Lasdun and coincides with the maturity of his language20. One of which is the idea of architecture as an extension of its surroundings. Viewed from the waterloo bridge, this virtue can be seen immediately. The material of the building can be seen to compliment its immediate context, in particular, the make up of the concrete is such that the tone of the stone resembles that of the Waterloo Bridge. Indeed the concrete also compliments the weather of London. The tonality of the William Curtis “Perspective”, Architectural Review [Special], Vol 161 no 959 (January 1977) p52 20


fig 6. View of the Strata, the overhang creates a transition between exterior and interior. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

concrete varies greatly. From a sandy warm disposition on a clear day which evokes the image of “the Alpine landscape of snowy peaks”21, to a darker somber appearance, on rainy days. The National Theatre stands in stark contrast to some of its neighbors the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, having a certain ‘lumpiness’ instead of the National Theatre’s more accomplished texture. The notion that the architecture is an extension of its surroundings is displayed by the Theatre’s handling of interior and exterior. The layered and radiating strata create ambiguity about the bounding of the building,22 the strata push and pull and flow into is context, becoming public property and opening its contents to passers-by.23 Mark Girouard, “Cosmic connections, ”, Architectural Review [Special] Vol 161 no 959 (January 1977) p7 22 William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape (London: Phaidon 1994) p110. 23 ibid., p110.

As the strata run into the interior of the structure, the public life of the building is made continuous between interior and exterior. The deep eaves and set back glazing add another dimension to the interface between the interior and exterior realms, creating a grey zone of Ma. (fig 6.) Lasdun says of his own architecture, “I call these terraces which are very horizontal in emphasis, strata, It’s a geological term which goes very well with concrete and these strata, these platforms and terraces are… public places, public domains … an extension of the city…”.24 Like the Japanese engawa; Lasdun uses the similar device of strata to promote spatial continuity “Between the public space of the streets outside and the private space inside buildings”.25 Throughout the day, the relationship of interior and exterior shift. The National

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Denys Lasdun, Quoted in William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape (Phaidon 1994), p126. 25 Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p56. 24

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fig 7. View of the Strata at night, relationship between interior and exterior shifts. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 8. View of Waterloo Bridge from interior of National Theatre, framed by the concrete structure Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

Theatre; as a piece of civic architecture, requires the acceptance and interaction of the public in order to remain relevant. The role of architecture here as a symbiotic element becomes very clear; without people, the architecture is incomplete. The success in the National Theatre’s architecture is its ability to recognize the importance of incompleteness. Viewed in daylight, the deep eaves of the strata bathe the glazing in shadow. Perhaps this is too literal an interpretation, but the shadow created under the eaves create a sense of void, beckoning public and exterior to ender with the smooth graduation of shade. The strata act as a type of semi enclosure between interior and exterior, not entirely shutting one from the other. Yet in the shadow of night, this relationship reverses. (fig 7.) The strata dissappear into darkness, and the fullness of the interior space is expressed onto street. The effect of the lighting here makes the glazing disappear, allowing the interior to appear as continuous with the exterior strata and street. 12

Japanese gardens often incorporate the surrounding landscape into its design (fig 8+9.) as an expression of symbiosis between man and nature.26 This stems from a premise of unity between building, garden and landscape, as buildings too are a part of nature. The engawa is an expression of this continuity, and the theatre strata play a similar role in expressing the grey-zone of ma. The geographic connotations of the concrete strata further entrenches the idea that the building woven into the urban landscape. In this respect, Lasdun’s architecture permeates an Asian attitude toward space. Kurokawa describes the street as an “unlimited zone that unfolds in time as it progresses”27. The street reveals different facets of itself in response to human activity. Private interior spaces may spill out onto the street and the activity of the street penetrates into the interior spaces, a mutual stimulation 26 27

Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p58. ibid, p21.


fig 9. Borrowed scenery in Japanese garden. Entsu-Ji Temple, Kyoto (photo: Nick Michelin)

fig 10. Under the eaves, activity spills outside Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

which results in a ‘warm and suggestive zone’. Important to concepts of ma is the common space represented by the street. Intermediary space is a device that “reduces the feeling of alienation created by modern architecture’s rejection of exterior space and… separation of urban space into public and private.” 28 (fig 10)

with the cityscape as a backdrop”31. Street is brought to cross into theatre in the‘fourth theatre’, “The strata act as public stages and auditoria simultaneously.”32 Perhaps this achieves the “multivalence and warmth that has been lacking in Modern Architecture”33 that Kurokawa mentions. A symbiosis of exterior and interior worlds.

As mentioned before, the strata are set back and forth in response to internal requirements. The basic strategy employed with the strata trays is to “join layer to layer, and space to space”29. Continuous use of structure and material suggest exterior space in interior and vice versa. The strata are a technique used to “express the communal nature of the building”30. This intermediary zone composes what Lasdun calls the ‘fourth theatre’. “A place for impromptu gatherings or events of all kinds

Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p21. Mark Girouard, “Cosmic connections, ”, p6. 30 William Curtis “Perspective”, p52.

ibid.,, p52. ibid., p52. 33 Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p21.

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The Fourth Theatre

(fig 11 left, fig 12 right) Interior views from floor one balcony. People animate the austere structure. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

SPACE The mediation between street and auditorium arguably makes the foyer the most interesting space in the theatre. Lasdun conceived the intermediary foyer area as a fourth theatre, in addition to the three auditoria: Oliver, Lyttleton and the Cottesloe theatre. This move lends interesting parallels to the space, particular that of the relationship between actor and stage. For in the foyer, “people are the colour and decoration.”34 (fig 11 + 12) A feature of Japanese architecture is that the layout of rooms is designed in terms that are not solely functional. But also incorporate ‘aesthetic factors; that cannot be explained in such functional terms. This is Ma in architectural terms, the ‘silent spaces’ of “withdrawal or

detachment”35. These are places that offer a feeling of comfort and calm that stem from a response to needs of metal repose and detachment36. The foyer embodies this notion of ‘silence’. It is a space that lacks definite programme, giving the space a potential dynamic. It “makes open what is complete”37. The architectural critic J.M Richards said of the national theatre “…it’s deliberately been made incomplete without people … I know of no other theatre where the audiences are given such a sense of being actors contributing to a festive occasion.”38 The qualities of emptiness and thus Ma are inherent in the foyer. For a space to be empty or incomplete is not a Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p56. ibid,, p56. 37 Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p50. 38 J.M Richards quoted in William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape (Phaidon 1994) p110. 35 36

Brian Beardsmore “Detailing the Drama”, Architectural Review [Special] Vol 161 no 959 (January 1977) p22. 34

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quality of negative connotation in this sense. The emptiness discussed here is one of receptiveness, the “emptiness of intention”.39 Michael Benedikt postulates that the ‘emptiness of intention’ is something that we attribute to nature. In the search for authenticity, for realness, is the appeal of referring to nature as a model for architecture. Within nature perhaps we can find validation. For in nature are qualities of ‘arbitrariness and inevitability’40. Nature is disinterested in the results it produces, it is beside intelligence and intention, ‘the flower does not bloom so that we can enjoy its fragrance’. Rather, in nature, something is found to be useful or beautiful. Ma is to not be enslaved to programme. It is to provide for opportunities to be found rather than a course of action be determined. As Lao Tze illustrates: “He claimed that only in vacuum lay the truly es-

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Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p52. ibid, p52

sential. The reality of a room, for instance, was to be found in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and walls, not in the roof and the walls themselves. The usefulness of the water pitcher dwelt in the emptiness where water might be put, not in the form of the pitcher or the material of which it was made. Vacuum is all potent because it is all containing. In vacuum alone motion becomes possible.”41

Perhaps in the accidental and redundant spaces of traditional architecture that are found in an otherwise organized architecture, we see an arbitrariness that challenges our will to possess them creatively. “they seem realer if not “better” than anything we could design from scratch, and that is why, increasingly, we like them”.42 The architectural expression of “Non-space or… non-geometric space’43, Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea (Tokyo: Kodansha international Ltd, 2006), p21. 42 Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p52. 43 Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by Way of Cyberspace, [Japan: Muroran Institute of Technology], p4. 41

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fig 13. The texture of the concrete is revealed by uplighting. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

Kevin Nute suggests, is perhaps the greatest challenge architects are facing at the turn of the 21st century. Traditional Shinto-Japanese precedents such as the Noh theatre were developed as rituals for the dedication to kami, being a representation of the moment of inhabitation of a space by kami44. The perception of the theatre by early Japanese may have been as “essentially a fixed interval of space overlaid with varying intervals of occupation.”45. The spaces at the National Theatre seem to have such a precedent laid into them. Returning to Lasdun’s analogy of the foyer as a ‘fourth theatre’. A stage contains no meaning solitarily, but it has inherent potential. In conjunction with actors, a set

Arata Isozaki and Ken Tadashi Oshima, Arata Isozaki (London: Phaidon 2009) p157. 45 Kevin Nute, Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture [London: Routledge 1994] p70.

and lighting, a narrative is built up to comprise a production. The front of house at the National Theatre has a similar relationship with its context, nature and visitors. Symbiotic relationships that are expressed in Ma can be seen as the key elements that constitute this space. “These interior spaces were designed to be incomplete without people in them, and for richness they relied upon mood, atmosphere, unfolding vistas and the play of light and shade rather than attached ornament.”46 (fig 13.) The prominence of symbiosis between exterior and interior as a theme is expressed through material and construction usage, the form is closely bound to such usage. Detail works with these informing ideas. Walking in through the ground level entrance, one can look up and observe the honeycomb structure as it crosses the glazing and continues from the eaves to the interior ceiling. The

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William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape, p145. 46


fig 14. Strata trays are expressed throughout interior. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

strata trays cross into the interior and express continuity. The ‘diagrid’ as Lasdun calls these honeycomb coffers, appears to flow seamlessly, draws the views of the Thames and the city into a relationship with the front of house. This move reflects a Japanese gardening practice called Shakkei (Borrowing scenery) where a landscape view is framed using foreground elements and parallax, creating a forced perspective. This collapses the view “into a space that (is) constantly in flux changing with the view and “natural” element.”47 These relationships are born of transparency, a major tenant of the National Theatre. The importance of this to Lasdun can again be seen in the detailing, he wanted the windows to be read as continuous screens (fig. 15). Struts and fillets are placed in a manner that reflects the

Hiroshi Okamoto, Time, Speed and Perception: Intervals in the Representation of Architectural Space (Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2000) p22.

fig 15. Glazed foyer facade, looking in at night. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

ratio and rhythm of the towers. This is in order to break down the creation of drastic vertical planes and maintain the horizontality of the building. Care was taken to avoid coincidences of the tops of the struts and the ribs of the diagrid48. This promotes the dissolution of boundaries between inside and out and frames the view by the concrete edges rather than by window frame. Transparency also extends spatially and psychologically. The foyer space itself is a transparent space, and allows for interesting glimpses between differing areas of the foyer. But it is also transparent in that the space is ‘projectable’. The architect and designer Masayuki Kurokawa says of the relationship between Ma and object; “The space is first and then the object, without space there is no object. An object can give a different meaning to every space particle around it, so placing an object happens in function

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William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape, p147. 48

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fig 16. Interior, ground floor. The concrete is transformed through lighting. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

of the meaning you want these space particles to have”. In theatre we are not drawn to the theatre itself or the stage, we are drawn in by the narrative on display. The staging is simply a means to relay the narrative. This runs true of the National Theatre. The choice of material and construction and detailing lend transparent stage-like qualities to the space. The silver grey concrete (fig 16.)which constitutes the structure and thus much of the visible material offers an austere backdrop, the scale and homogeneity of the concrete material used allows the material to isolate details and the activities housed within the foyer. The pervasive colour of the concrete creates a monochromatic world in which “carpets, wooden paneling, glass, aluminium and stainless steel”49 are offset. The material choices are restrained and are chosen to harmonise and enhance landWilliam Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape, p145. 49

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scape associations.50 The restrained nature of the materials form an ‘incomplete’ canvas, factoring in the play of “daylight or artificial light on faceted concrete surfaces.”51 The emphasis in this architecture rests on what the materials capture. Louis Khan said “The sun never knew how wonderful it was, until it fell on the wall of a building.” The surfaces of the theatre acts like a blank canvas. Lasdun’s use of light and vistas to enrich spaces can be observed as an interest in the non-geometric aspects, experiential space of Ma in the architecture. Lasdun remarked “I don’t want anything to come between people experiencing the theatre and your drama. It must be space, walls, light.”52 The relationship of the concrete with space is one that does not obstruct the character of the space. William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape, p151. 51 ibid., p151. 52 National Theatre, DenysLasdunandPeterHalltalkaboutthebuilding, televised on Aquarius on 29 February 1976. [Online], Available: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk [01 Jan 2010] 50


The placement of columns, walls and planes are such that they catch the light and presents patrons with a richness of space. Light transforms the grey concrete and enables the perception of its textured surfaces, the staggered and angled columns, reveal different tones and textures due to their position and the angle of incident of light.

Lloyd Wright as a student.53 Wright admired the way in which Japanese houses were temporally responsive “Nothing is allowed to stand long as a fixture upon the sacred floors of any Japanese house. Everything the family uses is designed to be removed when not in use… it is so made. Beautiful to use upon it only when appropriate and at the right moment.”54

TIME

Changes in the character of the foyer are quite apparent through the course of time according to its usage, much the changing stage of theatre. Sitting in the foyer in the early afternoon one can observe the dynamics of the space. The interplay between the artificial light and natural light change gracefully as the day wears on, creating different realms within the space. The winter light casts

The sensitivity of the space to natural phenomenal change and indeed the conception of the physical structure as being incomplete without such temporal dynamics is telling, in it reflects the architect’s interest in interpreting time as an element of architecture, an important element of Ma. His interest in time is perhaps inspired by Frank

William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape, p36, 54 Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, p61. 53

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fig 17. Natural light contrasts with the artificial light. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

a cool blue light on the concrete contrasting the artificial light from spotlights which bath the shuttered concrete walls with a warm golden tone. (fig 17) The space maintains a meditative character. Varied characters in habit the space. People come to shelter from the rain, two friends stop to have a drink, an American sits by the window organizing what appears to be very important business, another man pulls out the Guardian. A Korean couple sits kissing on the low couch to my right. The security guard stands idle and glances over at me probably wondering why I am taking photos. At this time, the space possesses an aura of something like a temple or monastery. The monolithic concrete forms are prominent and dominate the vision. The scale of unadorned concrete surfaces reduce the significance of fixtures and create a stark backdrop against which inhabitants of the space become visible with streams of light, emphasizing the relationship between the ‘event’ and the intervals of occupation. 20

fig 18. Spotlights dramatisize the space. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

Later on in the evening as night closes in, young students filter in, clutching programme leaflets. A man carefully places his coat on the sofa so that it does not crease, and then strolls over to the bar while glancing at a poster. More people enter into the space, a family sits down and their baby runs indecisively from parent to parent. The foyer starts to stir from its peaceful state as it prepares to receive theatre goers. A group of percussionists are taken around the building prior to their performance tonight. A businessman struggles to open the packaging to his baguette. The blue light fades yet more and transitions to grey. Day light fades away, as the blue light recedes, the electric lights are allowed to come into their own, washing a wall with colour bringing out its texture in great contrast. (fig 18) The space becomes much more introverted as the view of the Thames fades to black, the electric lighting becomes brighter, contrasting the dark of the outside and changing emphasis. The change in lighting also seems to have an effect on the perceived proportions of the space.


fig 19. Light falling out of a small window Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

The spatial experience modifies over time due to the temporal events and phenomena. If we read the space in terms of ma, that the space of the foyer is concerned with temporal interactions, “the ornaments of the building are people moving around” (Lasdun 1976). Then as with ma, space is “perceived as identical with the events or phenomena occurring in it; that is, space [as] recognized only in its relation to time flow.”55 The traditional Japanese building system reflects this notion where movable screens express a potential of usage when manipulated, “creating a spatial dialogue of interaction with the inhabitants.”56 The space, being dependent on the ‘events’ that occupy it, becomes a phenomena of time, so “the size of experiential Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine (1995) Japan in Traditional and Postmodern perspectives, [New York: State University of New York Press] p66. 56 Hiroshi Okamoto (2000), Time, Speed and Perception: Intervals in the Representation of Architectural Space, p12. 55

space is not so much determined by its physical dimensions, but by [the] concrete experience of the quantity and quality of the events contained in it.”57 As such space in an experiential manner can be expanded or shrunk via the ‘velocity’ of experience in terms of time and space through physical and visual movement. The conception of the theatre is to break down the barriers between audience and theatre. As civic architecture it is important to reduce these barriers between people. “Lasdun has suggested that one of the main tasks of architecture is to interpret and to promote human relationships.”58. The National Theatre recalls the early settings of theatre. Capturing the “Fundamental sense of

Gunter Nitschke, From Shinto to Ando: Studies in Architectural Anthropology in Japan, (London: Academy Editions, 1993) p35. 58 William Curtis [1994], Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape, p139. 57

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fig 20. Public performance in St Mark’s Square, Venice (source: William Curtis[1976], A Language and a Theme: The architecture of Denys Lasdun & Partners, [London: RIBA publications Ltd]

theatre as a place of gathering”59 in its horizontal strata planes. Drawing from the informal dramas taking place in the in the public street or squares, Lasdun was inspired by such images, he speaks of an image of a public performance in St Mark’s Square, Venice. (fig 20.) “An image evoking a sense of time, place and people – people engaged in creating space and form, a microcosm of the city. This picture has been a continuing inspiration to me for over a quarter of a century” (Denys Lasdun, 1983). Lasdun has taken these precedents to define the method of creation for experiential space, through the communal nature of theatre. Humans become an integral part of experiential time place. “they are a moving ornament in a big bare space that is beautifully lit and carpeted. It is the minimum. It is protected space and nothing else, with

God’s good light and sometimes electric light as well.”60 The notion of expressing ‘non-space’ is well illustrated by this example.

PERCEPTION Though the though of breaking the boundaries between city and theatre also at once seem contradictory. Requiring the transition from a reality of the city to a constructed reality of the world of theatre, a bridge between worlds. Lasdun speaks of a ‘extension of the city’ but then also states that “The building has to be very dense, because we are protecting the world from outside noises.”61 Perhaps this is the most interesting aspect of the foyer area’s function. Returning to the idea of ma, Arata Isozaki

National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about the building 61 National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about the building 60

William Curtis[1976], A Language and a Theme: The architecture of Denys Lasdun & Partners, [London: RIBA publications Ltd] p17. 59

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states that “ma ought best be thought of as “gap,” or (as with the original Sanskrit meaning) an original “difference” immanent in things.”62. Taking this with Kisho Kurokawa’s discussion of ma as a ‘world between’, blurring boundaries, we can best interpret the contradictory nature on the expression of this ‘non-space’. The foyer can best be described as place that resolves differentiations between the context of the city and the realm created by theatre, both physically and experientially by a simultaneous awareness of time and space. The blending of ‘worlds’ is achieved through the static structure in relation to the dynamic flow of occupants. That people are ‘engaged in creating space and form’ makes them a key component of the ‘place’ of the National Theatre. Lasdun conceives an analogy between the audience and the Thames; Arata Isozaki, Japan-ness in Architecture (Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of technology, 2006) p95 62

“Because I want the feeling that the audience, like the tides of the river flow into the auditoria and become a community within them. Then the tide ebbs and they come out into the creeks of the small spaces that are made by all these terraces; because they’re not vast terraces they are very small, human little places for people to go to.”63 From this, we can postulate the idea that the audience or occupants of the space are the constant that run through the places of the city context, ‘interval’ and the auditorium. Carrying their identity, they flow and mix to constitute a constantly changing but connected identity of place. This implies relativity to the sense of place. Nitschke brings us the idea of the perception of ma as subjective to the human experience, being a way of viewing or sensing the world. Relating to ma as the “quality of

National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about the building 63

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fig 21. Japanese wabi tearoom (source: Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture)

an event… as perceived by an individual”.64 The negotiation of such perception of interval or ‘nonspace’ of the foyer can be related to the well established of the Japanese wabi tearoom. (fig 21) This wabi form of tearoom, was developed by tea-master Sen Rikyū (15221591). Rikyū was a student of Zen and so “attempted to introduce the spirit of Zennism into the actualities of life.”65 The qualities of the tea room are an emulation of the Zen monastery. One of the primary Zen motives involved in the wabi style was “to remind us not to become too attached to the various illusions associated with our temporary state of physical being.”66 As a product of this notion, the wabi tearoom is an isolated, spiritual place split from its surroundings. A place in “which all such Günter Nitschke, Quoted in Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine Japan in Traditional and Postmodern perspectives, p66. 65 Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea, p31. 66 Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by Way of Cyberspace, p4.

material illusions, including the continuity of space and time, ceased to apply”.67 The participant in the ceremony is unencumbered with material distractions. Such a spirituality is achieved via several means. The ‘dewy path’ to the teahouse called roji. This approach was “deeply shaded [by] groves of trees, which are passed through along winding and leafy tunnel[s]”.68 The purpose of this was to create a “fresh sensation conductive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself ”.69 The roji signified a break from the external world in a psychological manner, and the passage into ‘self-enlightenment’. The size of the tea-room; at ten feet square, is determined by a passage in the Sutra of Vikramadytia. Eighty-four thousand disciples of Buddha visit a hut of this size; an

64

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ibid., p4. Henry Plummer,[1995] Light in Japanese Architecture (Tokyo: a+u Publishing co. Ltd) p108. 69 Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea, p31. 67 68


allegory illustrating the non-existence of space to the enlightened mind. 70 Direct reminders of time such as watches are barred from the room, as one is expected to devote oneself to the present. In a successful tea gathering mind meets mind in a “shared celebration of the moment” 71 free from the vulgarity of the outside world. The tea-house begets a meditative space to which one is expected to devote oneself entirely. One of the names for the tea-house is the Abode of the Unsymmetrical. The dynamic nature of zen philosophy stressed the process to attain, rather than perfection itself. “The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth.”72 True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete in relation to himself. Qualities of uniforKevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by Way of Cyberspace, p5. 71 Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by Way of Cyberspace, p5. 72 Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea, p31. 70

mity were considered detrimental to imagination.

The foyer of the National Theatre of course differs in many ways but the core intentions of the spaces are similar in terms of disassociation with context and the observation of moment. Concerning the differentiation between the outside context and that of the theatre, the foyer shares a similar role and method to that of the roji. Both have a role of creating this ‘interval’ and differentiation. Though one creates screens and shading through the use of foliage, reduced to the basic element of shading, the concrete structure achieves much the same on the ground level entrance. A transition through darkness through space unfolds, the concrete strata overhang commences this choreography. Sunlight is shielded from the entrance by the overhanging terrace, one can immediately notice the height closing in with the floating plane above casting shadow. The plane continues through the double doors, the visitor continues into the interior area 25


fig 22. Approach to Cloakroom.

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

and is plunged into a darkness, (fig 22.) illuminated by the soft glow of occasional electric spot lighting. Here the information desk, bookshop and cloakroom prepare visitors for the theatre. At the far end of this darkness, golden light peeks from around the corner, inviting the visitor into the foyer proper, the plane above is lifted, the space awakens anew as sunlight pours in through the windows. This choreography continues onto the approach into the auditoriums. (fig 23) On the approach to the Lyttelton theatre, the planes again begin to close in as the in-between world is left behind. The lighting becomes more subdued and the space darkens in this canal to the Lyttleton. The feeling of space here is one of a cave, from concrete light and shadow. “The zones of darkness cleanse the mind and allow it to gently forget the world outside, a quieting and freshening that is immediately felt without need of the faintest mental understanding.”73. Thus

through phenomenological means, one world links into another, while experientially, the mind is transferred into a new domain. Another mode of similarity resides in the celebration of the moment. This notion goes hand in hand with the transition of context to create such a sense of place. “The spaces within the foyers are varied in size; those immediately around each theatre being relatively small in scale so that people can stay close together during intervals in the performance and not loose the atmosphere generated by the play.”74 The sense of gathering and community is maintained on a direct physical level by these spaces, maintaining the experiential time through space. The concrete architecture was not to obstruct this process of experiencing the “fullness of the present moment in

William Curtis, A Language and a Theme: The architecture of Denys Lasdun & Partners, (London: RIBA publications Ltd, 1976) p82. 74

Henry Plummer [1995] Light in Japanese Architecture [Tokyo: a+u Publishing co. Ltd] p108. 73

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fig 23. Auditorium entrance

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

its intuitive, aesthetic immediacy as the locus of living reality”.75 Much like the austere spaces of Tadao ando and James Turrell. “Quietly, imperceptivity, it intrudes into our very apparatus of perception, drawing attention not to itself but to that which is already there. An arena for perception to happen.”76 Through the manipulation of structure, light, shadow and the presence of people, we experience moments of change through these ‘premodern’ natural elements. In becoming aware of such moments of change in our natural environment, we feel more “fully ‘alive’”.77 In the impact of such a reality, we see an architecture that reveals this true essence of things, so in ma we are shown how to see. With this, we see the achievement that many architects strive for and the qual-

ity that makes this space in the National Theatre truly fantastic; the construction of a process that allows the critical element that allows observer to invest and connect with the architecture. For the National Theatre, community and drama has been successfully integrated into such a space.

Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine Japan in Traditional and Postmodern perspectives, p66. 76 James Scarborough, “Irwin Robert: Vagaries of Perception” Flash Art 176 (Int’l Edition) (May/June1994), p96. 77 Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, p73. 75

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CONCLUSION There are many definitions that arise from the desire to explain ma, confusion arises between original and contemporary meanings; the influx of western influences and the western idea of space. As Arata Isozaki put it, Ma is best defined as ‘gap’ or a ‘difference’ inherent in things. Ma deals with the relationships between ‘events’. With the National Theatre, this mainly concerns the relationships between, context, theatre and people. Relationships are thus what the architect strives to achieve. More precisely it is fluidity of relationships. In our contemporary world, much modern architecture with its focus on function, causes feelings of alienation between interior and exterior. The city looses its continuity 28

and its community becomes divided. Ma can be attained through the super-imposition of spaces and qualities for the intermediary. Kisho Kurokawa highlight such an idea in symbiosis for a ‘world in-between’, which recognizes the relationship between architecture and environment, nature and architecture and of nature and mankind. These super impositions and relationships are not only physical but also take place in temporal and experiential space. Perhaps due to our modes of representing architecture such as photography or drawing; architecture is thought of as a static entity, yet it interacts dynamically with the time of day and the events that take place in and around the architecture. For Gunther Nitschke, ma is a ‘sense of place’, which describes the perception of objective volumetric space and the subjectivity of human experience. However ‘sense of place’ perhaps better describes the relationship of the positive event of place to the non-eventful gap of ma.


“Far from being the same, they are actually complementary opposites”.78 Nitschke suggests that the perception of these events brings us to an awareness of the world a “simultaneous awareness of the intellectual concepts form + non-form, object + space, coupled with subjective experience… it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements”.79 Places that have this experiential nature inherent; evoke a nature of “poetic, immediate, and simultaneous awareness”80, adding depth to the sense of reality, for time and space are recognized as indistinguishable in the Japanese sense; space being comprised of two-dimensional facets, with depth created by layering of these facets. Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by Way of Cyberspace, p3. 79 Günter Nitschke, “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.”, p117. 80 Joeseph Kitagawa, “’A Past of Things Present’: Notes on Major Motifs of Early Japanese Religions’” History of Religions 20/1-2 (August-November 1980), p28. 78

Space being measured by time spans between facets. As Isozaki said “the use of the word ma to express both time and space seems to be that the Japanese have understood spaces as an element formed by the interaction of facets and time,”. The awareness of the moment of changes in natural phenomena in time and space provide a connection to true reality. An affinity for pre-modern phenomena is born of the desire to connect to the reality of the world, and be freed from the artificially imposed and abstracted notions of time; returning us to a natural world. This notion is what underpins the conception and character of the National theatre. From the landscape metaphors of the structure to its use of light and intelligently thought out integration of occupation. For as with precedents of space in a Japanese shrine there is “no altar, no image to worship, only a space in which to feel.”81 Lasdun along with 81

Gregg Taylor, “Hagi: Where Japan’s revolution Began,” Na29


architects such as Louis Khan and Tadao Ando create spaces which capture the essence of pre-modern nature, environment and time. These phenomena animate with the uniqueness of the passing moment. The subject of ma is a very interesting topic and I have most likely only scratched the surface of it. But studying it has given me a greater understanding of the relationship between time and space. Initially I was not so aware of the time aspect of ma, but it turns out that aspect of time greatly interested me. Studying the relationships in architecture is very important as humans are social in nature. Perhaps this dissertation could be pushed on to research the notion of ‘pre-modern’ time more in depth. As I feel much architecture lacks a certain ‘realness’ as a result of a disconnection from the natural environment.

tional Geographic 165/6 (June 1984) p760. 30


Sources of illustrations

fig 1. The intermedieatry space of the Japanese Engawa House of light, 2004, James Turrell (photo by Joi Ito)

fig 2. Inkwash painting, note the large areas of untouched space. Mynah Bird on an Old Tree, Zhu Da (source: Wikipedia)

fig 3. A Noh actor performign on stage Noh Actor (photo: Jim Eplar)

fig 4. Plans of traditional Japanese houses

Left: Plan of the katsura Rikyo, Kyoto Right: Plan of the Rinshun-kaku now in Yokohama (source: Architectural Design vol. 36, (March 1966)

fig 5. Exterior view from Waterloo Bridge, the theatre connects with its context at various levels. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Al Richardson)

fig 6. View of the Strata, the overhang creates a transition between exterior and interior. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 7. View of the Strata at night, relationship between interior and exterior shifts. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 8. View of Waterloo Bridge from interior of National Theatre, framed by the concrete structure Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 9. Borrowed scenery in Japanese garden. Entsu-Ji Temple, Kyoto (photo: Nick Michelin)

fig 10. Under the eaves, activity spills outside

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 11. Interior views from floor one balcony. People animate the austere structure. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 12. Interior views from floor one balcony. People animate the austere structure. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 13. The texture of the concrete is revealed by uplighting. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 14. Strata trays are expressed throughout interior.

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 15. Glazed foyer facade, looking in at night.

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 16. Interior, ground floor. The concrete is transformed through lighting. Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 17. Natural light contrasts with the artificial light.

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 18. Spotlights dramatisize the space.

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 19. Light falling out of a small window

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 20. Public performance in St Mark’s Square, Venice (source: William Curtis[1976], A Language and a Theme: The architecture of Denys Lasdun & Partners, [London: RIBA publications Ltd] ) fig 21. Japanese wabi tearoom (source: Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture) fig 22. Approach to Cloakroom.

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 23. Auditorium entrance

Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

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Architecture of the Interval