Posts Tagged ‘communal’

Photo: Sunphol Sorakul/Moment via Getty Images.
Some of Kyoto’s machiya homes that mix work and living space took on a new life during the pandemic, Bloomberg reports.

The places where people worked and the places where they slept merged during the pandemic. In Japan, that change gave an ancient style of architecture renewed prominence.

As Max Zimmerman wrote at Bloomberg CityLab in May, “While the pandemic has turned many kitchens and bedrooms into makeshift home offices around the world, there’s one style of housing in Japan that’s been mixing business and living space for centuries.

“The city of Kyoto is known for its stock of unique historical structures called Machiya, which get their name from two Japanese characters: machi — which in this context can mean a neighborhood, market or group of workshops — and ya, meaning dwelling. These beautiful wooden townhouses, which mingle residences with storefronts and workshops, offer a rare window into traditional Japanese life and architecture. Their design also raises an important contemporary question: How can aging homes created for a bygone lifestyle be incorporated into a modern city?

“Despite economic and cultural headwinds, machiya have proven capable of adapting to the present — and even influencing homes in the future.  An influx of tourists before Covid-19 saw many machiya find renewed purpose as restaurants or vacation rentals, while their mixed-use design provides lessons for people adjusting their lifestyles to working at home during the pandemic. 

Kyoto’s machiya reached their maturity as an urban form as early as the 17th century when, during a tumultuous period that still preoccupies Japanese culture today, the Tokugawa Shogunate ended more than a century of political violence.

“As the city rebuilt, massive demand for housing led to a standardization of designs, materials, measurements and fittings that allowed them to be erected quickly and inexpensively throughout the city. 

“It was during this time that machiya emerged as not just homes and businesses but also the basic building blocks for the city’s wider administrative structure. In times of conflict, communities within Kyoto banded together to defend themselves, even building stockades around their neighborhoods to protect themselves from the violence. When peace was restored, the Shogunate made these groups a permanent part of the city’s administration as semi-autonomous units with the power to establish local bylaws.

“Chief among their concerns was the uniformity of each machiya, whose size and design were crucial for fostering equality and harmony among its members. These neighborhood groups regulated the width of plots, forbidding the creation of larger parcels or combining homes, and imposed strict rules on various design elements. This ensured a relatively even distribution of taxes, light, ventilation and safety — as well as a pleasing aesthetic.

“These plots became known as unagi no nedoko, or ‘eels’ beds,’ for their long and narrow proportions. These ‘beds typically started at the street with a shop unit, fronted not with walls or glass but wooden lattices that provided some visibility from the inside and privacy from the outside. The typical unit was covered in a sloping roof, clad in lines of curved tiles producing a characteristic wave-patterned surface.

“Behind the shop was the residence, composed of multipurpose rooms with tatami mat floors and sliding doors. The deepest room was reserved for the head of house and important guests, with a small courtyard garden for light and ventilation. The spine of the house was a broad corridor with a packed earth floor running down one side of the house, connecting the commercial and residential portions. This hallway was where daily functions like cooking were performed, with a toilet and bathing space at the end. While the earliest machiya were single-storied, most later examples have an upper floor used as storage or sleeping space with slitted apertures to let in light. …

“For more than 250 years, machiya were the economic, political and social glue of Kyoto — as small businesses powering the economy, as households organizing community events such as festivals, and as administrative units by which local affairs were managed. 

“They began to change in the mid-19th century, when reform-minded revolutionaries overthrew the shogunate, destroying much of Kyoto and ushering in Japan’s modern era. In its rebuilding process, the city embarked on a period of modernization by incorporating western technologies and culture. …

“Although Kyoto was spared from destruction in World War II, its aftermath endangered machiya more than any other conflict. Japan’s postwar recovery redoubled modernization efforts that produced major housing changes. In their heyday, the machiyas’ use of gardens for natural light and ventilation would have made them relatively comfortable dwellings. By new standards, however, they were cold in the winter, lacked novel necessities like modern kitchens, had poor lighting and were expensive to maintain. …

“Many owners demolished or sold their machiya to make way for western-style housing like danchi apartments. Those that held on refurbished them with modern appliances, materials and layouts. New laws also made it impossible to build machiya with traditional construction techniques, leading to a decline in their number and skilled workers who can build them. There were 40,146 surviving machiya in Kyoto as of March 2017, down from 47,735 in 2011, according to a city survey. …

“Since the early 2000s, many machiya have found new life as restaurants, cafes, and museums thanks to a nostalgic aesthetic popular among young people and tourists. Some people still use their machiya to make traditional crafts like sake and textiles, while others have been preserved as cultural landmarks. …

Garden Lab, a co-working space and residence built out of two machiya that were uninhabited for four decades, is one such example of reuse. It forms part of a restored machiya cluster that includes a coffee shop and roastery, which makes use of the machiya’s capacity to accommodate machinery. Garden Lab’s founder, Drew Wallin, says that neighbors have noted the renovation’s positive impacts on the area after their long-term abandonment. 

“Wallin founded Garden Lab, however, to demonstrate how machiya can help balance private and professional life, a struggle for many still working from home as the pandemic endures. He found that machiya’s incorporation of natural light and outside air fostered healthier routines in ways that artificially lit, climate-controlled  homes fall short. Their reliance on the sun for light and warmth, for example, can help residents detach from work in the evenings and improve sleep habits as night set in. “

More at Bloomberg, here. Great photos. No firewall.

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Photos: Hunterdon Art Museum
The exhibit From the Ground Up: Peters Valley School of Craft” can be seen at the Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, New Jersey) or online through January 10, 2021. 

I first heard about an unusual crafting community in New Jersey when Ann sent me a video of her online textile instructor. Peters Valley School of Craft was founded in 1970, but it has the vibe of a early American craft colony. That sense of highly skilled artisans with a united, focused purpose also reminds me of the Rochester Folk Art Guild, which we used to frequent when we lived in upstate New York.

Here’s a report on an exhibit celebrating Peters Valley School’s 50th year.

Ilene Dube writes at Hyperallergic, “I recently visited the Peters Valley Craft Fair, usually held in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. This year, without leaving home, I could drop in on artists in their studios in Buffalo, New York, Portland, Maine, and Bristol, Connecticut, within a matter of minutes, watching them work and talking with them one-on-one about their processes. And this past summer, I was able to attend Peters Valley faculty presentations — one of the highlight events for those studying at Peters Valley School of Craft — every Friday night via Zoom. I traveled to studios all over the world.

“Physically based in Layton, New Jersey, Peters Valley School of Craft is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey — and yes, you can … visit live if you are properly masked. From the Ground Up, on view through January 10, recounts the story of Peters Valley from its earliest formation as an experimental craft colony, to the prominence of its women blacksmiths in the early 2000s. What better way to tell the story than through the works in fiber, jewelry, ceramics, wood, photography, and metal produced during artist residencies?

“Peters Valley began in 1970 as a planned colony of resident blacksmiths, ceramists, fiber artists, metalsmiths, woodworkers, and photographers who populated the site’s 18th- and 19th-century buildings. Over time, Peters Valley’s (non-degree) educational mission evolved into the craft school it is today, bringing together students with artists of local, national, and international renown for immersive workshops.

“Peters Valley was the ancestral home of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, Delaware Nation, and Stockbridge-Munsee Community. Dutch and British colonists forced their removal beginning in the 17th century, then worked the farmland for generations.

“Peters Valley acquired the land as a result of the aborted, and controversial, 1950 proposal to build the Tocks Island Dam, which would have created a 37-mile reservoir between New Jersey and Pennsylvania but instead became the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Among the 72,000 acres acquired through eminent domain was the village of Bevans, now home to Peters Valley.

“The founders had to convince the National Park Service of the value of putting a craft community there, and the original craft fair was produced to gauge interest. With 30 exhibitors, the organizers expected hundreds would visit; thousands came.

“In a soon-to-be-published catalogue, Andrew Willner, one of the first residents-in-wood, recounts that a week before students were to arrive that first summer in 1971, the small team realized everyone had to be housed and fed, and sprang into action.

“ ‘We found a prep table, an old refrigerator, and made a dining room,’ Willner said.

‘The dormitory was fashioned from an old farmhouse. We planted a garden, and by August that garden was feeding people who were enrolled in classes and staying at the valley. For many of us, it was our first experience living communally and it has had lifelong implications. …

“ ‘Learning from each other was an important element. We were in and out of each other’s homes and studios. All of us were able to take a hand at iron forging, jewelry making, ceramic and fiber arts. We even baked bread together.’

“My enchantment goes back to visiting as a teenager when my parents had a summer home in the nearby Pocono Mountains. … The hand-made ceramics and weavings, as well as the soot on the blacksmiths’ overalls and the stir-fried veggies served over brown rice at that early craft festival made me feel like I was among my people. …

“Participants share meals, mostly vegetarian, in the communal dining hall. In the summer of 2019, I met and was starstruck by the blacksmith and faculty member Elizabeth Brim, who renders frilly dresses, strappy stilettos, and bonnets in iron, transforming the gender expectations of her childhood. …

“In addition to its acclaimed blacksmithing and fiber art classes, Peters Valley is known in the ceramics world for its anagama kiln. ‘It gives you surfaces that are stunningly beautiful and really can’t be made any other way,’ said Peters Valley Executive Director Kristin Muller, who found her way to Peters Valley as a ceramic artist and wood-fire expert. Muller’s ‘Pod Vessel,’ fired in the anagama, is on view at the Hunterdon.

“Anagama kilns were introduced to Japan from Korea in the third century. Japanese kiln builder Katsuyuki Sakazume spent a year constructing the 46-foot long, tunnel-like structure, burrowing into the hillside at Peters Valley. Fired only once a year, it takes two to three days to load, and another five to six days to fire, burning 25,000 pounds of wood. A community forms around the ritual, which involves stoking the fire round the clock. The flames, gases, and ashes exposed to the clay in the single-chamber kiln impart their magic to the finished piece. It is said that the fire is an active participant in the process.”

Read more about this unusual place at Hyperallergic, here.

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For better or worse, no movement ever dies out completely. The hippies and Rainbow Children of the 1960s seem to have morphed into something called the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a “disorganization” that has annual, playful camp-outs in the wild. (The Wikipedia editors say the entry on the group, here, needs work, but I think it gives you an idea.)

Jessica Rinaldi at the Boston Globe took a lot of photos at the July 2016 gathering in Vermont.

Here’s what she says about the event: “Each year, for a few weeks in summer, a loose confederation of like-minded souls called the Rainbow Family of Living Light quietly converts a site in a public forest somewhere in the United States into a communal living space for thousands.

“Campsites are established, latrines are dug, and an elaborate water filtration system is erected to bring water from nearby streams. While the group’s origin is a bit cloudy, it’s generally accepted that the first ‘official’ gathering of the Rainbow Family was in Colorado in 1972. For the summer of 2016, they gathered in Mt. Tabor.”

Is this the escape you’ve been looking for?

Rinaldi’s photos are available at the Boston Globe, here.

Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
The Rainbow Family gathering draws free spirits from across the country, including this man dressed as a tree-like Ent from “The Lord of the Rings” at the 2016 event, held on public land near Mount Tabor, Vermont. Great array of photos to be found here.

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