Dhillon Marty Hojoki Workshop: Team Vassilis Ganiatsas

Vassilis Ganiatsas, Professor-NTU-Athens
Miguel Puig, post-graduate student of Univ. of Tokyo
Taiwon Kim, student of Stanford University
Rena Tajima, student of Tokyo University

A Foldable CUBE

As a Mobile Pavilion of Japan-ness

To be Placed into Local Communities of JAPAN


1.     Interpreting the brief  while attaining to the broader vision

Architects do not merely comply to and implement given briefs, but mainly re-interpret and redefine problems poses and goals attained. The mode of interpreting the brief rather than mere accomplishing is what makes architecture in contrast to mere building.

In relation to the theme of the workshop being ‘a mobile pavilion to provide shelter to 2-4 visitors while expressing japan-ness and enhancing life in multiple local communities’, our team decides to follow a conceptual approach. Instead from starting from any arbitrarily chosen formal or material trait and characteristic of Japanese culture, we’d rather attempt to address the hardcore of what makes Japan-ness being expressed in multiple ways but retaining a kernel which differentiates it from other cultures of the world.

So, expression of Japan-ness is not herewith sought for giving a light-motif visual characteristic but for endowing the pavilion with a character able to be recognized as Japanese by the local communities it will communicate and interact with, able to be a familiar artifact in all possible localities of Japan islands.

2.     What is Japan-ness?   (Fig.  OO1)

In order to reach the hard core of Japanese mentality and culture it is necessary to visit its manifold manifestations and abstract out of them a common denominator, a key concept able to address the multiplicity through a general scheme.

Japan-ness is perceived in both the way it consolidates itself through numerous rituals and festivals (matsuri) as a reiteration of established cultural values, but also in the way Japanese society is absorbing and transforming external influences and cultural imports and making them parts of their culture. So, Japan-ness is both an establishment and cultural mechanism due to which culture changes and evolves in time.

3.     What should be a pavilion?

A pavilion for the accommodation of 2-4 visitors in various localities and communities of Japan should attain minimum space occupation in order to achieve minimum intervention in spatial terms and maximum communal outreach in order to be effective in cultural interaction and communication.

4.     What should be a pavilion expressing japan-ness?

A pavilion which apart from temporary accommodation has to address cultural interaction and communication cannot be a universal structure in materials and forms. Various kinds of prefabricated shelter forms like tents, spheres, eggs, etc no matter how efficient in providing a proper shelter, fail to address the issue of Japanese identity in its twofold requirement; japan-ness as expressing a distinct cultural identity of the islands of Japan as a whole and Japan-ness as expression the particular locality they are placed into and interact/communicate with.

The pavilion at stake should not be an international object, like a car or a fridge, but a local offspring. It should not be exotic, curious, bizarre and provocative like coming from outer space and landing in a Japanese settlement, but rather be familiar to local residents, reminding them of accustomed forms and materials and address local cultural issues. No matter how similar to established forms, it should somehow be perceived as belonging to a place although not in a superficial way.

5.     Methodology employed

What is needed for the pavilion in order to attain a non-obvious and no copycat cultural identity is to extract what is general and typical out of diverse and multifarious particularities, a core abstraction out the multi-faceted diachronic Japanese culture. It is much like seeking for the hidden DNA of a cultural phenomenon, or rather the seed of many flowers.

Yet, no matter how dense and representative an abstraction could be, it runs the risk of remaining an abstraction which qua abstraction could not be part of local realities.

So the task is twofold; first to arrive at some cultural core out of the existing diversity of cultural manifestations and then render this abstraction real, part of the contemporary reality of villages, cities and communities throughout Japan.

 6.     Design Proposal   (Figs.  OO2-015)


In many faces and scales of Japanese cultural expression, we have witnessed that posing limits is a key-theme that pervades many cultural practices. From the scale of the fine wrapping of gifts, where the wrapping is more elaborate and fine rather than the content, to the scale of a house as an enclosed entity, to the scale of a self referential neighborhood (machiya) or even the broader scale of the island as a clearly defined space which regulates what comes in and what comes out, limits define entities. This kind of closed-ness within limits with the limits acting like a cell’s membrane regulating incoming and outgoing issues is about Japan-ness or like a box as a container. We could describe this importance of limits as ‘box-ness’ to denote the imposition of limits as the most characteristically Japanese cultural practice. The fence (mizugaki) is the most important spatial mechanism for defining space while the very concept of space in Japanese culture is not the infinite extension of the western thought but rather what is contained within expressed with the concept of ma, which is exactly space within limits, interstitial space.

We decided to express this latent ‘box-ness’ of Japanese cultural manifestations in the form of a most abstract shape –  a cube, to express best the rigidity of limits and the transposition of meaning to the protective periphery of things.

So, the pavilion in the form of a cube should be a self defined temporary entity in the multiple localities it will be placed into.


In order for the self-defined cube to interact with the local communities is has to be able to transform its rigidity into flexibility. A foldable cube, while retaining its cubic form, can nevertheless attain many intermediate to the cube forms by being foldable to various heights reaching even the ground level to attain best openness to the natural environment but also for the local communities to visit and sit by.

The pavilion will act locally like a floor lantern (aydon), especially when lit in after dark.


Apart from its fold ability, which is carried out in its own terms as the manifestation of a latent characteristic of its own, it is necessary for the pavilion to borrow local materiality if it is to be culturally absorbed to communal terms. So, according the specific each time locality, the foldable cube will be complemented with local material which will form the basis, literary but also metaphorically, for its local significance and cultural interaction.

In those terms, the immediate environment and the foundation of the pavilion will be provided by local stones, pebbles, thatch, barks, bamboo or wood, depending on the predominant material characteristics of the locality it will be places into. In urban environments, waste material and advertisements could be the ‘materials’ that could dress the foldable


The dimensions of the cube will be 6x6x6 meters.

The main frame of the cube will be the load carrying structure and will be assembled on site by prefabricated wooden parts. A system of joints will allow the rapid and easy assembly, providing rigid and earthquake proof structure while being able to unfold to various heights according to the number of occupants and weather conditions.

Two interior panels will be diving interior space into 4 sub-regions, a corner space of 1.2×1.2 for the toilet, two spaces of 1.2×4.8 for workspace and kitchen and a unified space of 4.8×4.4 for living and sleeping place of two. An additional two beds could be provided suspended at a height of 2m over the working and kitchen zones.

The exterior of the cube will be covered by special waterproof soft cloth that could fold between the ridges of the external skeleton.

  • DESIGN: Vassilis GANIATSAS (VG), Miguel PUIG (MP), Rina Tajima(RT), Taiwon Kim
  • TEXT – Vassilis GANIATSAS