The Reversible Destiny Lofts were built in 2005 in suburbian Mitaka in Tokyo. The project concept, coined by Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins and termed procedural architecture, was the first of its kind. Designed in memory of Helen Keller, the textures, shapes, and circulation pathways accentuate our senses beyond what meets the eye. She became a source of inspiration as she fought the stigma she faced and was able to “Reverse her destiny”. Apart from being an essential part of the architectural dialogue, it serves as rental housing and a host to a multitude of educational and cultural programs.
1. The lofts are an outcome of unexpected fields of research
Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins are artists, architects and poets. They are founders of the Architectural Body Research Foundation that collaborates with a multidisciplinary team of practitioners actively studying experimental biology, neuroscience, quantum physics, experimental phenomenology, and medicine. The lofts are both an outcome and a significant addition to this extensive body of research.
2. The lofts aim to educate users on empathy for one another and themselves
Apart from stimulating the senses, the lofts host a variety of challenges for its users. Some of the spaces are more accessible to children, while some for older adults. By creating areas that require different skill sets, they allow us to empathise with one another. Another goal Arakawa had in mind was to encourage users to challenge themselves and realise that their bodies can surprise them. The spaces remind users that their form does not limit them.
3. The ultimate goal of the project was to resolve the concept of death
Arakawa and Gin’s project ethos aimed to promote longevity by activating and stimulating the body and mind. Their philosophy was simple; Death is a process, which the body is continually trying to fight. By focusing on our bodies’ limitations at different points in our life, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to focus on its strengths. By engaging with stimulating environments, we push ourselves to experience life exponentially. Accepting a perpetual state of instability enhances the body’s capacities and how it interacts with the world on multiple levels. This acceptance allows you to develop grace in embracing death. This grace comes from observing the world through your senses and your mind.
4. The functionality of the rooms is upside-down
Apart from the whimsically thrilling circular rooms, storage for the residents is not available in the form of storage units on the floor or closets in the walls. The spaces thrill their occupants by having diverse options of load-bearing hooks with a capacity to hold over a hundred kilograms on the ceiling to hang their belongings. This topsy turvy approach also encourages users to re-think the significance of their belongings.
5. Movement along the building requires more than just walking
The flooring in the Reversible Destiny Lofts is uneven. The unevenness persists due to the employment of mortar and natural materials. Parts of the floor are slanted, making it difficult to walk and maintain balance. There are two unevenness levels, one suited towards adults and the other for children. This unevenness is deliberate to encourage users to employ the brackets, hooks and poles along the walls, floors and ceilings to maintain their balance; this promotes the use of all faculties. By altering thoughtless patterns of movement, the lofts steer its residents to examine their actions minutely and to reconsider, thereby, recalibrate their poise and self-possession, causing them to doubt themselves long enough to find a way to reinvent themselves.
6. The colour palette is deliberate
The Reversible Destiny Lofts are an odd mixture of colourful rooms painted in vivid colours of yellow, orange, green, and blue. The entire interior is composed of a palette of fourteen different colours – a number mainly chosen for its careful balance of challenging perspective, and yet not over-stimulating the eyes at once.
7. This is the only art installation by Arakawa, where people are permitted to live
The couple first explored their findings of Reversible Destiny in their seminal gallery piece, “The Mechanism of Meaning,” an ever-evolving manifesto-cum-artwork begun in 1963. With the idea of the reversal of one’s life, Arakawa has chosen “undying” as a theme to explore throughout his lifetime. Between his three “experience-based” artworks in Japan, this is the only one that allows people to live in it. Currently, the building functions as rental housing, office space, and a centre for educational and cultural programs.
8. No interior elements have a pre-designated function
The building is devoid of any traditional furniture; even the floors are slant with lumps as large as ant-hills. The office on the first floor has a swing that functions as a make-shift desk. The hooks on the ceilings serve as storage or hangers for hammocks. The kitchen slabs and their stairs become dining spaces. Electrical outlets dangle on retractable cords from the ceiling. Among the other fixtures are a metal climbing pole, a floor-to-ceiling built-in ladder and gymnastic rings. The interior elements host the potential to be utilised in any way imaginable. This flexibility challenges our notions of purpose and function. It permits us to question our rigidity and need for an ordained operation of daily objects.
9. The apartment complex comes with instructions
“As you step into this unit, believe you are walking into your immune system”; this is only one of the 32 instructions that come with occupying the reversible destiny lofts. The preface recommends that its residents be bio-topologists – someone who “produces and lives within a multidimensional interactive diagram.” Other directions range from asking a user to enter a unit as a two-year-old and a one-hundred-year-old simultaneously. One requires you to be a different animal each month – a snake, deer, tortoise, elephant, giraffe, penguin or anything else. If all else fails, “ensure that you treat each room as if it were you – as if it were an extension of you.”
10. The structure comes from the shape
The structure displays an aversion to right angles. When present, they show an absence of symmetry by combining themselves with different shapes. There are no interior columns; the whole room performs the function of traditional pillars.