Reflecting on why I love to work with old buildings, perhaps an ancient Japanese phrase- Wabi Sabi- captures it more succinctly than I ever could.
“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” Richard r. Powell (2004).
This is such a humanizing idea, and one for me that is at the heart of architecture.
In contemporary translations, Wabi denotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, applicable to both natural and human-made objects. It can refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. This is of particular relevance to architecture- where every building, by virtue of ever shifting needs and contexts is, or at least should be, one of a kind.
Sabi is the beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs. Working with existing buildings, this is something our Studio is passionate about. Sabi could be equally typified by the highly polished groove in a step- worn over centuries, or in a new addition or repair, sensitively considered and delicately executed.
A good example of this embodiment may be seen in certain styles of Japanese pottery- as in this 17th C. tea bowl . In the Japanese tea ceremony (and we do like a good cup of tea in Studio 8!), the pottery items used are often rustic and simple-looking, with shapes that are not quite symmetrical, and colors or textures that appear to emphasize an unrefined or simple style. Interestingly and importantly, these are qualities that are aspired to even in the modern manufacture of similar pieces.
In one sense wabi sabi is a training, whereby one learns to find the most simple objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. In our work, this translates into periods of careful architectural research: complimenting more conventional client conversations, and contributing to schemes that recognize, and draw out, the beauty of that which is already there.