Weak tectonics: the ambiguous role of materiality in the work of contemporary Japanese architects SANAA

Yang, Jing (2018) Weak tectonics: the ambiguous role of materiality in the work of contemporary Japanese architects SANAA. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

[img] PDF (Thesis - as examined) - Repository staff only - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (9MB)


As the overlap of real and virtual spaces takes place more and more frequently in our daily lives, it could be said that our sensibility towards embodied physical space is being affected by our experience of the virtual world. This raises the question of how architecture should respond to these changes. It seems there is a confrontation between the necessarily material dimension of architecture and the increasingly immaterial nature of the information age. A new strand of Japanese architects is pushing the limits of the dematerialisation of architecture, which has been called, by some critics, “weak architecture”. Some of the distinctive features of this weak architecture are simplicity, transparency and formal austerity, as well as a peculiar ambiguity in the expression of materiality.

Through a detailed case-study of the work of SANAA – an internationally significant and prize-winning firm of architects whose works seem to exemplify this kind of weak architecture – the thesis investigates the meaning of the term “weak” in the context of architecture, and the role that materiality plays in realising such weakness, focusing primarily on three key material features that have been identified in their work: transparency, thinness, and whiteness.

The project draws on Gianni Vattimo’s theory of weak thought, Gilles Deleuze’s concept of smooth space, the concept of liminality, and the idea of weakness in Taoist philosophy, to develop a new framework in which three themes of SANAA’s weak architecture are developed:

1. Diagram architecture

2. Architecture as landscape

3. Smooth architecture

A more comprehensive understanding of the distinctive role of materiality in SANAA’s work has been established through the new theoretical framework and the case analysis of the Rolex Learning Centre and Louvre-Lens Museum. Materiality turns out to be a vital tool in the creation of ambiguous boundaries in three key areas: between conceptual and physical manifestations of architecture; between the building and its landscape setting; and between spaces and the functions they accommodate. To consolidate those meanings, the notion of “weak tectonics” is proposed. The ambiguity of “weak tectonics” leads to, among other things, a degree of uncertainty in visual perception which encourages active bodily exploration of space. The space becomes a liminal space between the real and the virtual. The meaning that SANAA’s architecture tries to convey by means of “weak tectonics” might ultimately be a reflection of the ambiguity and paradoxes of contemporary society.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hale, Jonathan
Blackman, Toby
Keywords: weak architecture, weak tectonics, SANAA, materiality, virtual and real, ambiguity
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Built Environment
Item ID: 48944
Depositing User: Yang, Jing
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2018 04:40
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2018 15:41
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/48944

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View