Interior of Takatori Catholic Church | By Bujdosó Attila
Is a concrete building necessarily more permanent than one made out of paper tubes? Japanese architect Shigeru Ban questioned the assumption that a longevity of a building depended solely on its material when he spoke at the Japan Society in New York city today. He observed us how developers often spent so much money and resources to tear down perfectly fine buildings to build new ones. In comparison, his “temporary” Takatori Catholic Church still stands today, some two decades on. Originally built in Kobe, Japan, after the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, it was deconstructed a decade later when the church needed a bigger building. They then donated Ban’s building to Taiwan’s Nantou County, where it has become a community centre and tourist attraction known as the Paper Dome.
It’s a reminder that a building’s permanence often lies outside its construction materials or even design. How a building is regarded in the eyes of those living in it is often what determines how long it stands.
It is easy to assume the linearity of time, it moves forward and never returns, thus we have past, present and future. We move towards the future, implying a uni-direction to a state of things ahead of us.
But what if the future can come to us? That is, we are moving to the future, but the future is also coming towards us. In Pamela Jackson’s Sing Out Ubik, in Histories of The Future, I first encountered this idea and it really got me thinking. Now, if the future is coming towards us, it means the prospect of a future that is entirely in your own hands becomes invalid. The future is not for yours to conquer but merely yours to encounter.
With this in mind, Simon Tay’s new book, City of Small Blessings, became a delightful read for me. The story is about a retired principal who migrates to Canada and returns to Singapore and his son who had studied in Canada and settled down there. One is the past and the other is the future, and in the book they head back to Singapore and in that moment of collision the questions of alienation, memories and who this city remembers and forgets are given birth.
Students, Canada, Singapore… this book reminds me of a few friends I have in the same situation. I hope you all are doing good and may you find your place one day.