Space Elevator Tea House
This imaginary architectural project is the outcome of a variety of different interests I have had. One of these is the writings of the science fiction author Arthur C. Clark, whose death last year prompted me to reread his Childhood's End after more than thirty years. This took me back to my early childhood when, at the age of six or so, I believed that by the time I grew up it would be possible to live at the bottom of the sea or in outer space. I used to spend hours and hours making drawings of imaginary futuristic cities. So why this combination of a space elevator and a tea house?
The concept of the space elevator was popularised by Arthur C. Clark in his novel The Fountain of Paradise. The idea itself was originally conceived by the Russian physicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and engineer Yuri Artsutanov. They calculated that it should be possible to create an elevator that could travel up a cable to a satellite in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres above earth. Until recently it had been thought impossible to find a material strong enough to make a cable that could span such a huge distance. This has changed, however, with the invention of the carbon nanotube. NASA and other organisations are actively experimenting with this new technology, the ambition being to create a working space elevator for the 22nd century.
I have always been fascinated by space, dinosaurs and time machines. I first became interested in space through films, manga and novels. It is only more recently that I have started reading about physics, which is hard to understand. As well as being interested in Einstein's theories themselves, I am also fascinated by what he wrote about God and the relationship between the universe and Beethoven's music.
In this respect I owe much to the Japanese journalist Tachibana Takashi, whose writings range widely across subjects such as current affairs, medicine and science (sadly none of his books have been translated into English). As early as the late 1970s Tachibana interviewed astronauts from the Apollo programme and their Russian and Japanese counterparts. It is interesting that although many of the Apollo astronauts spoke in terms of encounters with the divine, this was not the case with the Russian astronauts. While suggesting that this was to do with differences in cultural background, he observed that many of the astronauts, regardless of nationality, commented on the beauty and fragility of the earth and on the invisibility of national borders. So, once again, why this combination of a space elevator and a tea house? It's to do with the 'person – tea house – space' relationship.
It is illuminating to think about the relationship between the space we inhabit and the way in which we occupy it. We can sit on the floor, sit on a chair, stand, lie on the floor or lie on a bed. Because of my dual Japanese and English background, I'm particularly sensitive to the existence of these differences. The way in which we occupy space directly influences how we interact with others. In Japan, where families live together in small spaces, people have to create privacy in their imagination. In England you just go into your room and shut the door. Space is something that can be created both physically and in the mind.
The tea masters who invented the tea ceremony can be thought of as soul–seeking performers. There are many kinds and sizes of tea house. For this project I have taken as my model the four–and–a–half tatami–mat Yuin (Hidden Refuge) built by Sen no Sotan in the early seventeenth century. One tatami mat measures between one–and–a–half and two square metres. It is just enough space for a person to lie down on and sleep, or for two people to sit down on and eat. All Japanese architecture is based on the basic unit of the tatami mat, which is itself derived from the dimensions of the human body. The smallest tea houses can be as little as two tatami mats. Host and guests meet in these confined spaces and, through the making and sharing of tea, experience human interaction at its most intense. The tea house can indeed be thought of as a microcosm. Solitude is felt through being alone. But it can be felt even more keenly in the presence of others. My Space Elevator Tea House is a launching of this microcosm into the vastness of the universe.
Astronauts spend weeks and months living together in the narrow confines of space stations. One Russian astronaut described his spaceship as a house. In an environment without gravity (in a space elevator, two–thirds of the journey would be experienced in this way), near and far have meaning, but up and down do not. The cabins of the Apollo command modules measured six cubic metres, or a mere two cubic metres for each of the three astronauts who travelled inside them. However, since they could rest themselves against any of the internal surfaces, they did not feel as cramped as they would have done on earth. If, similarly, you were to take a four–and–a–half mat tea room and configure it as a cube, the total surface area available to its inhabitants would be six times four–and–a–half, which is 27 tatami mats.
The Space Elevator Tea House presented in this exhibition is envisioned as floating on the border of the earth's gravitational field. When, in conversation with the architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller, the Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart used the words up and down, Fuller said to him, 'you are still an earth chauvinist'. Lack of gravity renders meaningless the concepts of above, below, vertical and horizontal. What new discoveries could we make in a space elevator tea house with its undifferentiated floors, ceilings and walls, travelling beyond the grip of gravity away from an earth free of national boundaries? This project is an appeal to the imagination to think what these might be.