Kintsugi, or kintsukuroi, is the Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with a gold lacquer—leaving it inherently more valuable than before. Traditionally confined to ceramics, architectural studio TANK has found a new application for the treasured restoration technique: applying it to the floor of a Kyoto apartment.
The apartment, known as the Xchange Apartment, is part of a larger experiment that offers artists and others a short-term residence under one condition: they give something other than money in return. Owned by Rikki Sato, a Tokyo-based designer, the project is a collaboration with Naritake Fukumoto, principal of TANK, who is known for pushing the boundaries of traditional architecture (think: a house where removable patches of the floor double as flip-flops).
The 47-square meter Xchange Apartment is the world's first "bartering apartment." Residents can rent the space for a month but they must offer a product, art, skill or something else entirely in exchange. "Anyone who can readily exchange something is eligible for application," says Yuki Asai, TANK member.
As part of Fukumoto's vision for the space, the apartment utilizes many traditional Japanese methods fused with modern techniques and practices. "The partly unfinished look of the room encourages the observer to discover what usually goes unnoticed, unappreciated," Asai says. "The kintsugi urushi-nuri (Japanese for "lacquer coating") on the other hand, demands attention. We intend this as a way for the observer to see through superficial details. We hope these elements, whether intended or not, will evoke new ideas during their stay."
The idea of applying kintsugi to the floors of the apartment was one that Fukumoto had been toying with for awhile. During construction, traditional plaster cracks as it dries, leaving large voids that are traditionally filled as the material sets. "As the cracking of mortar cement is inherent to the material, he was looking for a way to present this as a merit rather than a demerit," Asai says. While floor cracks are usually deemed as inferior workmanship (more modern, improved mortar rarely results in the same imperfections), Fukumoto saw the cracks as an opportunity to apply the familiar mending treatment of kintsugi.
"[Fukumoto] originally thought of filling the cracks with normal epoxy as the cracks propagated, but when he talked of this idea to painter Shuhei Nakamura, he suggested adding pigment," Asai says. "Any pigment could be used, so adding gold-colored pigment naturally came to as an emulation of kintsugi."
Just as traditional kintsugi requires mixing powdered gold, silver or platinum with lacquer, TANK mixed gold-colored powdered pigment with a transparent epoxy-resin to create the cohesive mortar that fills the cracks in the plaster floor. "In traditional Japanese lacquerware, urushi-nuri, the technique calls for lacquer resin-impregnated jute fabric reinforcing a wooden base to form a rigid composite structure beneath the polished upper coat," Asai says of a similar process.
After substantial cracking had occurred, Nakamura then filled the actual cracks, taking the gold-epoxy composite and applying it "bit by bit" with a thin wand, as Asai describes. The result—like kintsugi—transforms something previously thought of as 'unfortunate' imperfections into something to celebrate, not hide.
"This composite technique is like FRP (Fiber Reinforced Plastic) layering, so we chose FRP using translucent resin for the washroom floor to mimic this method," Asai says. "The translucent resin is polished to reveal the underlying glass-fiber layers over the wooden base, resulting in a translucent yet complex visual texture while achieving the material strength and waterproofing needs for the location."
Asai anticipates that cracks will continue to develop in the floor, so the treatment will be an ongoing process, with the team returning to re-apply the epoxy concoction until the plaster has definitively settled. With the construction of the apartment complete, the next step is lining up the future residents. When we last checked, flights from New York City to Osaka were $700. Any takers?
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