Architecture & Superflat space
PhD/Doctoral dissertation, TU Graz (2006-09)  

Superflat is an artistic interpretation of contemporary Japanese society and culture by well known artist Takashi Murakami (1962) that fueled the phenomenally popular Japanese art and design scene in the first decade of this millennium. Murakami’s compelling narrative about tendencies toward planarity in Japanese art and a lack of depth in capitalist and culture markets more generally became interesting to me after having spent several months in a high-profile Tokyo studio. Although deeply rooted in contradictions, Murakami’s neo-pop concept for the Western gaze also seems to aptly describe aspects of architecture’s reached impasse: Being both part of the politics of commodification and the expression of cultural difference in a world of global consumption, superflat and Murakami's own work and practice seem to not only mirror architecture’s precarious status quo in the creative and advertising industries but also invite further areas of thought and application in architecture production. As superflat oscillates between two- and three-dimensionality and favours multiple and transformative compositions on and as surfaces, it seems to parallel the treatment of spatiality in digital culture and might thus help indicate a specific surface aesthetic in contemporary architecture production.

Like a flat screen, superflat is both a demarcated space, one that is known and fixed, and at the same time many spaces which are continually forming and are never fully realised or fixed. Instead of turning architecture into gargantuan flat screens (see The Chanel Ginza Building, Peter Marino Architects, 2006), the three chosen Omotesando brand stores exemplify what might be understood as a more meticulous superflat sensitivity …


"Look at Japan, the prototypical model of new capitalist subjectivities. Not enough emphasis has been placed on the fact that one of the essential ingredients of the miracle mix showcased for visitors to Japan is that the collective subjectivity produced there on a massive scale combines the highest of 'high-tech' components with feudalisms and archaisms inherited from the mists of time. Once again, we find the reterritorializing function of an ambiguous monotheism - Shinto-Buddhism, a mix of animism and universal powers - contributing to the establishment of a flexible formula for subjectification going far beyond the triadic framework of capitalist Christian paths/voices. We have a lot to learn!"

Felix Guattari, „Regimes, Pathways, Subjects“, in: Jonathan Crary / Sanford Kwinter, ed. Incorporations, Zone, vol. 6, New York: Zone Books 1992, p. 31.

The dissertation gives an overview on Murakami’s neo-pop work in the first chapter. The three Omotesando brand stores by “superflat architects” (Tarō Igarashi) are analysed in detail in the second chapter. The third chapters sees a strictly contemporary spatiality and surface aesthetics in these projects at work, because they expand architecture’s tool box to a visually compelling performance of its envelope. Seemingly simple plays with transparencies avoid moral dichotomies (inside/outside, form/function, masque/reality) and focus on the immanent modulation of light and texture and thus leave the critiques of post-functionalist architecture behind.

The fourth chapter speculates on digitally assisted architecture production beyond the formalism of non-standard geometries and the singularities of starchitecture. With the ongoing research into energy harvesting in building envelopes, a promising field of superflat architectural production might fuse "Light Construction“ (Terence Riley) with digital simulation and lead to more attractive and sustainable "non-fashion" buildings. 

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Urs Hirschberg

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