In October 2018, Trieu Chien – the photographer of 36 buildings in the book Ghe 01 went to Japan to take images of renown works designed by famous architects. Behind Trieu Chien’s cultural, architectural experience are interesting insights that he shared in the interview with Handhome.
Handhome: What’s the purpose of the trip and the reason why you chose certain buildings to visit?
Trieu Chien: I have a liking for travelling outside Vietnam a couple of times a year to experience and feel the difference between Vietnamese architecture and that in places where I go to. Japan is the country that most inspires me not only through architecture but also culture and lifestyle. Because every perspective is different, reading and looking up on magazines, Internet are not enought so I tried to go there and see for myself, I believe it’s more interesting than seeing things on pages or computer screen.
I didn’t think I’d get the chance to be in so many places, because 2 weeks before that we were in Saigon to prepare for a21studio’s Doorknob exhibition, so I only had 12 hours top to return to Hanoi and prepare everything for the trip.
You chose to visit the works of Kenzo Tange more than those of any other architect, what led you to this decision or made you interested in him?
I only have 4 days in Tokyo and 3 days in Kyoto so I didn’t have much choice. Especially this is the second time I’ve been to Tokyo so I want to visit a series of building designed by a renown Japanese architect in order to understand more about his work. That’s why I prefered Kenzo Tange, he’s considered to be pioneer of 20th century modern architecture. For me observations is the best teacher!
Which aspect of Japanese architecture impressed you the most, both traditional and modern?
After visiting some modern architectural works in Tokyo and traditional ones in Kyoto, I realized Japanese uses few materials yet they’re very skillful with them, especially in how they handle concrete and wood. The buildings are well preserved and their beauty last through ages.
Which building left the most impression on you?
This is a hard question, all of them are extraordinary. But I think the building which made me stay the longest is also the most prominent one: St. Mary Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a total contrast between material, light and internal/external space. From afar the building looks like a big luminous chunk of iron but inside it’s totally dark, the source of natural light gathers at the main ceremonial hall, the light goes inside through the cross-shaped opening on the roof. This cathedral made me realized the beauty of concrete in the dark.
Unlike any cathedral that I had visited earlier, this building has a clear sense of minimalism and doesn’t have a single decorating detail.
With your actual experience, is there any interesting aspect of Japanese architecture, culture that you’d like to talk about?
There are lots of things to say about Kyoto. Before that my thought about a resort is that it has to be big, isolated near the see or mountainous area so that people can have a serene surroundings filled with the singing of the birds or the sound of ocean waves. It wasn’t until I went to see old houses in Gion that I saw small resorts on the Kamo river bank. At first when I looked at them from the back I only thought those were old houses. But at the front they are vacation houses with courtyard, garden and ponds that carry the distinct Zen style.
In Kyoto every store or restaurant is small, there are places that serve only 3 or 4 customers and there’s not any noise coming from them. Everything is opposite to Tokyo.
Maybe Japan is totally different from what I had in mind before.
What the common character between aforementioned buildings that made Japanese architecture stand out compared to that of the world?
Not just architecture, everything that relates to Japanese art, culture are outstanding.
On the trip I got the chance to reunite with an architect friend who used to work in Vietnam, he told me: “Many people think that Japanese architecture is rigid and boring, it can easily be seen in apartment blocks or skyscrapers in Tokyo because most of them look the same in color, material and shape.” To me this is the reason why this country has so many talented individuals who have worldwide reputation. Simply because they want to go beyond the status quo to show the world that Japanese architecture is not as bland as everybody thinks.
What do you want to convey through the images taken during the trip?
I visited the building to have a clear sense of what they are and convey their spirit as real as possible. I like documenting through photographs and telling stories about my experience instead of trying to find the best camera angle.
What’s your thought on Japanese architecture after visiting the buildings?
It’s really interesting. It always makes me want to go back for more discoveries. To me architecture reflects life, culture in their native region. The breakthrough in Japanese architecture from 20th century until now is undeniable.
As the photographer for the book Ghe 01 published by Handhome, what mutual feelings do you have compared taking images of Japanese building to ones in the book?
Each trip brings me new inspiration for my work.
In Japan most of the works I visited come from the same time as some buildings I photographed in Hanoi. The only difference is that many of them are still being used and preserved almost as original.
The feelings towards my work is to carefully document, take note of modern and traditional architectural legacy in order to collaborating with other architects, organizations that are responsible for the preservation of architectural values, in a time when urbanization is happening rapidly and many cultural buildings are disappearing.