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Architecture of the Interval

An analysis of ma with Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre on the London South Bank

Ricky Kwok
University of Brighton: L3 Architecture
rgkwok@gmail.com
History and Theory in Spatial Design:
Dissertation [AD373, AD392]
Tutor: Yat Ming Loo
submission:14.01.2010
Word Count: 6748
2
Contents

Introduction 4
間 - Ma 5
Of architecture and Symbiosis 9
A sense of context 10
The Fourth Theatre 14
Space 14
Time 19
Perception 22
Conclusion 28
Source of Illustrations 31
Bibliography 32

3
Introduction

“There is more to life than increasing its speed”


– Mahatma Ghandi

Modern society today operates faster than it ever has, and alienating at times, can become more human.
technological advancements have sped up our way of life.
We work faster and faster, producing more and more, This dissertation attempts to explore some aspects of ma
communication becomes more efficiently than ever and to unravel the mystery behind this term, one which has
pervasive than ever in our information age. media touches had much difficulty in crossing a language and cultural
all aspects of our lives, there is little time when something barrier. I believe that the idea of ma is one that can be
is not being communicated to us. Architecture and urban applied universally and need not be restricted to the Japa-
space too are becoming ‘faster’. City transport enables us nese archipelago. I believe that Denys Lasdun’s Royal Na-
to our destination faster, stores find ways to make shop- tional Theatre on London’s South Bank has some qualities
ping more efficient. There are fewer and fewer gaps to of ma. I would like to explore the intermediary space of
rest in our society. Time and space are squeezed together, the foyer with the use of ma to come closer to the under-
Spaces crash into each other, but occasionally we do find standing of the ‘interval’ that is ma.
places of respite and they are treasured.
Perhaps first it is important to understand the word ‘ma’
I became interested in the concept of ma after first en- and its etymology.
countering it in its use by Japanese architects such as
Kisho Kurokawa and SANAA. The appeal of an idea that
prizes the importance in the ‘space’ between spaces or the
‘space’ contained in a room were very interesting. Perhaps
in this idea, modern architecture; which still appears cold
4
間- MA
Together, the character depicts the moment moonlight
shining through the gap of an entranceway.1 Suggest-
ing the gap holds the greatest potential, the light shines
through ma. Günter Nitschke observes that the ideogram
expresses the ‘simultaneous components of a sense of
place: the objective given aspect, and the subjective, felt
aspect.2

[ma 間] The dictionary defines ‘ma’ primarily as space. However


    1.(space inbetween) INTERVAL, space, opening,
in Japanese usage, it has temporal connotations as well as
distance
    2. (time between) INTERVAL, duration of time, spatial, an interval. Ma occupies a different territory to
period the English usage of space. Space in the English languages
    3. BETWEEN, among
    4. timing, situation, occasion
speaks of volumetric area. Ma is; as Nitschke terms it, a
    5. room, chamber consciousness of place.3 Dealing with continuity in the
relationships between object, intervals and also the sub-
-The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary
jective personal experiences.
In Japanese, the Chinese character 間is used to write
‘ma’. The singular character is comprised of two compo- To put simply, Ma is the temporal interval between two
nents. different phenomena or between two contradictory ele-
ments or between dimensions of varying natures4.

門- The character for door, pictographically repre-


senting the two swings of a door. 1
Günter Nitschke, “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.” Archi-
tectural Design vol. 36, (March 1966), p117.
曰- The character for sun. This was originally written Günter Nitschke, Ma: Place, Space and Void, Kyoto: Kyoto
2

Journal No. 8, (1988), p. 49.


3
Günter Nitschke “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.”, p116.
as 月meaning moon. 4
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, (Tokyo:
Weatherhill, 1988) p55.

5
fig 1. The intermedieatry space of the Japanese Engawa
House of light, 2004, James Turrell (photo by Joi Ito)

To further understand the character of Ma, it is maybe and temporal ‘events’,”7 of these unusual forms with
useful to understand a little of Japanese culture. Kisho the temporal occupation by kami form the basis of the
Kurokawa states that the “Spacial[sic] character of Japanese sense of place. The identity of the place is thus
Japanese culture can perhaps best be described by its derived from this intertwining of space and time. The
multiplicity of “greys”.5 Grey represents the Japanese non-eventful intervals between ‘events’ are what is defined
“multidimensional cultural essence, a synthesis of as ma. The ‘space’ that Ma expresses is different to the op-
contradictions”.6 Ma is an embodiment of this essence, posing concept of objective three-dimensional space.
describable as a grey-zone or buffer-zone.
An example of Ma can be illustrated by the Japanese
The Japanese traditionally understood the world as a net- engawa (veranda). Engawa (fig. 1) runs the perimeter of
work of events separated by non-eventful intervals. This a house and sit under extended eaves. Serving multiple
‘sense of place’ stems from the belief that certain objects purposes, it acts as a corridor connecting rooms; shelter-
in nature; with unusual physical phenomena, were loca- ing from sun and rain, and as a welcoming area for guests
tions that kami (spirits) were believed to occupy. These amongst other functions8. It is a space which does not
objects were called shintai when permanently occupied belong exclusively to exterior or interior but mediates be-
and Yoshiro when intermittently occupied. The “spatial

7
Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by
Way of Cyberspace, [Japan: Muroran Institute of Technology,
5
ibid., p53. 1999], p3
6
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p54. 8
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p53.
6
fig 2. Inkwash painting, note the large areas of untouched space.
Mynah Bird on an Old Tree, Zhu Da (source: Wikipedia)

tween the two. Seeking to maintain an in-between qual- to imbued meaning and expression. Oriental ink paint-
ity, a third realm merging exterior and interior. This is the ing (fig. 2) is characterized by its use of simple expressive
gray essence of Ma that Kurokawa speaks of. brush strokes, against a background of largely
­­ untouched
white paper. The aim of this sumi-e style is not to simply
Ma can be said to have Ku, Japanese for void. Ku relates reproduce a subject, but to capture its soul or essence. The
to Buddhist concepts of sunyata, absolute emptiness. dimension of time manifested as the speed and rhythm
Sunyata postulates no delineation between existence and of strokes imbued the subject with feeling11. The craft of
nonexistence, but that both exist in tandem within Ku. non-form as important as the form of strokes.­­The tech-
Ku is therefore an idea or possibility that “embraces all nique of leaving space is the Ma in painting. The effect
contradictions and paradoxes.”9 Thus the void has limit- allows the stimulation of the viewer’s imagination. And so
less potential for expression. An awareness of Ma is one the space possesses “fullness of meaning”12 and expression.
that cannot be grasped on a “basis of functionalism and
rationalism alone.”10 Ma responds to the mental, spiritual The usage of Ma in Japanese as to mean time interval,
or philosophical needs of the occupant. presents to us a perception of time as ‘space in flow’13. The

Ma is an integral part to many forms of Japanese art; 11


Günter Nitschke, From, Shinto to Ando Architectural Studies
in painting, calligraphy, music and theatre, Ma is used in Architectural Anthropology in Japan, (London: Academy Edi-
tions, 1995), p56
12
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, (1988). p55
9
ibid., p55. 13
Günter Nitschke, From, Shinto to Ando Architectural Studies
10
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p56 in Architectural Anthropology in Japan, p53
7
experience of space is a time structured process. As with
the example of sumi-e, the notion of time allows for event
to define space.

In Noh theatre and music, Ma is also a device for the


expression of ‘fullness of meaning’. Noh theatre (fig 3.)
contains these moments of ‘silent fullness’. The music
stops and the actor holds all movement, yet within these
pauses the most profound meaning is contained. The
actor is able to express his role in greater capacity than
other means of performance, through non movement.14
For Japanese music, ma is employed as the space between
beats, the musician is allowed ma to express himself
through improvisation.

fig 3. A Noh actor performign on stage


Noh Actor (photo: Jim Eplar)

14
Komparu Junio, The Noh Theatre: Principles and Perspective,
(Tokyo: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983)
8
fig 4. Plans of traditional Japanese houses
Left: Plan of the katsura Rikyo, Kyoto Right: Plan of the Rinshun-kaku now in
Yokohama (source: Architectural Design vol. 36, (March 1966)

Architecture and Symbiosis and nature, transcended into architecture.

The control of space through organization of form and The relevance of Ma to architecture can be understood
space in Japanese culture evolved through many stages. with the idea of symbiosis. If a building is to be consid-
Through attempts to create order, an appreciation of ered a part of the ecosystem of urban fabric, it would
natural order was revealed. Nitschke separates this evolu- follow that it supports ‘life’. Therefore being part of an
tion into three stages: APPARENT DISORDER, GEO- eco-system is to be incomplete and intertwined. A build-
METRIC ORDER and SOPHISTICATED ORDER. ing should have emptiness. In Ma “we see in something
Within ‘sophisticated order’; an accumulation of previous incomplete the chance for continuation”17.
modes of organization results in an awareness of natural
order. This results in a ‘sense of beauty dependent on acci- Much architecture today, particularly commercial archi-
dent and incompleteness, as found in nature’15(fig 4). The tecture such as shopping centres, lacks this Ma. Here lies
‘greyness’ of Japanese nature again reveals itself again. The the problem with much ‘post modern’ architecture. Mi-
affinity of nature found in Japanese architecture is dis- chael Benedikt writes, “The urge to make a building com-
played through “humanly conceived dynamic and chang- plete in itself and finished, a totally encompassing, daz-
ing structures, analogous to those visible in nature.”16. zling, climate-controlled and conditioned experience…at
Out of this, the symbiotic relationship between humans

15
Günter Nitschke, “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.”, p116 Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality (New
17

16
ibid., p131 Mexico: Lumen Books, 1987), p56
9
fig 5. Exterior view from Waterloo Bridge, the theatre connects with its
context at various levels.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Al Richardson)

the expense of realness.”18. Perhaps lacking realness refers A SENSE OF CONTEXT


to the inability toexpress meaning or feeling; due to a
saturation of Design, commercialism, iconography, and The National Theatre (fig 5.) was designed by Denys
caricatures of foreign and historic cultures, “spaces within Lasdun and completed in 1976. It is situated on the
spaces within spaces overlaid and layered four deep with South Bank along the River Thames, west of the Waterloo
thin walls and theories…no room is left for us to enter… Bridge. William Curtis writes that the National Theatre
they are full of themselves and their cleverness.”19 embodies the main guiding ideas of Lasdun and coincides
with the maturity of his language20. One of which is the
I would now like to further explore Ma in relation to the idea of architecture as an extension of its surroundings.
main foyer of the National Theatre. I believe it to be a Viewed from the waterloo bridge, this virtue can be seen
space that embodies the notions of Ma, with many quali- immediately.
ties that lead to a rich animated space. As a transitional
interval space, the foyer is a relevant subject of discussion. The material of the building can be seen to compliment
its immediate context, in particular, the make up of the
concrete is such that the tone of the stone resembles
that of the Waterloo Bridge. Indeed the concrete also
compliments the weather of London. The tonality of the

18
Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p60 William Curtis “Perspective”, Architectural Review [Special],
20

19
ibid., p60 Vol 161 no 959 (January 1977) p52
10
fig 6. View of the Strata, the overhang creates a transition
between exterior and interior.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

concrete varies greatly. From a sandy warm disposition As the strata run into the interior of the structure, the
on a clear day which evokes the image of “the Alpine public life of the building is made continuous between
landscape of snowy peaks”21, to a darker somber appear- interior and exterior. The deep eaves and set back glaz-
ance, on rainy days. The National Theatre stands in stark ing add another dimension to the interface between the
contrast to some of its neighbors the Hayward Gallery interior and exterior realms, creating a grey zone of Ma.
and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, having a certain ‘lumpi- (fig 6.) Lasdun says of his own architecture, “I call these
ness’ instead of the National Theatre’s more accomplished terraces which are very horizontal in emphasis, strata, It’s
texture. a geological term which goes very well with concrete and
these strata, these platforms and terraces are… public
The notion that the architecture is an extension of its places, public domains … an extension of the city…”.24
surroundings is displayed by the Theatre’s handling of
interior and exterior. The layered and radiating strata cre- Like the Japanese engawa; Lasdun uses the similar device
ate ambiguity about the bounding of the building,22 the of strata to promote spatial continuity
strata push and pull and flow into is context, becoming “Between the public space of the streets outside and the
public property and opening its contents to passers-by.23 private space inside buildings”.25 Throughout the day, the
relationship of interior and exterior shift. The National
21
Mark Girouard, “Cosmic connections, ”, Architectural Review
[Special] Vol 161 no 959 (January 1977) p7
22
William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape 24
Denys Lasdun, Quoted in William Curtis, Denys Lasdun:
(London: Phaidon 1994) p110. Architecture, City, Landscape (Phaidon 1994), p126.
23
ibid., p110. 25
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p56.
11
fig 7. View of the Strata at night, relationship be-
tween interior and exterior shifts.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 8. View of Waterloo Bridge from interior of


National Theatre, framed by the concrete structure
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

Theatre; as a piece of civic architecture, requires the ac-


ceptance and interaction of the public in order to remain Japanese gardens often incorporate the surrounding
relevant. The role of architecture here as a symbiotic ele- landscape into its design (fig 8+9.) as an expression of
ment becomes very clear; without people, the architec- symbiosis between man and nature.26 This stems from
ture is incomplete. The success in the National Theatre’s a premise of unity between building, garden and land-
architecture is its ability to recognize the importance of scape, as buildings too are a part of nature. The engawa
incompleteness. is an expression of this continuity, and the theatre strata
play a similar role in expressing the grey-zone of ma. The
Viewed in daylight, the deep eaves of the strata bathe geographic connotations of the concrete strata further en-
the glazing in shadow. Perhaps this is too literal an inter- trenches the idea that the building woven into the urban
pretation, but the shadow created under the eaves create landscape. In this respect, Lasdun’s architecture perme-
a sense of void, beckoning public and exterior to ender ates an Asian attitude toward space. Kurokawa describes
with the smooth graduation of shade. The strata act as a the street as an “unlimited zone that unfolds in time as
type of semi enclosure between interior and exterior, not it progresses”27. The street reveals different facets of itself
entirely shutting one from the other. Yet in the shadow of in response to human activity. Private interior spaces
night, this relationship reverses. (fig 7.) The strata dissap- may spill out onto the street and the activity of the street
pear into darkness, and the fullness of the interior space penetrates into the interior spaces, a mutual stimulation
is expressed onto street. The effect of the lighting here
makes the glazing disappear, allowing the interior to ap- 26
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p58.
pear as continuous with the exterior strata and street. 27
ibid, p21.
12
fig 9. Borrowed scenery in Japanese garden.
Entsu-Ji Temple, Kyoto
(photo: Nick Michelin)

fig 10. Under the eaves, activity spills outside


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

which results in a ‘warm and suggestive zone’. Important with the cityscape as a backdrop”31. Street is brought to
to concepts of ma is the common space represented by cross into theatre in the‘fourth theatre’, “The strata act
the street. Intermediary space is a device that “reduces the as public stages and auditoria simultaneously.”32 Perhaps
feeling of alienation created by modern architecture’s re- this achieves the “multivalence and warmth that has been
jection of exterior space and… separation of urban space lacking in Modern Architecture”33 that Kurokawa men-
into public and private.” 28 (fig 10) tions. A symbiosis of exterior and interior worlds.

As mentioned before, the strata are set back and forth


in response to internal requirements. The basic strat-
egy employed with the strata trays is to “join layer to
layer, and space to space”29. Continuous use of structure
and material suggest exterior space in interior and vice
versa. The strata are a technique used to “express the
communal nature of the building”30. This intermediary
zone composes what Lasdun calls the ‘fourth theatre’.
“A place for impromptu gatherings or events of all kinds

28
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p21. 31
ibid.,, p52.
29
Mark Girouard, “Cosmic connections, ”, p6. 32
ibid., p52.
30
William Curtis “Perspective”, p52. 33
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p21.
13
The Fourth Theatre

(fig 11 left, fig 12 right) Interior views from floor one balcony. People animate the austere structure.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

SPACE detachment”35. These are places that offer a feeling of


comfort and calm that stem from a response to needs of
metal repose and detachment36.
The mediation between street and auditorium arguably
makes the foyer the most interesting space in the theatre.
The foyer embodies this notion of ‘silence’. It is a space
Lasdun conceived the intermediary foyer area as a fourth
that lacks definite programme, giving the space a poten-
theatre, in addition to the three auditoria: Oliver, Lyttle-
tial dynamic. It “makes open what is complete”37. The ar-
ton and the Cottesloe theatre. This move lends interesting
chitectural critic J.M Richards said of the national theatre
parallels to the space, particular that of the relationship
“…it’s deliberately been made incomplete without people
between actor and stage. For in the foyer, “people are the
… I know of no other theatre where the audiences are
colour and decoration.”34 (fig 11 + 12)
given such a sense of being actors contributing to a festive
occasion.”38
A feature of Japanese architecture is that the layout of
rooms is designed in terms that are not solely functional.
The qualities of emptiness and thus Ma are inherent in
But also incorporate ‘aesthetic factors; that cannot be
the foyer. For a space to be empty or incomplete is not a
explained in such functional terms. This is Ma in ar-
chitectural terms, the ‘silent spaces’ of “withdrawal or
35
Kisho Kurokawa, Rediscovering Japanese Space, p56.
36
ibid,, p56.
37
Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p50.
34
Brian Beardsmore “Detailing the Drama”, Architectural 38
J.M Richards quoted in William Curtis, Denys Lasdun:
Review [Special] Vol 161 no 959 (January 1977) p22. Architecture, City, Landscape (Phaidon 1994) p110.
14
quality of negative connotation in this sense. The empti- sential. The reality of a room, for instance, was to be
found in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and
ness discussed here is one of receptiveness, the “empti-
walls, not in the roof and the walls themselves. The
ness of intention”.39 Michael Benedikt postulates that the usefulness of the water pitcher dwelt in the empti-
‘emptiness of intention’ is something that we attribute to ness where water might be put, not in the form of the
pitcher or the material of which it was made. Vacuum
nature. In the search for authenticity, for realness, is the is all potent because it is all containing. In vacuum
appeal of referring to nature as a model for architecture. alone motion becomes possible.”41
Within nature perhaps we can find validation. For in na-
ture are qualities of ‘arbitrariness and inevitability’40. Na- Perhaps in the accidental and redundant spaces of tradi-
ture is disinterested in the results it produces, it is beside tional architecture that are found in an otherwise orga-
intelligence and intention, ‘the flower does not bloom so nized architecture, we see an arbitrariness that challenges
that we can enjoy its fragrance’. Rather, in nature, some- our will to possess them creatively. “they seem realer if not
thing is found to be useful or beautiful. Ma is to not be “better” than anything we could design from scratch, and
enslaved to programme. It is to provide for opportunities that is why, increasingly, we like them”.42 The architectur-
to be found rather than a course of action be determined. al expression of “Non-space or… non-geometric space’43,
As Lao Tze illustrates:
41
Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea (Tokyo: Kodansha interna-
“He claimed that only in vacuum lay the truly es-
tional Ltd, 2006), p21.
42
Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p52.
43
Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by
39
Michael Benedikt, For an Architecture of Reality, p52. Way of Cyberspace, [Japan: Muroran Institute of Technology],
40
ibid, p52 p4.
15
fig 13. The texture of the concrete is revealed by uplighting.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

Kevin Nute suggests, is perhaps the greatest challenge ar- and lighting, a narrative is built up to comprise a produc-
chitects are facing at the turn of the 21st century. tion. The front of house at the National Theatre has a
similar relationship with its context, nature and visitors.
Traditional Shinto-Japanese precedents such as the Symbiotic relationships that are expressed in Ma can be
Noh theatre were developed as rituals for the dedica- seen as the key elements that constitute this space. “These
tion to kami, being a representation of the moment of interior spaces were designed to be incomplete without
inhabitation of a space by kami44. The perception of the people in them, and for richness they relied upon mood,
theatre by early Japanese may have been as “essentially a atmosphere, unfolding vistas and the play of light and
fixed interval of space overlaid with varying intervals of shade rather than attached ornament.”46 (fig 13.)
occupation.”45. The spaces at the National Theatre seem
to have such a precedent laid into them. The prominence of symbiosis between exterior and
interior as a theme is expressed through material and
Returning to Lasdun’s analogy of the foyer as a ‘fourth construction usage, the form is closely bound to such us-
theatre’. A stage contains no meaning solitarily, but it age. Detail works with these informing ideas. Walking in
has inherent potential. In conjunction with actors, a set through the ground level entrance, one can look up and
observe the honeycomb structure as it crosses the glazing
and continues from the eaves to the interior ceiling. The
44
Arata Isozaki and Ken Tadashi Oshima, Arata Isozaki (Lon-
don: Phaidon 2009) p157.
45
Kevin Nute, Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape,
46

[London: Routledge 1994] p70. p145.


16
fig 14. Strata trays are expressed throughout interior. fig 15. Glazed foyer facade, looking in at night.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok) (photo: Ricky Kwok)

strata trays cross into the interior and express continuity. ratio and rhythm of the towers. This is in order to break
The ‘diagrid’ as Lasdun calls these honeycomb coffers, ap- down the creation of drastic vertical planes and maintain
pears to flow seamlessly, draws the views of the Thames the horizontality of the building. Care was taken to avoid
and the city into a relationship with the front of house. coincidences of the tops of the struts and the ribs of the
This move reflects a Japanese gardening practice called diagrid48. This promotes the dissolution of boundaries
Shakkei (Borrowing scenery) where a landscape view is between inside and out and frames the view by the con-
framed using foreground elements and parallax, creating crete edges rather than by window frame.
a forced perspective. This collapses the view “into a space
that (is) constantly in flux changing with the view and Transparency also extends spatially and psychologically.
“natural” element.”47 The foyer space itself is a transparent space, and allows for
interesting glimpses between differing areas of the foyer.
These relationships are born of transparency, a major But it is also transparent in that the space is ‘projectable’.
tenant of the National Theatre. The importance of this The architect and designer Masayuki Kurokawa says of
to Lasdun can again be seen in the detailing, he wanted the relationship between Ma and object; “The space is
the windows to be read as continuous screens (fig. 15). first and then the object, without space there is no object.
Struts and fillets are placed in a manner that reflects the An object can give a different meaning to every space par-
ticle around it, so placing an object happens in function

47
Hiroshi Okamoto, Time, Speed and Perception: Intervals in
the Representation of Architectural Space (Massachusetts Institute William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape,
48

of Technology 2000) p22. p147.


17
fig 16. Interior, ground floor. The concrete is transformed through lighting.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

of the meaning you want these space particles to have”. In scape associations.50 The restrained nature of the materials
theatre we are not drawn to the theatre itself or the stage, form an ‘incomplete’ canvas, factoring in the play of
we are drawn in by the narrative on display. The staging “daylight or artificial light on faceted concrete surfaces.”51
is simply a means to relay the narrative. This runs true The emphasis in this architecture rests on what the mate-
of the National Theatre. The choice of material and con- rials capture. Louis Khan said “The sun never knew how
struction and detailing lend transparent stage-like quali- wonderful it was, until it fell on the wall of a building.”
ties to the space. The surfaces of the theatre acts like a blank canvas. Las-
dun’s use of light and vistas to enrich spaces can be ob-
The silver grey concrete (fig 16.)which constitutes the served as an interest in the non-geometric aspects, expe-
structure and thus much of the visible material offers an riential space of Ma in the architecture. Lasdun remarked
austere backdrop, the scale and homogeneity of the con- “I don’t want anything to come between people expe-
crete material used allows the material to isolate details riencing the theatre and your drama. It must be space,
and the activities housed within the foyer. The pervasive walls, light.”52 The relationship of the concrete with space
colour of the concrete creates a monochromatic world in is one that does not obstruct the character of the space.
which “carpets, wooden paneling, glass, aluminium and
stainless steel”49 are offset. The material choices are re- 50
William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape,
strained and are chosen to harmonise and enhance land- p151.
51
ibid., p151.
52
National Theatre, DenysLasdunandPeterHalltalkaboutthebuilding,
William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape,
49
televised on Aquarius on 29 February 1976. [Online], Available:
p145. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk [01 Jan 2010]
18
The placement of columns, walls and planes are such that Lloyd Wright as a student.53 Wright admired the way in
they catch the light and presents patrons with a richness which Japanese houses were temporally responsive “Noth-
of space. Light transforms the grey concrete and enables ing is allowed to stand long as a fixture upon the sacred
the perception of its textured surfaces, the staggered and floors of any Japanese house. Everything the family uses is
angled columns, reveal different tones and textures due to designed to be removed when not in use… it is so made.
their position and the angle of incident of light. Beautiful to use upon it only when appropriate and at the
right moment.”54

TIME Changes in the character of the foyer are quite apparent


through the course of time according to its usage, much
the changing stage of theatre. Sitting in the foyer in the
The sensitivity of the space to natural phenomenal change
early afternoon one can observe the dynamics of the
and indeed the conception of the physical structure as
space. The interplay between the artificial light and natu-
being incomplete without such temporal dynamics is
ral light change gracefully as the day wears on, creating
telling, in it reflects the architect’s interest in interpreting
different realms within the space. The winter light casts
time as an element of architecture, an important element
of Ma. His interest in time is perhaps inspired by Frank
53
William Curtis, Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City, Landscape,
p36,
54
Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture,
p61.
19
fig 17. Natural light contrasts with the artificial light. fig 18. Spotlights dramatisize the space.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok) (photo: Ricky Kwok)

a cool blue light on the concrete contrasting the artificial Later on in the evening as night closes in, young students
light from spotlights which bath the shuttered concrete filter in, clutching programme leaflets. A man carefully
walls with a warm golden tone. (fig 17) The space main- places his coat on the sofa so that it does not crease, and
tains a meditative character. Varied characters in habit the then strolls over to the bar while glancing at a poster.
space. People come to shelter from the rain, two friends More people enter into the space, a family sits down and
stop to have a drink, an American sits by the window or- their baby runs indecisively from parent to parent. The
ganizing what appears to be very important business, an- foyer starts to stir from its peaceful state as it prepares to
other man pulls out the Guardian. A Korean couple sits receive theatre goers. A group of percussionists are taken
kissing on the low couch to my right. The security guard around the building prior to their performance tonight.
stands idle and glances over at me probably wondering A businessman struggles to open the packaging to his
why I am taking photos. baguette. The blue light fades yet more and transitions to
grey. Day light fades away, as the blue light recedes, the
At this time, the space possesses an aura of something electric lights are allowed to come into their own, wash-
like a temple or monastery. The monolithic concrete ing a wall with colour bringing out its texture in great
forms are prominent and dominate the vision. The scale contrast. (fig 18) The space becomes much more intro-
of unadorned concrete surfaces reduce the significance of verted as the view of the Thames fades to black, the elec-
fixtures and create a stark backdrop against which inhab- tric lighting becomes brighter, contrasting the dark of the
itants of the space become visible with streams of light, outside and changing emphasis. The change in lighting
emphasizing the relationship between the ‘event’ and the also seems to have an effect on the perceived proportions
intervals of occupation. of the space.
20
fig 19. Light falling out of a small window
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

The spatial experience modifies over time due to the space is not so much determined by its physical dimen-
temporal events and phenomena. If we read the space sions, but by [the] concrete experience of the quantity
in terms of ma, that the space of the foyer is concerned and quality of the events contained in it.”57 As such space
with temporal interactions, “the ornaments of the build- in an experiential manner can be expanded or shrunk via
ing are people moving around” (Lasdun 1976). Then as the ‘velocity’ of experience in terms of time and space
with ma, space is “perceived as identical with the events through physical and visual movement.
or phenomena occurring in it; that is, space [as] recog-
nized only in its relation to time flow.”55 The traditional The conception of the theatre is to break down the bar-
Japanese building system reflects this notion where mov- riers between audience and theatre. As civic architecture
able screens express a potential of usage when manipu- it is important to reduce these barriers between people.
lated, “creating a spatial dialogue of interaction with the “Lasdun has suggested that one of the main tasks of
inhabitants.”56 architecture is to interpret and to promote human
relationships.”58. The National Theatre recalls the early
The space, being dependent on the ‘events’ that occupy it, settings of theatre. Capturing the “Fundamental sense of
becomes a phenomena of time, so “the size of experiential

55
Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine (1995) Japan in Tradi- 57
Gunter Nitschke, From Shinto to Ando: Studies in Archi-
tional and Postmodern perspectives, [New York: State University tectural Anthropology in Japan, (London: Academy Editions,
of New York Press] p66. 1993) p35.
56
Hiroshi Okamoto (2000), Time, Speed and Perception: Inter- 58
William Curtis [1994], Denys Lasdun: Architecture, City,
vals in the Representation of Architectural Space, p12. Landscape, p139.
21
fig 20. Public performance in St Mark’s Square, Venice
(source: William Curtis[1976], A Language and a Theme: The
architecture of Denys Lasdun & Partners, [London: RIBA
publications Ltd]

theatre as a place of gathering”59 in its horizontal strata God’s good light and sometimes electric light as well.”60
planes. Drawing from the informal dramas taking place The notion of expressing ‘non-space’ is well illustrated by
in the in the public street or squares, Lasdun was in- this example.
spired by such images, he speaks of an image of a public
performance in St Mark’s Square, Venice. (fig 20.) “An
image evoking a sense of time, place and people – people PERCEPTION
engaged in creating space and form, a microcosm of the Though the though of breaking the boundaries between
city. This picture has been a continuing inspiration to me city and theatre also at once seem contradictory. Requir-
for over a quarter of a century” (Denys Lasdun, 1983). ing the transition from a reality of the city to a con-
Lasdun has taken these precedents to define the method structed reality of the world of theatre, a bridge between
of creation for experiential space, through the communal worlds. Lasdun speaks of a ‘extension of the city’ but then
nature of theatre. Humans become an integral part of also states that “The building has to be very dense, be-
experiential time place. “they are a moving ornament in cause we are protecting the world from outside noises.”61
a big bare space that is beautifully lit and carpeted. It is Perhaps this is the most interesting aspect of the foyer
the minimum. It is protected space and nothing else, with area’s function. Returning to the idea of ma, Arata Isozaki

60
National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about
59
William Curtis[1976], A Language and a Theme: The archi- the building
tecture of Denys Lasdun & Partners, [London: RIBA publica- 61
National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about
tions Ltd] p17. the building
22
states that “ma ought best be thought of as “gap,” or (as
with the original Sanskrit meaning) an original “differ- “Because I want the feeling that the audience,
like the tides of the river flow into the auditoria
ence” immanent in things.”62. Taking this with Kisho
and become a community within them. Then the
Kurokawa’s discussion of ma as a ‘world between’, blur- tide ebbs and they come out into the creeks of
ring boundaries, we can best interpret the contradictory the small spaces that are made by all these terrac-
nature on the expression of this ‘non-space’. es; because they’re not vast terraces they are very
small, human little places for people to go to.”63

The foyer can best be described as place that resolves


From this, we can postulate the idea that the audi-
differentiations between the context of the city and the
ence or occupants of the space are the constant that run
realm created by theatre, both physically and experien-
through the places of the city context, ‘interval’ and the
tially by a simultaneous awareness of time and space. The
auditorium. Carrying their identity, they flow and mix
blending of ‘worlds’ is achieved through the static struc-
to constitute a constantly changing but connected iden-
ture in relation to the dynamic flow of occupants. That
tity of place. This implies relativity to the sense of place.
people are ‘engaged in creating space and form’ makes
Nitschke brings us the idea of the perception of ma as
them a key component of the ‘place’ of the National The-
subjective to the human experience, being a way of view-
atre. Lasdun conceives an analogy between the audience
ing or sensing the world. Relating to ma as the “quality of
and the Thames;

Arata Isozaki, Japan-ness in Architecture (Massachusetts:


62 63
National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about
Massachusetts Institute of technology, 2006) p95 the building
23
fig 21. Japanese wabi tearoom
(source: Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture)

an event… as perceived by an individual”.64 material illusions, including the continuity of space and
time, ceased to apply”.67 The participant in the ceremony
The negotiation of such perception of interval or ‘non- is unencumbered with material distractions. Such a spiri-
space’ of the foyer can be related to the well established tuality is achieved via several means. The ‘dewy path’ to
of the Japanese wabi tearoom. (fig 21) This wabi form of the teahouse called roji. This approach was “deeply shad-
tearoom, was developed by tea-master Sen Rikyū (1522- ed [by] groves of trees, which are passed through along
1591). Rikyū was a student of Zen and so “attempted winding and leafy tunnel[s]”.68 The purpose of this was to
to introduce the spirit of Zennism into the actualities of create a “fresh sensation conductive to the full enjoyment
life.”65 The qualities of the tea room are an emulation of of aestheticism in the tea-room itself ”.69 The roji signified
the Zen monastery. One of the primary Zen motives in- a break from the external world in a psychological man-
volved in the wabi style was “to remind us not to become ner, and the passage into ‘self-enlightenment’.
too attached to the various illusions associated with our
temporary state of physical being.”66 As a product of this The size of the tea-room; at ten feet square, is determined
notion, the wabi tearoom is an isolated, spiritual place by a passage in the Sutra of Vikramadytia. Eighty-four
split from its surroundings. A place in “which all such thousand disciples of Buddha visit a hut of this size; an

64
Günter Nitschke, Quoted in Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven
Heine Japan in Traditional and Postmodern perspectives, p66. 67
ibid., p4.
65
Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea, p31. 68
Henry Plummer,[1995] Light in Japanese Architecture (To-
66
Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by kyo: a+u Publishing co. Ltd) p108.
Way of Cyberspace, p4. 69
Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea, p31.
24
allegory illustrating the non-existence of space to the mity were considered detrimental to imagination.
enlightened mind. 70 Direct reminders of time such as
watches are barred from the room, as one is expected to
devote oneself to the present. In a successful tea gathering The foyer of the National Theatre of course differs in
mind meets mind in a “shared celebration of the mo- many ways but the core intentions of the spaces are
ment” 71 free from the vulgarity of the outside world. similar in terms of disassociation with context and the
observation of moment. Concerning the differentiation
The tea-house begets a meditative space to which one is between the outside context and that of the theatre, the
expected to devote oneself entirely. One of the names for foyer shares a similar role and method to that of the roji.
the tea-house is the Abode of the Unsymmetrical. The Both have a role of creating this ‘interval’ and differentia-
dynamic nature of zen philosophy stressed the process to tion. Though one creates screens and shading through
attain, rather than perfection itself. “The virility of life the use of foliage, reduced to the basic element of shad-
and art lay in its possibilities for growth.”72 True beauty ing, the concrete structure achieves much the same on
could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the ground level entrance. A transition through darkness
the incomplete in relation to himself. Qualities of unifor- through space unfolds, the concrete strata overhang com-
mences this choreography. Sunlight is shielded from the
70
Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by entrance by the overhanging terrace, one can immedi-
Way of Cyberspace, p5. ately notice the height closing in with the floating plane
71
Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by
above casting shadow. The plane continues through the
Way of Cyberspace, p5.
72
Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea, p31. double doors, the visitor continues into the interior area
25
fig 22. Approach to Cloakroom.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

and is plunged into a darkness, (fig 22.) illuminated by through phenomenological means, one world links into
the soft glow of occasional electric spot lighting. Here another, while experientially, the mind is transferred into
the information desk, bookshop and cloakroom prepare a new domain.
visitors for the theatre. At the far end of this darkness,
golden light peeks from around the corner, inviting the Another mode of similarity resides in the celebration of
visitor into the foyer proper, the plane above is lifted, the moment. This notion goes hand in hand with the
the space awakens anew as sunlight pours in through the transition of context to create such a sense of place. “The
windows. This choreography continues onto the approach spaces within the foyers are varied in size; those immedi-
into the auditoriums. (fig 23) On the approach to the ately around each theatre being relatively small in scale
Lyttelton theatre, the planes again begin to close in as the so that people can stay close together during intervals in
in-between world is left behind. The lighting becomes the performance and not loose the atmosphere generated
more subdued and the space darkens in this canal to the by the play.”74 The sense of gathering and community
Lyttleton. The feeling of space here is one of a cave, from is maintained on a direct physical level by these spaces,
concrete light and shadow. “The zones of darkness cleanse maintaining the experiential time through space. The
the mind and allow it to gently forget the world outside, concrete architecture was not to obstruct this process
a quieting and freshening that is immediately felt with- of experiencing the “fullness of the present moment in
out need of the faintest mental understanding.”73. Thus

74
William Curtis, A Language and a Theme: The architecture
Henry Plummer [1995] Light in Japanese Architecture [Tokyo:
73
of Denys Lasdun & Partners, (London: RIBA publications Ltd,
a+u Publishing co. Ltd] p108. 1976) p82.
26
fig 23. Auditorium entrance
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)

its intuitive, aesthetic immediacy as the locus of living ity that makes this space in the National Theatre truly
reality”.75 Much like the austere spaces of Tadao ando fantastic; the construction of a process that allows the
and James Turrell. “Quietly, imperceptivity, it intrudes critical element that allows observer to invest and connect
into our very apparatus of perception, drawing attention with the architecture. For the National Theatre, commu-
not to itself but to that which is already there. An arena nity and drama has been successfully integrated into such
for perception to happen.”76 Through the manipulation a space.
of structure, light, shadow and the presence of people,
we experience moments of change through these ‘pre-
modern’ natural elements. In becoming aware of such
moments of change in our natural environment, we feel
more “fully ‘alive’”.77 In the impact of such a reality, we
see an architecture that reveals this true essence of things,
so in ma we are shown how to see. With this, we see the
achievement that many architects strive for and the qual-

75
Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine Japan in Traditional
and Postmodern perspectives, p66.
76
James Scarborough, “Irwin Robert: Vagaries of Perception”
Flash Art 176 (Int’l Edition) (May/June1994), p96.
77
Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture,
p73.
27
and its community becomes divided. Ma can be attained
through the super-imposition of spaces and qualities for
the intermediary. Kisho Kurokawa highlight such an idea
in symbiosis for a ‘world in-between’, which recognizes
CONCLUSION the relationship between architecture and environment,
nature and architecture and of nature and mankind.
There are many definitions that arise from the desire to
explain ma, confusion arises between original and con- These super impositions and relationships are not only
temporary meanings; the influx of western influences and physical but also take place in temporal and experiential
the western idea of space. As Arata Isozaki put it, Ma is space. Perhaps due to our modes of representing archi-
best defined as ‘gap’ or a ‘difference’ inherent in things. tecture such as photography or drawing; architecture is
Ma deals with the relationships between ‘events’. With thought of as a static entity, yet it interacts dynamically
the National Theatre, this mainly concerns the relation- with the time of day and the events that take place in and
ships between, context, theatre and people. around the architecture.
Relationships are thus what the architect strives to
achieve. More precisely it is fluidity of relationships. In For Gunther Nitschke, ma is a ‘sense of place’, which
our contemporary world, much modern architecture with describes the perception of objective volumetric space
its focus on function, causes feelings of alienation be- and the subjectivity of human experience. However ‘sense
tween interior and exterior. The city looses its continuity of place’ perhaps better describes the relationship of the
positive event of place to the non-eventful gap of ma.
28
“Far from being the same, they are actually complemen- Space being measured by time spans between facets. As
tary opposites”.78 Nitschke suggests that the perception Isozaki said “the use of the word ma to express both time
of these events brings us to an awareness of the world a and space seems to be that the Japanese have understood
“simultaneous awareness of the intellectual concepts form spaces as an element formed by the interaction of facets
+ non-form, object + space, coupled with subjective expe- and time,”.
rience… it is the thing that takes place in the imagination
of the human who experiences these elements”.79 The awareness of the moment of changes in natural phe-
nomena in time and space provide a connection to true
Places that have this experiential nature inherent; evoke reality. An affinity for pre-modern phenomena is born
a nature of “poetic, immediate, and simultaneous of the desire to connect to the reality of the world, and
awareness”80, adding depth to the sense of reality, for time be freed from the artificially imposed and abstracted no-
and space are recognized as indistinguishable in the Japa- tions of time; returning us to a natural world. This notion
nese sense; space being comprised of two-dimensional is what underpins the conception and character of the
facets, with depth created by layering of these facets. National theatre. From the landscape metaphors of the
structure to its use of light and intelligently thought out
integration of occupation. For as with precedents of space
78
Kevin Nute, ‘Ma’ and the Japanese Sense of Place Revisited by
Way of Cyberspace, p3. in a Japanese shrine there is “no altar, no image to wor-
79
Günter Nitschke, “MA-The Japanese Sense of Place.”, p117. ship, only a space in which to feel.”81 Lasdun along with
80
Joeseph Kitagawa, “’A Past of Things Present’: Notes on
Major Motifs of Early Japanese Religions’” History of Religions
20/1-2 (August-November 1980), p28. 81
Gregg Taylor, “Hagi: Where Japan’s revolution Began,” Na-
29
architects such as Louis Khan and Tadao Ando create
spaces which capture the essence of pre-modern nature,
environment and time. These phenomena animate with
the uniqueness of the passing moment.

The subject of ma is a very interesting topic and I have


most likely only scratched the surface of it. But studying
it has given me a greater understanding of the relationship
between time and space. Initially I was not so aware of
the time aspect of ma, but it turns out that aspect of time
greatly interested me. Studying the relationships in archi-
tecture is very important as humans are social in nature.
Perhaps this dissertation could be pushed on to research
the notion of ‘pre-modern’ time more in depth. As I feel
much architecture lacks a certain ‘realness’ as a result of a
disconnection from the natural environment.

tional Geographic 165/6 (June 1984) p760.

30
Sources of illustrations
fig 1. The intermedieatry space of the Japanese Engawa
House of light, 2004, James Turrell (photo by Joi Ito)

fig 2. Inkwash painting, note the large areas of untouched space.


Mynah Bird on an Old Tree, Zhu Da (source: Wikipedia)

fig 3. A Noh actor performign on stage


Noh Actor (photo: Jim Eplar)

fig 4. Plans of traditional Japanese houses


Left: Plan of the katsura Rikyo, Kyoto Right: Plan of the Rinshun-kaku now in
Yokohama (source: Architectural Design vol. 36, (March 1966)

fig 5. Exterior view from Waterloo Bridge, the theatre connects with its
context at various levels.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Al Richardson)

fig 6. View of the Strata, the overhang creates a transition between


exterior and interior.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 7. View of the Strata at night, relationship between interior and


exterior shifts.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 8. View of Waterloo Bridge from interior of National Theatre,


framed by the concrete structure
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 9. Borrowed scenery in Japanese garden.


Entsu-Ji Temple, Kyoto (photo: Nick Michelin)

fig 10. Under the eaves, activity spills outside


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 11. Interior views from floor one balcony. People animate the austere structure.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 12. Interior views from floor one balcony. People animate the austere structure.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 13. The texture of the concrete is revealed by uplighting.


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 14. Strata trays are expressed throughout interior.


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 15. Glazed foyer facade, looking in at night.


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 16. Interior, ground floor. The concrete is transformed through lighting.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)

fig 17. Natural light contrasts with the artificial light.


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)
fig 18. Spotlights dramatisize the space.
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)
fig 19. Light falling out of a small window
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)
fig 20. Public performance in St Mark’s Square, Venice
(source: William Curtis[1976], A Language and a Theme: The architecture of Denys Lasdun &
Partners, [London: RIBA publications Ltd] )
fig 21. Japanese wabi tearoom
(source: Kevin Nute: Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture)

fig 22. Approach to Cloakroom.


Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun
(photo: Ricky Kwok)
fig 23. Auditorium entrance
Royal National Theatre, 1976, Denys Lasdun (photo: Ricky Kwok)
31
National Theatre (1999) Denys Lasdun and Peter Hall talk about the
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33