Atelier Bow Wow / Interning in Japan
My year in Japan has afforded many new experiences and opportunities, but perhaps the most formative was the opportunity for a two month internship at Atelier Bow Wow. Atelier Bow Wow is a husband-wife duo with a relatively small office of seven staff and two-five interns. They are best known for their unique homes around Tokyo, but with a growing global practice, they have completed larger scale works in several European countries. They are also known for their research and exhibits, mostly inspired by spatial phenomena in Tokyo.
The first day I walked into the office, no one said a word—not a particularly warm welcome for the new intern. When I got up the courage to introduce myself, my first task was straight to the model table where one of the staff asked, ‘Do you know how to make models?’ The question took me by surprise, as I responded with a somewhat smug, ‘Of course I know how to make models.’ So my first task was to prove it. I was directed to make six one-centimeter cubes. Easy, right? I quickly learned that I was ‘holding my knife wrong’ and that you could ‘see glue marks’ and that my edges were not beveled, exactly straight, or flush. Four hours later, I finished those six cubes to a barely acceptable level.
It was a rough first day, but over the course of the next two months, I had many opportunities to improve my model making skills, sans laser cutter. I realized that the last time I had made a model without my mechanized helper was my second quarter of school, over three years ago! I had a lot to re-learn and a completely new standard to meet. Hand modeling is such an integral part of the design process at Atelier Bow Wow. These physical iterations, not digital models or perspectives, are the single most important tool they use to conceptualize space from beginning to end—to rigorously work out details, see things in full scale, describe space to clients, problem solve, visualize materiality—and with an army of interns, they can afford to work this way. The extreme detail and perfection given to models even in a conceptual phase was unlike anything I had known, perhaps an indication of the Japanese way of doing things. I could only laugh to myself, imagining what the staff would say if they could see some of my study models.
Not only was this internship an important learning experience but it was also a cultural experience. I realized what it was like to work in a Japanese firm, and I must admit that after two months I questioned whether I was willing to do it again. The work day was from 10 am to approximately whenever everyone was ready to go home (emphasis on everyone, i.e. you stay until the last person is ready to leave), usually around 11 pm or sometimes midnight. But truly, nothing beats working in the space of House & Atelier Bow Wow or making chocolate chip cookies in Bow Wow’s kitchen with Yoshihiro Tsukamoto looking over your shoulder!
Written by Heather Ruszczyk, M.Arch 2012 candidate.