From this week, a brand new curiosity is on display at the V&A. Architect Terunobu Fujimori’s ‘Beetle’s House’ cuts a dark and crooked figure in the relative light and airiness of the Museum’s Cast Courts. The structure is part of the 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition, aimed at promoting our engagement with real architecture, offering an antidote to the standard methods of building exhibition: drawing, model or photograph.
Fujimori’s elevated tea-house, along with six other designs constructed for the Museum at full-scale, was designed to ‘examine notions of refuge and retreat’. The tough charred wood exterior (resembling a beetle’s shell) protects the visitor and the sense of intimacy, offering only two small windows to remind us that an outside world still exists.
The Japanese sense of ceremony is intrinsic in the structure’s design and materiality. Our shoes must be removed before climbing a small ladder to the compact interior, which can accommodate only four people at a time. Our heads are dipped on entry (in imitation of a bow) in order to avoid clashing with the steep pitch of the roof. Inside, yet more curiosities are to be found: a model bike, a signed picture, a set of cups and a teapot in the hearth. Perhaps testament to its importance in everyday life, the hearth is the only part of the earthy, white interior that is allowed to bulge through to the outside, penetrating the beetle’s dark, grainy shell.
Despite being crammed in amongst the Museum’s native relics and artefacts, ‘Beetle’s House’ remains a stark and solitary edifice. As if plucked from a remote Japanese mountain-top, it seems uncomfortable with the strange and busy world it has entered, harking back to a simpler time and place. With the ability to transport its visitors there too, ‘Beetle’s House’ makes a strong case for the use of 1:1 scale to create delight and intrigue.
The exhibition runs until 30 August and admission is free.