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Ark Nova: Aestheticizing Space as a Means to Making Territory


Designed for the recovery of a community’s spirit, an inflatable concert hall traveled to Japan in the wake of an earthquake to unite space fragmented by catastrophe.

The 2011 earthquake in Fukushima resulted in monumental damage, both materially and symbolically. In response, British artist, Anish Kapoor and Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki designed an inflatable concert hall known as the Ark Nova. With room for 500 people, the purpose of the hall is to bring music to where it’s most needed. While Kapoor has dedicated his work to exploring space through sculpture, and to demonstrating what happens to us when we’re empty, he also doesn’t lack in fulfilling symbolic potential.

To rebuild the place’s cultural structure – its territoriality – this inflatable cathedral is intended for the beauty of music, but it return an opportunity for space to also be a place of communion. The Ark Nova’s mobility, its material lightness, and its absence of anchors within space make it a metaphor for healing in the face of contingency. As Marc Kushner asserted, the inflatable structure invites us to look upwards, not only for the majesty of its own form but for the clean, open panorama it offers: a pureness of spatiality and possibility.

Into the void of the resounding silence – like a cry drowned by surprise – an aesthetic takes place. It’s a suspension of fact. What matters least is the functionality of the building or its durability. What matters, then is the eternal instant, even more, present than the present itself. What matters is how, through this purely contemplative moment – ephemeral – a path leads to a new life, to reconstruction, and to different territories. That art can launch these discourses and these exercises in aesthetics also then lead us to territories where communal wellbeing is just as often celebrated. With the catastrophe, the recovery of symbolic territory became just as important as the reassembly of buildings.

Such architecture plays on both sides. Space is the beginning, the essential ground where everything else unfolds. While something fluid may lack in materiality, it conditions the materiality of everything else. In spite of this, an earthquake announces that while it destroys buildings and rethinks our urbanism, space is not the same as territory. Space is a dimension and territory is composed of the tensions provoked by all of our different ways of inhabiting space. Territory is cultural and ideological. When buildings fall, what we’ve lost is not housing, but normality: that which is done, suffers or possesses through either continuation or through habit.

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