Light and Memory Interview with FOBA Architects in Kyoto


Foba Architects, based in Kyoto, Japan, is the architectural office we had the opportunity to visit. During our visit, we had the pleasure of conversing with Katsu Umebayashi, the founder of the office, and Akihiko Endo, who has been collaborating with him for a long period. Over the years, they have developed a unique and recognizable architectural style. We were grateful for their hospitality in inviting us to their Kyoto office, where they shared insights into their captivating and culturally significant projects. Besides, we were treated to a delightful serving of green tea, enhancing the overall experience. We now present the interview, please take your time and enjoy it...

I am not trying to create a single style, but I am always trying to find the simplest and most responsive "diagram" that responds to each "place", "requirement", and "program" I encounter. 

You have been in the practice of architecture for a long time. When we take a look at the projects produced by your office so far, we can say that most of your works are designed using a similar language. Capturing this in architecture, that is, creating a unique language, is a very difficult task. Could you share with us a little bit about your process up to this point?

I am glad that you can feel the underlying concept in a series of intermittent architectural projects. I am not trying to create a single style, but I am always trying to find the simplest and most responsive "diagram" that responds to each "place", "requirement", and "program" I encounter. 

We call it "SHAPE OF SPACE". The theme is "shape". Perhaps this is why our work seems to be speaking in a single language system.

The FOB Homes series is quite remarkable. I think we can think of this project as a production out of a research lab. Normally, we can see such works more in paper architecture, but putting it into practice is quite an ambitious task... How did the story of the FOB homes series come about?

FOB HOMES' work cannot be understood without understanding the Japanese housing situation and its history. After World War II, American-style detached houses became popular in Japan along with the loan system. These houses were built rapidly during the period of high economic growth. There were also European-style apartment buildings, but they did not make up a large proportion. "Suburban" residential land was developed all over Japan, and so-called "commodity housing" began to be built there. Currently, about 80% of all housing units in Japan are built in this type of housing, which has shaped the typical Japanese housing landscape. 

We have repeatedly conducted over 100 "case studies" in 15 years in search of the form of units that will become factors in the formation of towns.

The biggest problem with this "product housing" is that it tends to overemphasize the completeness of the product, and it is a "closed" spatial system in order to guarantee its performance. As a result, closed-type houses will be built in rows, like pavilions, on each plot of land in the developed area, with very little connection to the surrounding environment. This results in the spread of "poor" residential fields with little sense of community as a town. You can see these types of housing fields extending endlessly in the Hanshin area and the surrounding areas of Tokyo. The Japanese housing situation is poor both inside and outside, coupled with the nLDK format that is not suitable for Japanese people. Architects have not been able to get involved in this, or have not been able to put their hands on it. This is the domain of housing manufacturers and builders. 

What FOB HOMES is trying to do is to change the way we sell our products from the standpoint of architects, and to cut in with a new "standardization. "Open-type commodity housing. We have repeatedly conducted over 100 "case studies" in 15 years in search of the form of units that will become factors in the formation of towns. 

Currently, we are developing several variations of the standardized planning called "BAND BOX SYSTEM," and we are proceeding with trial and error in providing designs for builders. We are trying to promote new involvement in the suburbs by reorganizing the planning. 

How do your projects create a relationship between contemporary architecture and Japanese living culture through concepts such as functionality, simplicity, material details and use of light?

In the words of Dr. Sutemi Horiguchi, who has given deep insights into the characteristics of Japanese architecture, the beauty of Japanese architecture is " utilitarian beauty", or the beauty of being functional. My work is mostly in the field of housing (I don't mean to be a housing writer, but...). 

As far as I can think, housing cannot be conceived without its utilitarian purpose as a vessel for life. In other words, I think that our work is Japanese in the sense that it inevitably connects to the beauty of Japanese space if we push forward the design in a straightforward manner. We are committed to the neat connection of things and things, the symmetrical image, and the spatiality mediated by the intermediate region. This is also a Japanese design attitude. However, I have put Japanese architecture out of my mind from the beginning.

Considering that your relationship with architecture dates back to a period when there were no digital design softwares, we wonder how the way you express yourself during the design process has changed. For example, how has your relationship with sketch changed? What does the drawing mean to you when creating the story of the place?

" Thought is still a handicraft... "

Our work has been criticized by our predecessors as being algorithmic. I have always wanted to have a "materialistic" design tendency that eliminates as much creativity as possible, as if it were generated by a program. However, I design by stacking sketches. It's a bit ambivalent, but I don't get any inspiration when I design on a computer. The operation of the computer is too far away from thinking and output. Even if AI is developed, this area is still a long way off. It seems that it will take a long time for us to be able to use it. Thought is still a handicraft.

We extend our gratitude once again to FOBA Architects for their genuine interview. We highly value the insightful conversation with Katsu Umebayashi and express our heartfelt appreciation to Akihiko Endo for his gracious and diligent assistance throughout the interview editing process.

For further information about FOBA Architects, please visit their website at " "