New Emissary

Architecture for Autism?

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New Emissary

Architecture for Autism?

A Tokyo-based architect’s unique initiative for children might provide hope through a ‘primitive future’ style.

Well-known autism activist Jenny McCarthy had a compelling opinion piece published in the Huffington Post yesterday, in which she comes to the defense of controversial British medical research Andrew Wakefield who’s been in the headlines again recently. Wakefield’s name caused an international uproar last week when it was widely reported that respected medical journal, BMJ, had published a piece that called Wakefield’s 1998 research—which lead many to believe autism was linked to childhood vaccinations—a fraud.

But McCarthy, also an actress and former-model in the US, claims that contrary to the latest reports, ‘Dr. Andrew Wakefield's study of 12 children with autism actually looked at bowel disease, not vaccines,’ and asks the question: ‘Since when is repeating the words of parents and recommending further investigation a crime?’

She goes on to assert that the autism/vaccine debate won't end any time soon, especially on account of ‘one dubious reporter's allegations’ (Brian Deer for The Sunday Times), and points out that she’s ‘never met stronger women than the moms of children with autism.’

While many might disagree with the stance, McCarthy’s perspective is still a powerful and the important message to remember above the heated debate and fervor. After all, it’s the parents and family members of children with disorders such as autism who face the most difficult day-to-day struggles and thus make comprise an important voice in issues related to the topic. McCarthy, herself the parent of an autistic child, writes in conclusion: ‘Last week, this hoopla made us a little stronger, and even more determined to fight for the truth about what's happening to our kids.’

This reminded me also of a fascinating example of architecture that a friend recently referred me to in Hokkaido, the northernmost area of Japan.

There, Tokyo-based architect Sou Fujimoto has created a space specifically for children with mental illnesses and challenges called The Children’s Centre for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. The building, which ArchDaily calls a ‘truly rich life space,’ was planned with the aim of incorporating simultaneously ‘the intimacy of a house and also the variety of the city.’ It’s also a uniquely contradictory structure—a carefully planned and artificial space that in its final form has a feeling of randomness or scattering to it.

Also according to the architecture publication, The Children’s Centre for Psychiatric Rehabilitation provides hiding places for the children to be in while they remain connected to main the living area. It compares the children playing in such a place to ‘primitive man who interprets landscape freely and lives very well in it.’

It’s inspiring to hear about such an initiative, especially by a highly in-demand urban architect who could be working on more profitable and prestigious projects in a country where general awareness of mental and physical disability seems very much behind, compared to other developed countries around the world.

In an interview that Fujimoto did with Designboom a few years ago he was asked to ‘describe his style,‘like a good friend’ would. Fujimoto summed it up as ‘primitive future,’ in which a sort of primitive situation that relates to the human “cave” habitation.’  He explained that at the same time he’d like to create something that’s new for the future, in this case ‘something like the cave-like-unintentional space. Something that is in between nature and artifact—formless form.’

It’s all very interesting. And hopefully more and more artists and designers like Fujimoto will continue to aspire to create works that might provide hope for loved ones of those facing such challenges.