Columbia GSAPP show explores Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ architectural study into living forever

Architecture is an undeniable force for change. Aesthetic, social, logistical, and sensory transformation are just a few areas where architecture can make a difference – but can it help us conquer death? This has been a central premise in the work of creative duo Arakawa and Madeline Gins, whose inspirational work is presented in a new show at Columbia GSAPP in New York. 

Japanese artist Arakawa (1936-2010) and American poet, writer and philosopher Madeline Gins (1941-2014) joined forces in the early 1960s. Their collaboration spanned five decades and various disciplines and mediums, such as painting, installations, poetry, literature, architecture, urbanism, philosophy, and scientific research. And while their work remains largely unknown outside the academic and specialist architecture community, their investigations are compelling and inspiring – not to mention beautifully illustrated with powerful artwork and technical drawings.

Screen-Valve (1985-87) by Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Image: 2018 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

Together, Arakawa and Gins delved into the concept of ‘reversible destiny’, a body of work about how architecture can empower humans to ‘resist their own deaths’. As ambitious – or utopian – as this project may seem, Gins was keen to study how through the right architecture, people could ‘learn not die’, working on the impact that spatial experience has on its users’ wellbeing and longevity– a concept not far removed from current notions of wellness in architecture. 

The duo even created ‘sites of reversible destiny’, to experiment with the architectural manifestations of their theoretical work. Examples include Ubiquitous Site-Nagi’s Ryoanji (1994, Okayama, Japan); Yoro Park (1995, Gifu, Japan); Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka (2005, Tokyo, Japan); and Bioscleave House (2008, East Hampton, New York).

The exhibition, ‘Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient’, charts the pair’s research and reflections, organised by GSAPP director of exhibitions Irene Sunwoo and assistant director of exhibitions Tiffany Lambert, and designed by Norman Kelley. 

From hand drawings and architectural models, to archival material (such as ephemera, research materials, poetry, manuscripts, photographs and slides) from the Estate of Madeline Gins and the Reversible Destiny Foundation; this show offers a wealth of thought-provoking information and rich original artwork for the discerning visitor to enjoy – and be inspired by, in their quest for living better lives.

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