Originally published on Tokyo Art Beat, “Living Forever” was written by Nick West and edited by Emily Wakeling.
Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005).

Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005). Photo: Nick West

Barely hidden behind a line of evergreens at a crossroads in Mitaka are nine artist-designed lofts. In an otherwise ordinary Tokyo suburb, their jubilant palette does little to conceal these private dwellings. Assorted shapes are stacked on top of one another three storeys high. Barrel forms face outwards like giant, multi-coloured drums. It’s not just their outward appearance that makes an impression, but also the way the lofts engage you in their entirety that makes you rethink all living spaces. Realised by Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins almost a decade ago, “Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka” (2005) have plenty to celebrate.
Being almost ten years old seems appropriate here. Their design is bursting with playful details. Convex balconies curve around its edges like climbing frames. Drainpipes look like they would be more at home in a playground too, while inside hammocks hang from ceiling hooks and ladders act as bookcases. Even the lines of piping that runs along the verandas appears to have been combed on with bootlace liquorice. Childlike associations are everywhere. Where are the slides?
Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005).

Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005). Photo: Nick West

Naturally, these associations aren’t accidental, but are the fruits of the couples’ philosophy. In 1987, long before the lofts were built, Arakawa and Gins established an organisation that concerns itself with how the body relates to architecture, known today as the Reversible Destiny Foundation. With an openness to other fields of research, they sought to extend human lifespan and even defy death, or reverse destiny, through art. Arakawa and Gins’ proposed immortality was found in the way we interact with the built environment. If we can engage with our surroundings more playfully or nurture our inner child, perhaps we can live forever.
Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005).

Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005). Photo: Nick West

Seeing your way past the wedges of colour and the scooped-out shapes that make up the interior, is a large, open plan loft with four smaller, private spaces around its edges. There are some surprisingly homely touches, like the soft furnishings and the net curtains. In the centre is a kitchen with a vertical column that attaches this loft to the other two lofts below like a skewer. The ceiling is dotted with hooks, spotlights and retractable power sockets on coiled cords that spring heavenward after use. Your gaze rebounds everywhere.
So much of what’s here is left to the user to determine how, or what, to use. In one loft, long metal rods rain down from the ceiling to reinvent the upper space as a wardrobe. In another loft, fabric shelving circles the kitchen as storage. But these thick ceiling hooks could just have easily supported an indoor swing or the carabiners for a home climbing kit. How a loft is adapted is entirely the choice of the resident. An object’s use is no longer fixed here; it’s determined by your ingenuity instead.
In fact, Arakawa and Gins so thoroughly rethought how a home is used that previous residents found that they situated themselves differently as the result of its contours. Visually, the lofts are so full of textures and materials that it’s not initially apparent how dramatically the floor slopes. However, one father kept finding himself returning to physically higher ground when scolding his children. Of course, his children soon realised this and in response they began climbing a taller ladder at any hint of being told off.
Alongside the visual and the spacial, “Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka” integrate the tactile too. There are these sandy-coloured, lumpy dunes that cover the floor. Formed in two sizes, for adults and children, these solid bumps mimic the curve of foot arches to enhance your connectedness with the environment. Dedicated to the memory of Helen Keller (1880-1968), the American author, activist and lecturer, and the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree, it’s easy to see Keller as inspirational. As a tribute, “Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka” sought to maximise all possible sensory stimuli. These lumpy dunes are only one example among many.
Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005).

Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005). Photo: Nick West

Out of nine apartments, most are privately rented, but two are used for a short term stays. Lasting a week long, the short term programme allows would-be-residents to experience living in a loft briefly. Between short stays, architectural tours and workshops are scheduled too.
Much of the charm of Arakawa and Gins is the impossibility of their ambition. “We have decided not to die,” they declare. In itself, their sentiment is defiantly optimistic, but having seen the lofts, it’s made all the more credible for being fully realised. Long live Arakawa and Gins.
Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005).

Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka, Shusaku Arakawa & Madeline Gins (2005). Photo: Nick West

Shusaku Arakawa was born in Nagoya (1936-2010). Madeline Gins was born in New York City (1941-2014). The artists lived and worked in New York.
http://www.rdloftsmitaka.com/english
http://www.reversibledestiny.org
©Nick West 2015