Student Award of Excellence Seeking Specificity in the Universal: A Memorial for the Japanese Canadians Interned During the Second World War

Student Kevin James, Dalhousie University

Location Hope, British Columbia

In the West, the fundamental structures of form are abstractions understood to be outside human experience, archetypal in nature and timeless. In the East, the opposite is true. Abstraction is not something which is apart from nature, but rather, intrinsically tied to it. There are no specific archetypes because there can be no perfect forms. Each iteration is inherently imperfect because it is governed by the process with which it was made, by human hands. This, however, is not a cause for dismay as it would be in the West, but rather for celebration, for in the imperfect object resides the traces of its creation. The act of creating is thus elevated above the creation itself.

Process, then, is more than the means by which to produce; it is the primary purpose itself. The repetition of a process creates rituals, thus formalizing the value placed on process and elevating its performance thereof to a sacred act.

In the design of a memorial for the Japanese Canadians interned at the Tashme camp in Hope, BC, a delicate balance between the fundamental structures of Western and Eastern form and thought must be achieved in order to provide an architecture which addresses the hybrid culture of the community it represents. The keys to the approach are to use those shared elements of architecture which are found in both cultures, while also addressing the primary role of process in both the design of the memorial and its realization. These strategies allow for the universal comprehension of the memorial while the way in which it is placed into the landscape creates a specific link to both place and history.

Through the study of the traditional Japanese art of kyudo and the abstract art of the Japanese Canadian artist Kazuo Nakamura, an internee at the Tashme camp, a number of cultural influences both Canadian and Japanese in origin were used to develop a memorial which responds to the hybrid cultural heritage of the community interned. Rather than resorting to a pastiche of stylized cultural stereotypes, the memorial was formed around the concepts of abstraction and ritual. Through abstraction, the scale of the event is translated into a visceral experience which can be universally understood. In order to address the specifics of the site and the cultural heritage of the Japanese Canadians, a ritual of tree-planting as a major landscape element helps tie the concept of process to the abstraction of the memorial’s layout. Through the two approaches, this thesis seeks to create a memorial which is open to all Canadians in its cultural references, while addressing the specific cultural heritage of the Japanese Canadians and the crime committed against their community.

Hariri: When you look at the process, you find a certain spirit. For example, the section and the ways that the photographs have been manipulated have the same spirit–a very soft spirit of a meditative architecture against an extraordinary idea of landscape and the way that the landscape is overtaken through a longer period of time.

Macy: This submission really highlights the human experience of architectural space and explores how people can bring their own experiences into it. It is very respectful of Japanese-Canadian experiences in Canada. I particularly like the delicacy of the landscape and the four seasons, the ephemeral nature of plantings in juxtaposition with these fairly dense and troubled experiences associated with the depths of the earth.

Thom: In some ways the presentation of this project is better than any of the others. This is one person’s language, which relates to what happens in offices today. In many offices, there are several voices, and the language that we speak is no longer a single artistic language. You cannot have many people write a poem; one person writes a poem. How do you keep that one idea running through the big projects when so many are involved? A big project takes so many years to work through, and with the exception of the principals, the individuals involved in these projects have often moved on.