Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Living Spaces for a Small Planet


I saw a terrific show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last week called 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces. Out of 19 architects invited to submit proposals for small structures, seven were selected and constructed, and are scattered throughout the museum. The V&A’s challenge to architects was to design a space that explores the idea of refuge and retreat. Here are two of my favorites, Terunobu Fujimori’s “Beetle’s House,” and the Norwegian Helen & Hard Architects’ “Ratatosk.”

The first, conceived as a venue for an English version of the Japanese tea ceremony, is made of charred pine and is set atop stilts. The charring is an ancient and labor-intensive Japanese method of preserving wood, and gives the teahouse a weathered, alligator-like skin. Visitors climb a ladder and enter by a hatch in the floor of the teahouse. Traditional Japanese building methods were used to evoke a simpler, more primitive way of life. Housed in the V&A’s sunlight-filled Medieval and Renaissance room, the juxtaposition of this new, yet old-looking structure next to a medieval wooden spiral staircase was fantastic. Fujimori is a longtime professor of architectural history at Tokyo University who came to designing structures later in life.

The title for the second piece, “Ratatosk,” comes from the name of a squirrel in Norse mythology that lived in a giant ash tree at the center of the cosmos. The architects of Helen & Hard constructed their piece—which sits in the outdoor courtyard of the V&A—from five ash trees split lengthwise, planted face to face and covered with a canopy of curving willow slats. Although they used a high-tech 3-D scanning and modeling process to map sections of wood to be cut, the result is completely organic, conjuring the forested magic of myth and fairytale.

Pagliacci on Coney Island: the high-low art of Mercury Opera

When samurai walked the streets of New York