Society of Insatiable Consumption: Introduction / by kaz + greg

by Kaz Yoneda and Gregory Serweta, AIA

Tempura simulacrum keychain
Photo by Kaz

Tempura is a Japanese dish with medieval origins, whose technique of using a batter of flour and eggs was adapted from fritters brought by early European missionaries. It became Japan’s commercially-successful fast food favorite, sold by street vendors in Tokyo since the Edo period—as deep-frying with oil indoors in what were predominantly wood-and-paper homes was dangerous and illegal. Its name, tempura, which has no meaning in Japanese, was an implicit misappropriation from the Latin for the fasting period during which those missionaries made their fritters.(1) “It is said that tempura... has for its envelope nothing but time, which has solidified it… [R]efined by the... techniques of cancellation and exemption, it is the nutriment of another time… whose real name would be... the empty sign.”(2) It is almost as if tempura’s main ingredient within its vacuous superstructure, its name, and in its mode of sale, is the very denaturing, transfigural process of “time”. The act of denaturing, that is, the act of altering natural qualities, such as with rotting and deep-frying, also alters the state of cities and architecture.(3) Take any of the great cities, Tokyo, Chicago, London, or Lisbon, and one can see the effects of denaturing – such as with fire and earthquake – which can easily give way to decomposition and discardment without expending energy to reconstruct or build anew what was lost, thereby replenishing lost energy. In many ways, denaturing is necessary to metabolize a city.(4) However, increasingly the architectural denaturing process has become more artificial, characterized by dismemberment and disposition. Combined and accelerated by the forces of advertisement and commercialism, a shift occurred in how architecture was understood, from primarily a spatial experience to one based on the consumable superficies of images. Architects are complicit in a cycle of consumption by indulging on a quantity of empty qualifiers; in this case, a steady progression from producing consumable architecture to leading the charge in consuming the images of architecture. Increasingly, architects exist in this processing factory of images, both as sommeliers of empty consumerism and patrons anticipating the next scrumptious plate of image du jour to provide inspiration.

This opportunistic or unscrupulous genre of hunger is ravenous and consumes embedded history, styles, or symbolism—regardless of their origin—as long as the consumption releases the encapsulated energy. In this case, hunger is the demand and consumption, the wants and needs, of energy in any form. This type of hunger transcends national limits, and can engender a new globalism; away from American-initiated efforts for a global society begun in the late 1940’s, and towards a true world mix. Consumption can ultimately devour the whole world and digest in the belly of humanity. This is the hypertrophic manifestation of the fundamentally changed nature of architecture: the forces of globalization and capitalism in the latter half of the last century have transformed architecture into an object of consumption(5), understood in sense of perishable consumer items with an expiration date—here now, gone tomorrow. The post-war exacerbated the hunger, not for the actual space, but for the image of newfound economic prowess.

1. Tetsu Okada, Etymological Dictionary of Foods (Tokyo: Tokyodo Shuppan Publication, 2003) pp.308
Tempura’s etymological root Quatuor Tempora.
2. Roland Barthes, The Empire of Signs (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983) pp. 25~26
3. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Book 1: The Raw and the Cooked, Mythologiques (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983) pp. 01
“Certain categorical opposites drawn from everyday experience with the most basic sorts of things — e.g. 'raw' and 'cooked,' 'fresh' and 'rotten,' 'moist' and 'parched,' and others — can serve a people as conceptual tools for the formation of abstract notions and for combining these into propositions."
4. much like a pine forest requires a fire at times to clear overgrowth and trigger an environmental cue to release seeds from their serotinous cones.
5. Gerald L. Mandell, John E. Bennett, and Raphael Dolin, Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases 7th edition (Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2010) pp. 250
“The historical term "consumption" came about due to the weight loss.[2] Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.”