People | 20 QUESTIONS

Patrick Wheare: From tabula rasa to building community

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Name: Patrick Wheare
Age: 29
Nationality: Australian
Occupation: Architect/ project manager at Shibaura House
Likes: The beach, books and beer
Dislikes: That voice on the train speakers


1. What about Japan first interested you? My first trip, at 17, was to Kansai. I fell in love with the romance of Kyoto and the rawness of Osaka.

2. How did you initially learn about Shibaura House? I knew about the architecture first, and then got introduced to the community through an urban research program called City Tales. I haven’t really left since.

3. Could you break down Shibaura House’s role in the local community? The architecture creates space for community to be. Our program stimulates new relations and nurtures existing networks. We try to curate new urban scenarios to encourage local people to experience something unordinary, yet familiar.

4. Has Shibaura House’s role changed at all since it first opened in 2011? These days we are starting to think outside the walls of Shibaura House in order to extend our idea of “community” into the real fabric of the city.

5. Of all the events you’ve planned at Shibaura House, which has been the most rewarding? I think it was our seventh anniversary event this July. We had an open house and invited all kinds of people to explore the different floors of the building over a weekend. It was pretty wild, with ping-pong on the fifth floor, an exhibition on the third floor, a free shōchū (distilled liquor) bar on the terrace, kids crafts on the second floor and ikebana on the first floor.

6. If you could host any event you wanted at Shibaura House, what would you do? I would invite Christo to do an installation running in, out and up through the entire building. Then I would ask a group of dancers to lead the public through the layered spaces of the building, following the installation. It would be a new way to experience the space.

7. Why is your icon on the Shibaura House staff page a flamingo with glasses? I really like flamingos. Plus I am tall, kind of pink and very much exotic.

8. In an early promotional video for Shibaura House, a top-hatted guy named Charlie shows people around. What happened to him? Charlie was our well-spoken doorman. He disappeared into his top hat a while ago, and now I do most of the showing people around.

9. What do the square, circle and triangle of the Shibaura House logo represent? It’s fundamental, but it’s a little wonky. We have the same attitude when we think about community. We don’t doubt its necessity, but our approach is never direct, straight or defined. We like to be a little curvy.

10. Day to day, what would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job? As an architect, I have been trained in a culture of tabula rasa (clean slate): to imagine opportunity in building something new. In my job, the biggest challenge has been to overcome this mentality and think about activity, rather than built form. My work now is to build communities, inside the context of a pre-existing architecture.

11. Do you have a favorite Japanese architect? I think it has to be Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA. He is both poetic and personable. His compassion for people and his resilient commitment to challenging conventions is inspiring. Plus, he was a great teacher!

12. What is the mark of a quintessentially “Japanese” building? If we are talking about both contemporary and traditional architecture, something that ties it all together is the idea of lightness. Not just in a material sense, but more so in the building’s presence. Buildings that float about without being imposing or egotistical. Good architecture is there to be read, or left ignored. Kind of polite, I guess.

13. What is the most underrated area of Tokyo? Ordinary rooftops.

14. Would you rather live in a treehouse or a cave house? A treehouse.

15. What do people first notice about you? I don’t know about this. Maybe my hair, or my recklessness.

16. If you could only dress in either polka dots or leopard print for the rest of your life, which would you pick? Nothing. I’d rather be naked.

17. What is your favorite word or phrase in Japanese? Yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神) which means a countless number of gods. And I also like yoshi (all right; OK).

18. Do you have any unusual hobbies? Is writing and reading unusual now? I also like running in the rain.

19. What was your favorite childhood movie? “The Jungle Book.”

20. What’s your best tip for combating homesickness? Surfing.