A Tokyo apartment complex designed to reverse aging

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Do you think an apartment can reverse aging?

The Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka is one of the few existing projects by the artist Arakawa and his partner, poet Madeline Gins. The pair believed that architecture is an extension of the body, and could therefore stimulate the immune system and promote wellness and healing. At the literal extreme, their philosophy was that architecture could help defeat death.

I’ve been curious about Arakawa and Gins since I read this piece years ago about their creation Bioscleave House on Long Island. So, being in Tokyo researching joy, I had to see if I could visit. I was delighted when I found out I could spend the night!

The layout is broken into three small rooms clustered around a central kitchen space. One room is a bedroom, with a simple Japanese futon on the floor for sleeping. Another is a bathroom, with a tubelike shower in the middle. And the third room is simply a hollowed-out sphere painted bright yellow inside.

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Color is probably the first thing you notice when you arrive at the Reversible Destiny site. Despite the fact that it was chilly and I was tired from a long day, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw it: the colorful cylinders and color blocked window frames were just so exuberant in the gray landscape of 7-11s and chain shops. It continues inside, with color on nearly every surface. Momoyo Homma, the Director of the Architectural Body Research Foundation, told me that there are fourteen colors in the color palette, chosen by Arakawa himself. Second to the color, you might notice the floor, which slopes up and down throughout the apartment and is covered with sculpted bumps. This definitely took some getting used to, and as I moved around the apartment, I was constantly adjusting my balance. There are also numerous fixtures hanging from the ceiling, some of which you can hang from (and get a good stretch in the process).

In so many ways, big and small, the apartment disrupted my equilibrium, and challenged my ideas of what a home should feel like. And I think this was what Arakawa and Gins intended. By stimulating and destabilizing our senses, their hope was to wake us up to our bodies. In a way, their goal was to use architecture to promote a kind of mindfulness, and also a bodyfulness too, a word that if it doesn’t exist, probably should.

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My Reversible Destiny apartment came with instructions, but not the boring ones about how to work the wifi and where to put the trash,  like you might find in a typical Airbnb. Arakawa and Gins’s directions included the exhortation, “Every month move through your loft as a different animal (snake, deer, tortoise, elephant, giraffe, penguin, etc.).” And, “Invent at least ten ways to use the shaped volumes whose colors suffuse the atmosphere to heal whatever you need to have healed in you.”

I slept extremely well, which I was mildly surprised by, and when I woke up I found it was quite fun (if a little awkward) to bounce around the apartment making breakfast and tea. Am I younger from a night spent in the lofts? I don’t know about that. But on getting back to my regular old hotel room this evening, I expected to find it dull and a little sad by comparison. In fact it wasn’t that way at all. What popped out at me first on entering was the deep burgundy of the chairs by the window, and how the sunlight popped the color, which I can’t say I’d noticed at all in the three nights prior. If anything, I’m aware of how interesting this quotidian environment is to me than it was just a day before. Which may not be measurable in extra years of life or fewer gray hairs, but it’s quite a gift, nonetheless.

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Five of the Reversible Destiny Lofts are occupied by full-time residents, but two are available for short stays, if you’re heading to Japan and want to experience it for yourself. You can find more details on their website.

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