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What Bento Boxes Have in Common with Japanese Architecture

In 2008, NYC-based firm Koko Architecture and Design renovated a Lower Manhattan loft in the style of the Japanese bento box, the efficiently compartmentalized container that separates the fish from the meat, the veggies from the rice, and so on. Only in this resulting "Bento Box Loft," it's all about amping up multi-functionality in a 1,300-square-foot space, leading to compact arrangements like sleeping lofts above closets and trap doors that store bedding during the day. Seven years later, the Bento Box Loft is now the starting point for a whole exhibition on the dialogue between the ingenious Japanese food containers and architecture. "Obento and Built Space: Japanese Boxed Lunch and Architecture," currently on show at Boston Architectural College (BAC), explores how bento boxes inspire architects and designers to think about "the potential of emptiness, craft, portability, and sustainability."

According to Karen Nelson, dean at the BAC, the show swung into motion after she met with Japanese food specialist and cookbook author Debra Samuels. Samuels was eager to exhibit her bento collection and Nelson, who has long harbored a fascination with Japanese architecture, thought an exhibition featuring work from emerging Japanese architects could draw out the "common ground" between these "micro" and "macro" scales of space creation.

Beyond the obvious Bento Box Loft, other architectural works selected for the show highlight intriguing concepts that are also demonstrated in Samuels' bento collection. The model of the Hiroshi Nakumura's Gallery Sakuranoki (↓), for example, features the sort of compartmentalization instantly recognizable in bento boxes. And as Nelson explains over email, Aat + Makoto Yokomizo's Tomihiro Art Museum in Gunma, Japan "sits atop the landscape—and is seen from above—as bento boxes are when served."

The exhibit also includes one Australian project, Glenn Murcutt's Marika-Alderton House, a prefab structure that's elevated in order to let floodwaters pass beneath. According to Nelson, these features speak to the portability and permeability of, say, the lacquered woven bento box, which is designed for airflow so that rice is stored properly.

· Obento and Built Space: Japanese Boxed Lunch and Architecture [Curbed National]
· All Exhibitions coverage [Curbed National]
· The Bridges of Hiroshima Prefecture [Meridian]