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That Wild Tokyo Apartment in ​Girls Was Designed to Cheat Death

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The Reversible Destiny Lofts are a study in procedural architecture

The most recent episode of Girls shows Shoshanna’s attempt to make a life in Tokyo, a city as removed as possible from the show’s home base in New York, a means to give Shosh space to develop on her own. Within the shows colorful backdrops, where the some of the Western imagination’s cartoon caricatures of Japanese culture get play, it would be easy to dismiss her colorful, fantastical apartment as just another cute, Sanrio-style prop. But the unorthodox building, boasting the evocative name the Reversible Destiny Lofts, has a much deeper, weirder, and unique history, with a very specific reasoning behind all those colors.

The structure, built in the suburb of Mitaka in 2005, is an example of procedural architecture, a philosophy that aims to force inhabitants to reconsider their routines and interactions. The colorful interior, described as an "ultra chromatic, undying house," by novelist Setouchi Jakuchou, is meant to draw attention to certain movements and actions by highlighting different surfaces and areas of the apartment, making activities such as flipping light switches and preparing a meal difficult and challenging. It's meant to help residents sharpen themselves mentally and "recalibrate their equanimity and self-possession," appropriate for an episode based around character development.

While the building rests on a solid foundation and walls of pre-cast concrete, reinforced concrete, and steel, its philosophical underpinnings go much deeper. Architects Shusaku Arakawa, a Dadaist and friend of Marcel Duchamp, and Madeline Gins, who had an artistic and personal partnership for decades before passing away in 2010 and 2014, respectively, sought to not only design buildings for better living, but to literally overcome death through an architecture of instability featuring no level surfaces or corners (they co-wrote a book called Making Dying Illegal). Comfort, in their view, offered a slippery slope towards death. A Newsweek description of the Reversible Destiny Lofts suggests it definitely wasn't comfortable:

"Electric switches are in unexpected places on the walls so you have to feel around for the right one. A glass door to the veranda is so small you have to bend to crawl out. You constantly lose balance and gather yourself up, grab onto a column and occasionally trip and fall."

This radical concept has informed designs for other such structures, including an Isle of Reversible Destiny in Venice, and the couple started a foundation to spread their philosophy. The Tokyo lofts, dedicated to Helen Keller, are the first permanently inhabitable procedural dwellings in the world, but others have been built in Japan and the United States. Anyone who finds themselves in Tokyo can experience procedural architecture themselves, since the unit used by HBO is available on Airbnb, and even open to future film shoots.