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Tono Mirai: House for Stories

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REVIEW

At the Bleddfa Centre for the Arts, near Knighton, Wales, until August 2002

As a home to buildings by Christopher Day and David Lea, Wales is no stranger to mud construction, writes Richard Weston , but it has seen nothing quite like the House for Stories by architect-artist Tono Mirai at the Bleddfa Centre for the Arts. Curated by Michael Nixon, it is part of the largest concentration of Japan 2001 events outside London. It is too late to catch Shin and Tomoko Azumi's installation and dualfunction furniture, but a paper teahouse by Shigeru Ban (AJ 15.3.01) has just opened, making the Welsh borders a place of unfamiliar pleasures.

Like Atelier Zo (AJ 28.6.89 ), Mirai draws on vernacular traditions occluded in the West by the mainstream timber-building tradition. He makes spaces like an architect, but works likes a sculptor, developing ideas on site and shaping materials by hand. And he is no purist, as happy to reinforce clay with steel as straw - the combination doubtless offered Anthony Hunt Associates a novel challenge.

More earthwork than free-standing structure, House of Stories unfolds along a spiral path which draws the visitor around, past low windows, angled in response to the flow, beneath a dramatically pointed prow and into a space which, like traditional Japanese interiors, is made to be experienced sitting down - on built-in straw cushions. Mirai's earlier work, such as his installation at London's 97-99 Gallery last year, has exploited the contrast with harsh, industrial materials. That immediate counterpoint may be missing in rural Wales, but the the adobe walls still mould space gently and breathe a soft, even light - the sense of calm is palpable.

Richard Weston is professor at the Welsh School of Architecture. Bleddfa (01547 550 377 or www. bleddfacentre. com) is open daily, and is on the A488, west of Knighton

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