Words by Mr Chris Elvidge
Cool place," admits Mr Keiichi Matsuda, as we sit on a turfed rooftop in Dalston, a short distance from his East London studio. In a pale pink tee, sports jacket and jeans, the designer and filmmaker looks every inch the twentysomething creative.
Cool, perhaps, but a far cry from the Barbican, where a rather more smartly dressed Mr Matsuda had agreed to be photographed a week previously. A 1970s concrete jungle in the heart of the City of London, the complex has been praised and criticised in equal measure for its stark brutalist design. Back on the rooftop, I ask Mr Matsuda how the shoot went.
"It was a great experience, especially doing it there," he says. "It's one of my favourite places in London. I'd never visited the conservatory at the Barbican before, and to see this huge, functional building with nature growing all around it was just incredible."
"There's also a huge optimism behind these utopian mega-structure projects that resonates with me and with the work that I do," he adds, which, to clarify, "involves looking towards the future, and trying to understand the implications of the choices that we make."
The 28-year-old is part of a school of designers who through their work consider the effects of emerging technology on daily life. In particular, he examines the shifting role of architecture - an area in which he has trained, having spent two years after university working at Atelier Bow Wow, the much-lauded Tokyo architects known for their innovative use of urban space.
It won't be long before I can walk past you on the street and immediately see your most recent tweet, profile picture - whatever information is available
A Masters of Architecture at The Bartlett school in London followed, and it was here that he honed his aesthetic. Since graduating he has attracted attention for his vibrant, futuristic work, inspired, as he puts it, by "the tension at the boundary between the physical and the virtual".
This is an important concept for Mr Matsuda, and a motif that runs through much of his work. It's also clearly one that requires further explanation, if the nonplussed expression on my face is anything to go by.
By way of illustration he begins to describe his upcoming project in collaboration with Veuve Cliquot, opening at the V&A this September as part of the London Design Festival. Prism will be hosted in the museum's cupola room - the building's domed tower - and aims to express this virtual-physical boundary by using the city itself as an illustrative device.
"We want to give you a feel for what virtual London looks like," he explains. "Instead of seeing a series of streets and buildings, we'll show the virtual processes occurring in the city at any given time. We'll be taking live data from all over - transport, environmental... you'll even be able to see the energy consumption at 10 Downing Street in real time, projected onto a huge lantern that gives you the impression of looking at the underside of an iceberg."
"You'll also be able to climb the stairs to the tower above and look out across the physical London," he continues, "so we'll be showing you the tip of the iceberg, too."
Much of Mr Matsuda's work employs the concept of augmented reality (AR), in which the digital world is laid over the real. It is here that he sees potential for the architect's role to expand and change, as the built environment becomes a backdrop for digital information, advertising and more. This is illustrated vibrantly in projects such as "Domestic Robocop", part of his Augmented (Hyper)Reality series (see video below), a project he describes as taking an everyday process - in this case, making a cup of tea - and "shifting it sideways".
"Domestic Robocop" by Mr Keiichi Matsuda
On a related topic, I ask him what he thinks of Google's much-discussed Project Glass, a recently announced AR device that's straight out of 1980s sci-fi. Put simply, it's a smartphone that uses your field of vision as its interface via the use of a headset.
"What excites me is not what the devices can do, but that such a large corporation has decided to put its weight behind it," he says. "The implications are huge. It won't be long before I can walk past you on the street and immediately see your most recent tweet, your profile picture - whatever information is available."
It sounds like an Orwellian nightmare. Does Mr Matsuda believe that there is a degree of fear regarding the future of the digital age?
"Whether fear, or just a lack of confidence, we certainly don't seem to embrace the future as we once did," he replies. "We still think of it in terms of robots and flying cars. But attempting to predict the future is a vital part of deciding on it."
So these projects aren't just flights of fancy?
"Absolutely not - what we're doing is essentially proposing alternative futures. It's only through this that we can begin to decide for ourselves what sort of future we want to move towards. Everything you see started with an idea."
This admission - that he sees his work as playing a part in shaping our future - is a significant one, and it's clear now why he chooses to describe himself as a designer rather than as an artist. It's an admission, too, that might have smacked of pride, had I not seen how seriously he takes his work, and, perhaps more tellingly, how reluctantly he speaks about himself. I ask him why this is.
"The work is the important thing," comes the reply. "I'm just the one doing it."
Prism runs from 14 to 23 September at the London Design Festival. londondesignfestival.com/events/prism
Augmented (hyper)Reality, 2010
This video project presented Mr Matsuda's vision of the modern city as an "immersive interface"
This interactive installation examined the extent to which we are defined by our online identities
Mr Matsuda's latest installation will be hosted at this September's London Design Festival