Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, The Key


Literary Architecture

Matteo Pericoli is the founder of the Laboratory of Literary Architecture, an interdisciplinary project that looks at fiction through the lens of architecture, designing and building stories as architectural projects. In this series, he shares some of his designs and what they reveal about the stories they’re modeled on.


In Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s The Key, a man writes in his diary about the sexual fantasies he has been having about his wife. Hoping she’ll read it, he locks it in a drawer and leaves the key on the floor. As soon as his wife sees the key, she understands her husband’s intentions and begins, in turn, to keep her own diary. Knowing that he, too, will read it, she writes to deliberately mislead him, claiming that she hasn’t read—will never read—his diary. A perfect dovetail.

The two spouses’ souls, sharing both a space and a life, never meet nor try to know each other. They intersect without ever touching. The diaries are only apparently filled with secrets and truths, as each word is carefully chosen, keeping in mind the spying partner. The reader has access only to the diaries—everything is presented to us clearly and chronologically, starting with the entry in which, on New Year’s Day, the husband writes: “This year I intend to begin writing freely about a topic which, in the past, I have hesitated even to mention here.” 

We go back and forth between two spaces that are as intersected and connected as they are distant and irreconcilable, caught in between, never fully engaged in either. We learn all sorts of things, but at the same time, we don’t know what’s really happening. The structure is only apparently whole and homogenous—yet on a closer look it comprises two buildings made of huge fin walls whose cantilevering floor slabs slide into the other’s like the pages of two books.

The floors of the “double” building therefore alternate, as though one of the buildings has even-numbered floors and the other only odd. To go from one level to the next—say, from the fifth to the sixth floor—we’d have to go downstairs, exit one building, enter the other, and go back upstairs.

It’s a huge effort, and a meaningless one: occupying the same physical space, engaging with each other, and seeing the next level within reach but having no way to get there other than by leaving and reentering the building. We might as well stay where we are, in one of the two buildings, distancing ourselves definitively from the other.


In collaboration with Giuseppe Franco.