learning/teaching architecture in japan

  • A Recent Building Project in Nepal

    So our students builds. We build all the time.  Sometimes it's rough and messy and makes no sense because its a wild casting about for ideas - a sketching in 3d kind of thing. More often than not its directed at solving a problem for real people, and practical. This is an example of the latter kind of effort.

    There are both pros and cons to an education based in carrying out real projects. One of the downsides is that spending so much time working out how to build at 1:1 leaves little time to also get enough practice with learning to design the large and clear gestures that architects normally become famous for. it doesn't mean that deep design lessons are not being taught though. One of the big ones in my mind is learning that the limits of construction are the ones we make by ourselves and not what the manufacturers set out in their catalogs. We don't talk about it much in school, but once we graduate and start working in an office it quickly becomes important - its a reality we all need to deal with eventually. Getting around the issue is a perfect source of creativity though.

    That is something worth thinking about. I am halfway  convinced the next phase of architecture will owe more to working out new ways to build and to act (or play) than to  aesthetic theories. That's a big upside to building while still a student.

    The house shown below was designed and built mostly by students in the lab of Hiroto Kobayashi in Charikot, Nepal.

    The site is very close to the epicentre of the earthquake that struck the country last year and many lost their homes as a result. Traumatized by their experience many survivors do not want to live in the traditional stone homes that they built for themselves. Many fell apart in the earthquake and are terrifying to be in when there is an aftershock, even if the construction is sound. Fear has added to the number of people living in tents. Its hard to know when a stone building is built well enough to withstand an earthquake, so the best choice is to err on the side of caution and stay outside. People are living in tents in front of their stone homes, even when they are still standing. Understanding this our students felt there was both need and desire for an alternative construction method that did not take years of effort to master. Early versions of their work mixed wood and stone, but in this particular case we could not get an introduction to stone masons because the community was afraid we might try to work with them to build with stone, and they did not approve of the idea. This is not such an uncommon response after a disaster. It does not last because of need and reality (stone is cheaper than wood and in the mountains stone is literally laying all around). But it does pull back the curtain a bit on how people value tradition. Quite a few social norms are being set aside for the sake of reconstruction.

    By way of background on the project, Hiroto Kobayashi's lab is recently spending a lot of time making refined versions of the Wiki house, reducing the thickness of walls and structure to a minimum and removing the need for hardware to hold the structure together. We have an awesome engineer helping to make sure this can all happen even in earthquake country. The prime tool for the work is the CNC machine, lately ubiquitous in much of the world... but still not available in the mountains of Nepal.

    Lacking a CNC machine in Charikot the students reverted to an older version of construction they developed after the tsunami hit northern Japan 5 years ago. Sheets were instead cut by hand in an amazing plywood factory in the area. Its really more like hand fabricated plywood than a factory product, but the quality of the sheets is very good, and the wood is harvested (sustainably apparently) from the mountains nearby. With this huge shed as their work-space the entire process of making plywood was laid out in front of the students while they turned the product into pieces that could be assembled into a home.

    The actual cutting and assembly went relatively smoothly.  Our students are very good at managing projects by now and the lab is set up so that senior students have more responsibility and show the newer students how to do the work as they carry it out. After cutting the pieces the system was tested by building the entire home inside the factory space, and then disassembling it and rebuilding it on the permanent site nearby.

    Currently students are working on a project in Kathmandu that will use CNC routed parts and it looks like it will be cool when its finished. More to come as the project progresses.

    If interested in the work, check out the Veneer House Project facebook page.  Lots more images and details, as well as previous projects from the lab. Cool stuff.

  • Shigeru Ban studio

    Its been ages since I posted anything here. No excuse except that life got in the way.So, last time I was here we were working with Sejima. some good projects emerged, though nothing as interesting as might be expected.Part of that is a reflection on how our school works. We run the entire campus...

  • Trust and Architecture

    The Inujima Studio is continuing and our group has begun to understand better the main issues of the island.  What remains kind of confusing is who the client is, the 30 people who live on the island now, the 30,000 who visit it every year, or the unknown population that might choose to move...

  • Not a Live Blog - Maki and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium

    I imagine most everyone on the planet has already heard the Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo in 2020. In my mind this is a pretty uncontroversial event, but every time an Olympic site is under consideration the pundits fight like like trolls on the internet. Things can pretty easily get...

  • Architecture Art and Earthquakes

    I had an idea once that I would write about things in Japan in a way that would make sense for everyone interested in understanding this profoundly surreal place. I'm not sure that is actually possible anymore. So I have resolved instead to ignore my ignorance and write about my confusion...

  • Architects sketch for AFH i love architecture

    I really love it when professional threads come together, even if it's momentary. Our colleague at Keio, the architect Fumihiko Maki, is donating a sketch to Architecture for Humanity and their fundraising drive focusing on loving architecture (for a change, and about time too!) Works up for...

  • party for tohoku

    Crazy busy year and I hope to catch up on it all in near future.  Studio with Maki was finished and this year studio is with Kazuyo Sejima ( ! ) In the meantime if any of you are in Tokyo I'd like to invite you to a fundraiser party this Friday to help pay for the community centre shown...

  • volunteers wanted!

    OK i know most of you aren't in the area, but just in case -  we are looking for people to help put together a community centre in Minami-san-riku. The project, led by prof Hiroto Kobayashi, is planned to run from december 24 to january 6.  In the span of 2 weeks the idea is to build...

  • We arrived on bikes to see the empty rooms

    A large part of the public transportation has stopped on 14th of March. We arrived on bikes to see the empty rooms. All the materials are here but just for a few of us. Kostas and Marcos working hard planning the future. haiku-esque reaction to the disaster on march 11, announcing the...

  • minami san riku project

    One of my colleagues, professor Hiroto Kobayashi (also here), took on a project this summer that brought together students from harvard university and keio to build a community gathering place in minami san-riku. the group i worked with was based in kesennuma which is a bit further north, but the...

  • a lazy entry

    in celebration of the new blog system i should be writing something dramatic but am going to use the space to follow up on a previous post. Over the summer the students in all the programs at keio went off to carry out projects all over the place.  a large group went to the congo, some went...

  • cleaning up

    We are near the end of a very busy term.  Because we lost a month of classes as a result of the blackouts all of the courses ended up being very compressed, and with our school heavily focused on events in Tohoku and elsewhere the students were also asked to take on a fair amount of extra...

  • Redesigning The Japanese Economy

    Nothing like a public deadline to spur creativity! A group of professors and students will be presenting work in progress on the projects they have undertaken in response to the Tohoku disaster.  As part of that the students from this studio are going to put up simple boards to show off...

  • a small side project

    You are probably wondering about the fish. The fish are part of a small side project the lab is working on in the city of Kesenuma. You probably saw it on the news.  It's the city that had a massive boat sitting on a street instead of in the water.  The city is struggling to recover...

  • The Secret School; or A different way to train architects (maybe)

    Keio University was founded 150 years ago by a fellow named Yukichi Fukuzawa.  Everyone knows him.  He changed the culture of the country and is even on the 10,000 (about $100) yen note.  Which is cool. But nobody knows about the architecture school.  We are somehow flying...

  • dealing with disaster

    This is a first stab at making a school blog using the firm profile system.  Cheers to Paul for letting me try it out.  Fingers crossed... Recently a well-known disaster response organizer let me know that right now no one outside of Japan is interested in the earthquake, the tsunami...

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About this Blog

keio university's architecture program is probably the best kept secret in the country. Hidden away on a campus an hour from tokyo the curriculum is wide open and connected to a campus-wide project aimed at dealing with climate change and innovation. students of economics can take courses in architecture and vice versa but we all are expected to take part in real projects somewhere in the world. there are a few starchitects on the faculty but mostly we are focused on making a difference.

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