learning/teaching architecture in japan

  • 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 there someday? And how do we talk to those people right now, or even understand who they actually are to begin with? 

    One of the great things about architecture school at Keio is that the students often build what they design, and this studio looks like ti has the potential to go that way as well if we can sort out some of the answers well enough. It is a good incentive, but means we need to learn a lot more about the client and the island, and that is what the students are up to now.  We have come to a moment where we kind of have some idea about the known knowns and the known unknowns, to borrow a Rumsfeldian truth-ism.  But it is going to be a bit more time before it makes sense. The uncertainty is good practice for the modern role of the architect though.

    By chance and luck we had a guest critic join us in Sejima San's studio this week from the GSD - Mark Mulligan - who gave our efforts a nice framework, in my mind.  What he had to say was not entirely unfamiliar but he summarized the importance of this kind of project very well and it is worth repeating.

    What he pointed out as we struggled with the amount of information we still needed to gather before we could do a proper design was that we work in a world where architects have two obstacles to deal with that are relatively new for us as a profession.  First, that client needs are not clear, and second, that our profession is no longer given a position of trust in society. And yet somehow we are expected to come up with a solution that makes sense of it all (whatever "it" is), and adds value to society as well, or at the very least adds a bit to the world of design.

    Design studios once might have provided enough reality with just a program delivered in square meters and room labels, but the modern world requires that we conduct research, analyze what we uncover, and then also do a design that puts it all in context and looks bloody excellent at the same time. Where the dividing line is between those areas is entirely changeable, and difficult to find. Working out a critical opinion based on the research is also important, and an essential skill for the world we are building - simply gathering data and finding truth of some sort is not remotely enough.

    For Mark that was an important part of the studio, and I have to be honest it is not one that I would have thought would be part of Sejima's studio. But now I look at her work the more I see it is embedded in much of what she has produced.  She simply doesn't draw attention to it so much, and maybe neither do the magazines. Perhaps that is one of the points about the really good star architecture, that it does all the basic stuff - like keeping out rain, not falling down, etc - but also has enough cultural depth that we can keep looking at it and see that there is something more to understand, even after a few years have gone by. Or it could be simply that good architects work out a way to have a critical stance at all. 

    I know it's a bit simplistic as observations go, but it feels fresh after so much design and criticism packaged for our internet-laden souls.

  • 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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