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KEIO UNIVERSITY

learning/teaching architecture in japan

  • The first dormitory

    Over the next five years our students will design and build five dormitories and workshops on a piece of land adjacent to the main campus. As a way to learn about architecture its a pretty good one, especially since we are tying to push the limits a bit, and the limits are pushing back.

    Professional builders did a lot of the work in the first project shown in the photos here, but right now there are two really interesting building designs underway, one with Shigeru Ban, and one with Hiroto Kobayashi. Both are using non-accredited structural systems, being made from cardboard and plywood, and as a result the push-back on how to move forward is not easy. Experience with earthquakes is deeply embedded in the building code (rightfully so) and structural regulations, so its not easy to convince the municipal government that a permanent building made of these materials would be safe. Solving that problem is a cool part  of the education of a modern architect. Building with our own hands is awesome of course, but learning how to pull the right levers in a bureaucratic system in order to do extraordinary things has got to be the best kind of education for anyone who wants to color outside the lines as part of their professional practice. Even when we are stopped it is a useful thing to have gone through, because we learn about what is important and why, and can begin to design with those lessons in mind. It is likely that this is a topic I will need to return to as the next buildings make their way through design development and then construction.

    In the meantime, here is what we did last  year.

    The entire project started as a joint studio with Kazuyo Sejima.

    the assignment was to design a series of dorm rooms and workspaces on the actual building site. Impressively, if the students could come up with a good design, ideally something students could build themselves, then we were motivated to carry out their ideas. As a crit I found Sejima to be very much on point and gave strong advice to the students about planning and construction that to be honest was a bit surprising. While her own built works are quite abstract she has built so much now that she is completely at ease describing the reasons buildings might be distributed over a site, and how they might be built - connecting concepts to the real world in very unambiguous ways, and entirely archi-babble free. I don't know if the students were catching everything she had to say but I sure was paying attention.

    Some of the ideas generated in the studio were carried forward, but in the end the university pushed for a pretty orthodox building to start with. In Japan that meant a timber frame, with all connections reinforced by high spec hardware, and all of the joints cut by milling machines. Joints between posts and beams are traditional, complex, and fascinating because they interlock so perfectly. But none of them are cut by hand anymore, which is probably why the building method is still around - cheap but high end, all dependent on an army of well-trained robots. As an observation it's interesting on its own but there are consequences to building this way. Very little is built here using 2x4 or 2x6 construction, which means students have less to do than might be the case in North America when a similar project is taken on.

    The wood pieces are heavy, thick, and labeled like an IKEA set, and it takes heavy machinery to put them in place. The next round of projects will likely be fabricated on the campus and then we will need more student involvement, but for now it's still pretty cool to join in with construction even if the opportunities are fewer.

    the building itself is a simple plan, with showers, dorm rooms, a CNC workshop, a large studio/workspace, and a kitchen, amounting to about 450 square meters (4500 sqft) when all said and done. So far the completed building has seen a lot of use as a meeting place for workshops and other activities, including a kick-off event where students designed and built bunk beds for all of the rooms, making use of the new CNC workshop as a base.

    The first building is a bit curious right now sitting on the land on its own, surrounded by suburban homes and a highway. If all goes well there will be 2 or 3 new buildings to go with it in the next 6 months, and hopefully that will work as a starting point for building a community, reaching out to the people living around the campus, and becoming a focal point for people to hang out.

    One of the things I really like about this project is that it is ambitious not only as a project for students, but for the area. Our campus was designed by a single architect more than 25 years ago on a large piece of farmland. Since then there has been no development outside the campus except for a few suburban homes and a lot of factories. There are no shops or cafes, no restaurants or bars, supermarkets, or any of the things that tend to accumulate around a  university. Instead we have a ring of trees, beautiful and soothing, acting as a kind of wall or moat. The student built campus is intended to break that mold. I have high hopes. Once students actually become a visible part of the community they have parked in for the last 20 some years things are bound to change in an interesting way.


  • studying architecture in japan

    There is a message in my inbox about once or twice a week asking for advice on how to study architecture in Japan. Many of the people who followed through and ended up studying  here have ended up becoming friends so I am genuinely happy to get those messages. Still, I notice I am becoming...


  • The self-built campus

    If Koolhaas' biennale was the capstone of architecture of the last century, and Aravena's version is (theoretically) questioning the direction our profession might go next, it is fitting to question the education of architects as well.What we are up to at Keio is definitely a work in process, but...


  • 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...


  • 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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