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.
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.