Learning by doing in Japan

  • Plywood dreams

    will galloway
    May 28, '19 11:28 PM EST

    The (plywood) Veneer house project began after the Tohoku disaster in northern Japan in March 2011, which is already receding into the distance, even though it left some 120,000 homes destroyed and killed around 16,000 people.

    I've shown some of the projects here from that time already. Since then, Hiroto Kobayashi and his students have continued to develop the method of assembly and taken it all over the world, often in response to a disaster, sometimes as a pure research project. There is always in the background of every built work the intent to prepare for disaster. That is why some of the projects are cut by hand and some by CNC. Either way the parts can be assembled by anyone, without any special skills, and in the more recent versions that can make use of the precision of the CNC cutter, without any nails or screws.

    There are quote a few more projects built now. I'm showing a few images from three of them here.  You can find more projects and detailed information at this website, including a better summary of the history and ideas behind the works than I have laid out in the few sentences above.

    From my perspective, looking mostly from the sidelines at these built works, I'm impressed by how much the construction is improving over the years, and how lessons are being embedded in the projects as they develop. This is a kind of education that can only happen when the curriculum is project-based, where  students are building every year in a concentrated way. The effect is a slow version of rapid-prototyping, where ideas are tested in the field each year, often in very trying and difficult circumstances, so mistakes are caught out remorselessly. Almost Miesian in its concentration on technique, the continuous push to improve makes a big difference.

    It is worth underlining the Japanese way this is taking place.

    The projects are done as a group and led by Hiroto along with the senior graduate students in his lab. Everyone is contributing and learning, however the genius is in the collective. The vision admittedly comes mostly from Hiroto, who pushes the projects along, as he is in the end the only constant over the years. Students come and go all too quickly. This is the same way that Shigeru Ban runs his work at Keio,a nd it makes a lot of sense. As architecture goes, the outcome is slightly less provocative and more matter of fact than other project-based schools out there. However there is a kind of continuity that is important. Learning adds to learning, for everyone, not just individual students.

    The opposite example is clearest in the projects that Aaron Betsky outlines at his Taliesen school. They come from a place of self-reliance and individual expression that more or less celebrates the lone genius at work.I love the output that Betsky shows off, especially when it is as good as this recent project by Richard Quittenton. This is a challenging project about architecture expression, and it could very well lead to amazing output later on that changes the aesthetics of architecture. The work at Keio I feel goes down a different road, building on a commitment to social interaction. A harder thing to do well, and a task that many architects I feel would prefer to not engage with. It's messy and the skills are entirely outside of what we normally see as important in Western design culture. The pure design content is transformed in particular ways in the process that make it harder to talk about in that old 90's way, where architecture was supposed to be judged all on its own.

    I'm not making an argument for or against either one of these learn-by-building schools of thought.  As an architect I love the building as artwork kind of project. As an academic the impossible task I'm working on is how to scale ideas/solutions, so architects can have a serious impact on the world's problems (as opposed to putting up lots and lots of super cool pavilions). With that goal dancing elusively in front of me I find myself especially attracted to the work of Hiroto's lab, because it is in the end so concrete. Yet, I'm pretty sure neither approach will truly change the world without some serious luck and/or attention. 

    My working theory is we still need to pick up some more tools as architects and designers. Right now I imagine what could happen when students build their own designs for real people and at the same time reach audiences like Kanye or Virgil Abloh. When that happens, architecture school is going to be something entirely different.

    In the meantime, the work in Hiroto's lab is worth a first and second look.

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  • One small step...

    will galloway
    Jun 5, '18 2:20 PM EST

    Keio has a few campuses, and two of them have architecture courses. Sometimes we work together, but not nearly as much as we should. To encourage more collaboration the faculty and admin took the step to combine their efforts under a single umbrella group, called KEIO ARCHITECTURE, which also... View full entry

  • The first dormitory

    will galloway
    Jul 27, '16 9:05 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • studying architecture in japan

    will galloway
    Jun 13, '16 11:20 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • The self-built campus

    will galloway
    May 31, '16 10:07 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • A Recent Building Project in Nepal

    will galloway
    Feb 9, '16 1:58 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • Shigeru Ban studio

    will galloway
    Jan 24, '16 11:39 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • Trust and Architecture

    will galloway
    Dec 3, '13 1:20 PM EST

    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... View full entry

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

    will galloway
    Nov 18, '13 11:51 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • Architecture Art and Earthquakes

    will galloway
    Oct 9, '13 10:13 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • Architects sketch for AFH i love architecture

    will galloway
    Jun 7, '12 1:21 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • party for tohoku

    will galloway
    Apr 8, '12 7:58 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • volunteers wanted!

    will galloway
    Dec 21, '11 12:28 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • We arrived on bikes to see the empty rooms

    will galloway
    Nov 6, '11 4:46 AM EST

    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... View full entry

  • minami san riku project

    will galloway
    Oct 18, '11 8:12 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • a lazy entry

    will galloway
    Sep 26, '11 10:13 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • cleaning up

    will galloway
    Jul 30, '11 11:48 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • Redesigning The Japanese Economy

    will galloway
    Jul 16, '11 6:26 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • a small side project

    will galloway
    Jul 12, '11 9:52 AM EST

    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... View full entry

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

    will galloway
    Jun 26, '11 8:52 PM EST

    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... View full entry

  • dealing with disaster

    will galloway
    Jun 11, '11 2:35 AM EST

    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... View full entry

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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 community-driven 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 hoping to make a difference.

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