Learning by doing in Japan

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    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 after the tsunami.  Not just because the houses were swept away, but because the fishing economy that once stood at the center of the area is also gone.  Ironically, not because there are no fish.  There are fish to be caught, and even boats to catch them, but it turns out that a fishing economy is not entirely about the fish.  A good chunk of it is about processing the catch, and that entire infrastructure was also swept away with the homes.  Did I mention that the entire region has dropped about a meter into the ocean? 

    What it means is that even as they rebuild their homes and get the boats out onto the water, there is no infrastructure to take the catch.  The fridges and the factories were destroyed utterly, and the sewage system is now lower than the ocean.  So it is going to take some time to get back on their feet and the fear is that by the time that happens the economy will have moved somewhere else.

    So, the mayor has decided to hold a festival to help with morale and to celebrate what has been achieved (there have been victories too after all).  Japan is a nation of festivals.  Every village has one at least once a year, and this one is important because the community wants to imagine a future that contains some of the traditions of the past.

    Which explains the fish.  The community asked us to think of something that kids could be involved in and that would be cheap to put together and somehow symbolic and fun.  The students in the lab came up with using the laser cutter to make a small school of fish that could be assembled by children to make a simple arch.  It's a cute idea. Perfect for Japan.

    This is completely a side project, entirely independent of the studio, run by the lab of my teaching partner, Yasushi Ikeda, whose specialty is digital fabrication.  A topic that many on this site have shown some amounts of passion, both for and against. This time the arguments are different. 

    The typical computer driven installation is abstract and I suppose also self-contained.  This time we have fish.  Which changes things completely, doesn't it? 

    Last week the students tested the structural system to be sure it works, then put half the arch on display for students and folks from around the campus to write messages on at the local university festival, which was a great success.

    On August 11 and 12 we will head up to Kesenuma and join the festival there and the local kids will put together the completed arch and hopefully have a good time.

    Sometimes with digital fabrication it is enough to make the 3d model and never let the result leave the computer.  This time is different.  It's just a small side project, put together in stolen minutes, but for all that it feels like something that will be enjoyed by the community in Kesenuma, and appreciated too. 

    We are also tackling the larger problems.  Well that is, as much as any architect can. But for the short term we have fish.

    Next post I will try to show some of the students' progress in the studio.

    update: the above was featured in inhabitat website, end of july 2011

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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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