Knowlton School of Architecture (2005-2009) (Evan)

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    KSA Japan Day 1: Tokyo

    Evan Chakroff
    Dec 7, '13 8:05 AM EST

    Tokyo day 1.

    From our hotel in Akasaka, we took the subway (and a brief walk)to Meiji shrin, walked through the park to the 1964 Olympic Gymnasium, on to Shibuya Crossing (viaAtelier Bow Wow's Miyashita Park), then backtracked a bit to the luxury boutiques along Omotesando-dori (hhstyle, Gyre, Tods, Omotesando Hills, Louis Vuitton, Coach, the Spiral building, and Prada), then went on to the Nezu museum, Aoyama cemetery, the National Art Center, 21 21 Design Sight,  the Suntory Museum, a brief walk to Roppongi Hills,  and wrapped up the day with a visit to the Mori art museum and skydeck at sunset.

    A long day, but we did manage to see a cross-section of Tokyo's architectural history. Though the Meiji shrine is a fairly recent construct, we were able to start a discussion on temple typology - the influence of Chinese planning principals, propagated through japan via buddhism, and the subtle (to our untrained eyes) differences between Buddhist and Shinto temple/shrine architecture. While the shrine itself is a relatively recent construction (last rebuilt in the late 1950s),  we noted the craftsmanship that marks it as inheritor of a longstanding craft tradition, and noted the tectonic 'honesty' of materials and lack of unnecessary ornamentation as possible differentiators between Buddhist and Shinto  architecture. In our discussion, we speculated on the role of ancient/traditional forms of architecture in the establishment or reinforcing of state power. In the shrine's original incarnation in the 1920s, the use of traditional forms and construction techniques could be understood as a reaction against the westernizing tendencies of the Meiji restoration, ironic as the shrine was built to venerate the recently deceased Meiji emperor...

    Moving to the 1964 Olympic stadium, we note, again, the tension between the state and the individual in the construction (or reconstruction) of a modern society. Tokyo had been selected  as the venue for the 1940 Olympic Games, but as the Sino-Japanese war  merged with the pacific theater of WWII the games were justifiably canceled. Only 4 years after theBerlin olympics, we could only speculate what the Games would look like in Imperial Japan. A mere 24 years later, Tange's Olympic Gymnasium was constructed on a grand scale - a perhaps obscene use of space, considering the cramped quarters in which most Tokyoites did (and still do) live. The form of the building still looks shockingly contemporary, with sweeping curves derived from the practical necessities of a large span roof in a seismically active zone. The formal similarities between the sweep of the roof and the curves  of the eaves in traditional temple architecture cannot be overlooked, and may have had some impact on the acceptance of the gymnasium as a symbol of modern japan, so soon after the dismantling  of the Japanese empire and the devastation of war.

    Onward to Shibuya station and crossing, we had the opportunity to discuss Tokyo's urban development, and the agglomeration as a multinodal, decentralized network. Like Los Angeles, Tokyo has no real center (the symbolic one in each case relatively devoid of street life). The city exists as a sprawling mat, punctuated in only a few places by high-rise towers and the associated commercial frenzy. Shibuya is one of those nodes. Walking from Shibuya crossing to Omotesando, we noted the pedestrian-scale lanes branching  out from the major boulevards and pondered the  legacy of pre-modern land-holdings and  the differences in urban form between the former low and high city (feudal lords vs merchants?). The retail boutiques of Omotesando-dori make an interesting group, but spatially only the Raum-plan of Jun Aoki's Louis Vuitton and the extruded diamonds of HdM's Prada make a big impression. The others seem mere surface & graphic.Prada's position in the ongoing HdM project - the elaboration of surface graphic into three-dimensional space - was discussed at length, while our group tried to sneak photos of the interior.

    From Omotesando-dori, we walked past Kengo  Kuma's Nezu Museum to  Aoyama Cemetery, and on to Tange's National Art  Center, which we caught in great light - surprised by the accessibility of the lobby, occupying the space between the wavy skin and the blocky gallery halls. As the trip goes on we'll try to reconcile Kurokawa's early Metabolist work with his later (commercial?) phase, but that discussion will wait for another day.

    After a stop at the fairly uninteresting 21-21 Design Sight, we jogged to Roppongi Hills' Mori Tower, where we enjoyed the open-air skydeck and contemporary art exhibit (plus a few cocktails) before heading back to our hotel.

    So far so good! Photos soon, as we continue to explore Tokyo, and start to formulate some syncretic opinions on the city.

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Thoughts on the M.Arch I program at the Ohio State University, 2005-2009, plus additional work with OSU as a critic and lecturer.

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