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

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    KSA Japan Day 7: Nara to Namba

    Evan Chakroff
    Dec 19, '13 10:56 AM EST

    The morning after arriving late in Nara, we toured the historical sites in the city center. None of the temples or restored merchant houses in Nara are really "must-see" but as a dense collection of traditional architecture, it's hard to beat. the highlights here are mostly around the Todai-ji temple complex and surrounding park, populated by thousands of tame, sacred deer. In the historical Naramachi district we toured several other temple compounds and a few merchant houses. the clear standout here was the Imanishike Shoin, a small merchants house on an urban site, illustrating the great potential for integration of architecture and landscape in Huegel traditional Japanese home. this was of course a wealthy family, but the lot is small, and the layering of space within the complex is quite astounding: as sliding shoji screens are pushed and pulled in different directions, the entire layout of  the house can be reconfigured at will, creating a truly, literally dynamic space. A cold and wet day in Nara, we speculated that the plan arrangement here had grown from, at least in apart, climactic requirements. As in many traditional Japanese homes, the primary dwelling quarters are central, flanked by open-air corridors at the perimeter (an arrangement perhaps exemplified by Katsura Imperial Villa or Nijo castle, both in Kyoto, both later in our itinerary). On this cold day in December, students flocked to the central hall, heated by a  portable AC unit. In days past, I suppose the central hearth would be aflame, and daily activities would center around it in winter, the radius of activity expanding in warmer months. This was our first look at a traditional Japanese residence (tatami mats, shoji screens, captured views, integrated garden, etc) and we were suitably impressed.

    After a day in Nara, we headed to Osaka and stopped at Jon Jerde's Namba Park before unloading at the hotel. A massive, multi-block mixed use project centered around transit and shopping, there's no logical reason for this to be good or even interesting from add is perspective. However, Jerde here has done an excellent job of integrating the various circulation flows that converge on the site, from the adjacent train station to the street level pedestrian access to the daily commute to the complex's office towers. The retail podium is most definitely the most interesting aspect of the project, with a fairly typical shopping mall twisted around and under a terraced garden that allows public access from street level up to the 8th floor (and perhaps above). The garden itself is nothing special, but allowing public access to the roof seems a noble intention, the central chasm is striking, and the urban qualities of the project seem to be a penance of sorts for the "lobster trap" nature of Jerde's other Asian mall projects (see Langham Place), if not a kind of apologia for mall architecture in general. Here, on a frigid, blustery December evening, the place was still poppin' -- the designers have clearly done something right.

    next up:
    Day 8: Osaka sights and Naoshima Island.

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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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