social

Tokyo metabolizing creates vision for Tokyo as new urban form

「東京は人間のための都市(まち)に向けて変容していけるのでしょうか。」週末に、『家の外の都市の中の家』という展示会を見ました。新しい社会条件に、東京の建築家が創造的なアプローチをします。人間が都市で一番な要素であれば、その都市はどんな風に見えるでしょうか。他人を認識することが良いことならば、住宅はどのように変わるでしょうか。建物と建物の隙間が、建築物と同じくらい大事ならば、都市生活はどう感じるだろうか。時間があれば、10月2日まで展示会をご覧ください。

“Tokyo seems to be changing into a city that is meant for people,” concludes the introduction to the Tokyo Metabolizing exhibit at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. The exhibit combines models and ideas from three architecture firms, Atelier Bow-Wow, Nishizawa Ryue, and Kitayama Koh, and formed part of the 2010 Venice Biennale.

Tokyo Metabolizing provides context for the rapid development of the world’s largest mega-city, and suggests new ways of living well in the city. I like how the architects respond with new dwelling types, including a blending of home and office, residences that share common spaces, and apartments where connectedness with others is valued more than privacy.

The architects are responding to new  realities of who we live with and how we want to live. In Tokyo the average household is less than 2 people, and these smaller households seek new connections with neighbors, colleagues, and friends. I think the most radical suggestion is that an awareness of other people living around you might be considered a positive feature rather than something to be concealed or suppressed.

The metabolizing title harks back to a radical modernism from 1960s Tokyo, and foregrounds the city as a living organism: with a life, history, and progression. Carolyn Steel, in her book Hungry City, uses the concept of the city as an organism  to focus attention on urban food delivery, prep and consumption. The urban built environment is also reflection of social life– from tax policy to demographics– and human aspirations.

I liked that Atelier Bow-Wow focuses on the untapped value of Tokyo’s void spaces: in-between, often wasted space between structures, which have potential for re-use and for gardens, community, and nature in the city.

The exhibit has great scale models, and is at Opera City until October 2. Also worth seeing is a special exhibit of recent works by young artist Ishii Toru (石井). Ishii creates psychedelic contemporary fantasies– full of convenience stores and fast food logos– using a traditional yuzen method of dyeing fabric.

Architecture bike tour with Linus Yng: First stop, space cube residence

どうして素敵な建築に都市生物多様性がないのだろう?

Why is cool Tokyo modern architecture devoid of urban biodiversity?

I recently took Linus Yng’s wonderful bike tour of (mostly) Suginami, with a few detours in Setagaya. I highly recommend exploring Tokyo on a bike with this Swedish graduate student in architecture. His tours combine visits to notable contemporary buildings, and a broad understanding of Tokyo’s history, topography, planning, edges, forgotten spaces, and endless complexity.

I’ll be running a series of posts sharing what I learned on this 3 hour ride. There were so many interesting designs, so many traces of country roads and Edo canals, and some surprises along the way. Today’s post looks at a remarkable small residence, designed by Yamashita Yasuhiro of Atelier Tekuto, our first stop.

I am amazed that in Tokyo, people are able and willing to pay for innovative small residences that stand out from the vast majority of large and small buildings that are built rather than designed. I love how futuristic this house is, and wonder what it’s like to live inside.

Yet from a biodiversity and neighborly perspective, I am very skeptical of this project. It seems all the more ironic when I read the Design Boom interview that states the architect “creates his architecture based on the system of society, the environment and the function.” Although the neighboring buildings suffer from a lack of design, I admire how social they are in terms of informal gardens.

I wonder why this designed residence is so void of plants. Perhaps the owner has no interest in plants. Yet, I wonder if the architect could not have specified some low maintenance, high impact plantings that would have brought life to the building. Perhaps architects don’t want organic material interfering with the shapes and lines they create. Given how street gardens are so uniquely Tokyo, I think this architect, like many others, has missed a big opportunity to re-imagine public green space and sociability.

Fall omatsuri in my neighborhood

The lanterns announce that the omatsuri festival will be happening Using simple plumbers’ fixtures and scaffolding, flexible and removable frames for lighted paper lanterns are erected all over the city.

I find omatsuri incredibly charming: a public street festival evoking rice farming and harvests, organized in Tokyo around tiny local shrines, work organizations, and local associations. A friend told me that in his town, the whole town celebrates together. But in the large megalopolis of Tokyo, the intensely local nature of each celebration is very personal and social.

Members of my apartment building are some of the main leaders of our local shrine’s festivities, which includes children’s and adults’ parading through the streets with portable shrines, flute, drum and bell music, (Japanese) lion dancing, traditional clothes including hapi (cotton jackets), and lots of public drinking.

At the shrine, one of my neighbors offered me a free shaved ice. I hesitated to accept other offers of food or drink because I did not want to be carrying the portable shrine; I know from experience that this is best left to younger and drunker participants.

Just in the other direction, on the same weekend, a small park gets transformed into a space for dozens to do “bon” dancing around a raised platform. Mostly seniors, they dance to various traditional and regional songs, while wearing yukatas. Children and even dogs come wearing this summer kimono. Unlike the local shrine, this small park has an area for more commercial “omatsuri” games and foods, including delicious mini-cakes, the ever present chocolate banana on a stick, yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more shaved ice.

I experimented this time with black-and-white photos that seem to make the event more timeless and nostalgic. It’s funny to see something very contemporary, like a child taking a cellphone photo of her chocolate banana, using this backward-seeming technology and juxtaposed with dances and music that may be centuries old. There’s something timeless about cast iron pans used over a gas grill to make the small cakes sold 12 or 40 to a bag.

I feel a certain surge of excitement when the portable shrines enter the large boulevard or fill the small streets radiating out from it. The shrine is very heavy, and there’s a definite camaraderie formed by sharing this load.

I’ll end the post with a short video of the dancing. The drumming and bells are live, and the other music and voice from an old CD player and simple amplifier sound system.

Shrines provide recreation and green space

On busy Shinjuku Dori, near Shinjuku Gyoen, there is a tiny shrine. I was startled last weekend to see a group of senior citizens playing ring toss in front of the open shrine. It was interesting to hear that there is nothing sacrilegious about using sacred space for recreation.

Apparently children often played in shrines, so with the aging society and few places for outdoor activities, I guess it is no surprise to see seniors enjoying this outdoor games and social time. Here you can see how the shrine is a small open space on a busy street full of tall buildings and a firehouse.

Here’s more photos of the game and the streetscape in Shinjuku Ichome. It’s great to see how shrines preserve open space, provide space for mature trees and for recreation. This shrine has many layers of trees, including a cherry tree.

Newsweek Japan article (日本語)

Newsweek Japan published my article about how Tokyo gardening turns public space into social space. The Tokyo Eye column allows Japanese to see how foreigners view and experience Tokyo, and I was asked to write in a very personal voice about how I experience living in Tokyo and why green space matters. I will post an English version soon.

東京の小さな緑を世界に誇れ

ジャレド・ブレイタマン

08年に仕事で初めて東京を訪れたとき、驚くと同時に感心させられたのは、この都市が実に人間的で、人と植物が共生する通りは活気に満ちあふれていたということだ。

多くの外国人と同じく私が東京に抱いていたイメージは、冷たく立ち並ぶ高層ビルと、渋谷のスクランブル交差点の雑踏、輝く広告のネオンだった。つまり、自然から完全に隔離された世界最大の都市を想像していたわけだ。

私自身これまでずっとガーデニングには深い愛情を注いできたが、東京の住民たちの植物を育てる情熱と創意工夫には今も驚かされる。そして、人間と建物がひしめき合う大都会で人と人を結び付けるコミュニティーが存在するという点にも。

ある日、初心者向けの陶芸教室を訪れた後、狭い歩道のアスファルトの割れ目から美しいパンジーが生えているのを見つけた。

東京ではほんの小さなスペースにも住民が気を配り、「緑の息吹」が宿っている。この印象がきっかけとなり、私はサンフランシスコから東京に移り住む決心をする。私は幸運にも日立と米外交問題評議会(CFR)が提携するフェローシッププログラムの奨学金を得て、デザイン人類学と都市生態学を融合させた「東京の小さな緑」の研究を始めることになった。

東京はアメリカやヨーロッパの都市とは異なり「小さな緑」にあふれていながら、日本人自身にはそのユニークな特徴に気付いていない。道端のパンジーがそれを気付かせてくれた。そこで私は、以下のような問いを掲げてみた。

1.なぜ東京の人々は自分の周りの環境にそれほど気を配るのか。

2.建物が密集する都市部で、自然はどのような役割を果たすのか。

3.東京のガーデニング文化から他の都市は何を学べるのか。

。。。

Newsweek Japan の全記事を読んで下さい!

Tokyo University hosts biodiversity symposium

Tokyo University is hosting a symposium next month on Biodversity and Sustainability. It promises “a multi-faceted exploration of how to assess and rebuild traditionally human nature relationships into modern sustainable social systems.”

Speakers include Tokyo University professors, government leaders, and international researchers. You can see the program online (in English and Japanese) and fill out a free online registration (Japanese only). The sponsor is IR3S, or the The Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science.