Exquisite ruins, to some extent theorized by Isozaki, may well be one response to 30-year building cycle in Japan.
Make it so resilient and robust, that it would be too expensive to tear it down or change anything about it.
Just a thought.
Exquisite ruins, to some extent theorized by Isozaki, may well be one response to 30-year building cycle in Japan.
Make it so resilient and robust, that it would be too expensive to tear it down or change anything about it.
Just a thought.
A case for another intellectual rumination
by Kaz Yoneda and Gregory Serweta, AIA
Our society in the age of insatiable consumption can be indicted of neither producing nor consuming little of consequence. Just because energy is being encapsulated to produce something, does not mean that object is anything consequential. It is truly an object with all its realities withdrawn from our conventional litmus of values, morality, ethics, or knowledge. Like chewing gum, it is purely constituted by taste without sustenance. Bubble Gum Architecture emerges unbuildable, untenable, titillating, but in the end, calorically empty. The question that architects must ask is where to go from here, towards shifting the criteria of judgment in architecture. Perhaps the clues can be found in Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs left behind by tracing where the encapsulated energy is going to.
Suspended from the normative datum of Western paradigm, Tokyo can be thought of as a giant black-hole. It is an endless pit of insatiable hunger into which images, and their encapsulated energies, are constantly being sucked in, condensed, and trapped. Only through occasional flares, when a corona shifts, is some energy allowed to be expelled; rare cases of novel works. It is a real-life, real-scale, real-time laboratory experiment unfolding before our eyes to test how much it can consume before self-implosion. Instead of being gloomy about this; rather, this can be seen as an overwhelmingly-exciting opportunity to tap into and unleash all that energy.
There will be a tipping point from the unbalance of consumption and production, counteracted by a powerful reaction that will try to restore a systemic equilibrium. The definition of production will shift from one legitimized by capitalism’s so-called laissez-faire free market objectivity towards the production of protocols to consume the right blend of encapsulated energy. Soon, images alone will no longer be enough to satiate the palate as the craving for the hallucinogens will only grow stronger and stronger until the real and the actual either collapse onto each other in a truly cybernetic universe, or become a singular and new seamless totality of consciousness. In either case, the increasing craving will force the production of stuff that cannot be evaluated by the system we are currently entrenched in. This posits a new premise for our relationships to any and all objects—to society, to architecture, to oneself, to each other—that is not based on transaction and consumption, but by how one peels away the bundle of superficies and touch upon the pure core of encapsulated energy. Then, and only then, can tempura become less about its addiction-inducing fatty-yet-fluffy skin, and more about a masterful inversion of inner ingredients’ effervescence permeating the vacuousness to reclaim its inherent taste. What, then, becomes paramount is the issue of taste. Like a chef, an architect is a kind of cultural agent who connects the raw product with the human consumer, to ensure that what is natural becomes cooked and undergoes a process of socialization. And like chefs, architects, from constraints inherent to ingredients, must produce novel ideas. To fulfill this role, architects need to position themselves as true producers and arbiters of taste, and shift energy towards producing ideas and building them, instead of flavorless images.
by Kaz Yoneda and Gregory Serweta, AIA
Moore’s Law (itself not a scientific law, but a projection in which doubling cycles are constantly been updated) manifests our increasing appetite to consume information and rich images, made possible by parallel growth in the number and size of pixels. Perhaps, the digital images are already the reality, beyond the actuality human senses can process. Architecture’s presence has been in an inverse relationship with technology: With the advent of the personal computer, the Internet, and mobile technology, architecture has been driven by its own kind of Moore’s law, in a combination of architecture’s own “slowness” with technological obsolescence and ever-present consumerist demand. Thus, the production of images that skims the ideal withdrew from the purview of architects and into the hands of digital delineators, or renderers.
Therein lies a peculiar antinomy. Where is all that energy going? Let us postulate that the doubling of transistors, according to Moore’s claim, also encapsulate the energy used in their production, due to the first law of thermodynamics. This would suggest, then, that the encapsulated energy would be transferred to objects that are further produced via the transistors. If the “object” in this case is an image, then the image itself would necessarily contain within it the encapsulated energy. Theoretically, when our sensorial faculties “consume” these images, that encapsulated energy must go somewhere. In the vapid consumer culture, in particular of Japan, where is all that energy going to?
The object of production and the way energy is encapsulated are increasingly metamorphosing from Hardware to Software. While consumer products, such as automobiles, appliances, and later, computers and mobile phones, have their cycles of planned obsolescence and demands of novelty—beyond their introductory revolutionary impact on a market—most products have had only incremental changes to their Hardware. Cars still drive, blenders still mix, microwave ovens still... microwave. However, the user interface and the user experiences with these products have changed, and even more so have the Internet of Things and Artificially Intelligent Interfaces. The demands on architecture, however, have not been so great. Even with the emergence of the smart house, with self-adjusting thermostats and energy-efficient context-aware self-dimming lights, the promise of truly ubiquitously-upgrading homes has yet to come.
But at the same time, the consumption of architecture at a mass scale switched to something to be seen, not built, or bought, or occupied, or experienced in person, through the dissemination and popularization of the digital image and the Internet: “The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified.”(1) With the technologies of the 20th century, the digital image has found many media platforms for its dissemination and popularization in today’s always-wired, always-on, always-tweeting society. From the nascent days of early websites and web search engines, into an explosion of blog platforms like LiveJournal and Wordpress, to social media like MySpace and Facebook, and ultimately to mobile, with ubiquitous cameras in-built in smartphones and apps such as Instagram and SnapChat, the simple image has undergone mass democratization and dissemination in society, and has come to redefine the way we interact and experience the world.
To note, the foil in this shift of consumption (and production) and in the very meaning of Hardware, played out as well in America’s industrial centers in the latter half of the 20th century. Cities, such as Detroit and Buffalo in the so-called Rust Belt, that gradually lost their historically-prominent manufacturing industries and factories of mass production—with their cathedrals of manufacturing empty and their neighborhoods depopulated—are now subject to renewed interest as photogenic subject matter, for their historical relics, abandoned houses, and empty lots. Niche genres, like ruin porn and blogs such as Fuck Yeah Brutalism, re-aestheticize architecture of the not-so-distant-past and out-of-fashion styles for the consumption of new-found audiences through photography.
Guggenheim Helsinki competition entries superimposition
Image by Ann Charleston
Architects themselves now use images of architecture as the supreme means to convey architecture’s value to a consumerist audience. An audience who prefers the pleasure of nice-looking pictures over critical thinking. Surpassing the sexy, highly-botoxed photographs, renderings reign supreme. Take one look at the recent strings of well-publicized international competitions, such as the Guggenheim Helsinki Museum or 2020 Olympic Tokyo Stadium, and you will see not-so-inconspicuous ocularcentrism.(2) The request for proposals issued by the Japan Sport Council’s Olympic stadium design selection committee(3), led by Tadao Ando and comprised of architects as well as politicians, was drafted mainly by bureaucrats who, according to Fumihiko Maki, had no firsthand knowledge of architecture whatsoever.(4) The requirements for the competition posters exemplify this point more poignantly than words can describe. Here, also, the “design seems to advance a new kind of narcissism, one that is all images and no interiority – an apotheosis of the subject that is also its potential disappearance.”(5)
This is not a globally-isolated phenomenon. Tokyo is just the latest rendition of a fad running through the past few Olympics. That is to say, not only are the most important flagship facilities of the Olympiads decided by images, but precisely because of this, they are mere shells: “As the indispensable decoration of the objects produced today, as the general exposé of the rationality of the system, as the advanced economic sector which directly shapes a growing multitude of image-objects...”(1) Superficies offset, thickened, materialized to become structural, functional, and decorated shell all-at-once. The shell makes these stadia’s inner hollowness, both actually and figuratively, palatable. However, what happens in Tokyo hyperbolizes this epiphenomenon to a whole new level. An image is further comported in more layers of infinitely-regressive images, proportional to the importance of the void within it—or the image of importance the object conveys—which becomes lost in the simulacra of value that it never had as a present-at-hand. By chance, here again, one shell (Zaha Hadid’s) was subsumed and wrapped into another shell (Kengo Kuma’s); from hard shell to a porous anti-object.
1. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1970,) pp. 5
2. Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin (West Sussex: Wiley-Academy, 2005) pp. 19
3. Japan Sport Council, “New National Stadium International Concept Design Competition Submission Guidelines,” (Tokyo: Japan Sport Council, July 20, 2012) pp. 15
4. Fumihiko Maki, “Re-thinking the New National Olympic Stadium in Historical Background of Jingu-Gaien,” JIA Magazine, August 29, 2013
5. Hal Foster, Design and Crime: And Other Diatribes (London: Verso, 2002) pp. 25
6. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1970,) pp. 15
by Kaz Yoneda and Gregory Serweta, AIA
Post-Modernism looked to history itself as a way to reclaim what was lost through the Modern movement. This sense of loss can be seen in many episodes from which theorizations by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Colin Rowe emerged to fill the gap through an attempt to reconnect and form meaningful synthesis with history: “Its strategy constantly calls forth the ‘ruses of the imaginary’ in order to dismiss them: even though it is a process that both ‘unconscious’ and ‘without history,’ it must still account for the effects of knowledge and history by binding them into new configurations in the service of tasks that are always the same.”(1) However, as far as we can logically concur, time is unidirectional. Time itself, encapsulating the history, can never be reclaimed without disturbing the space-time continuum. The Post-Modernists were all too aware that images of history were indeed reclaimable, the phantom whisperings of time gone by; akin to how the stars we see today are constituted from light emitted many millennia ago. Here is a great discrepancy between the real and the actual. A star (the real) may have moved light years by the time its light reaches our oculus (the sensual-actual), but our cosmology based on the sciences and their tools depends on reproducible results and on what can be observed to become a scientific truth. Against the post-war deprivation of a personal connection to a much larger context than oneself, in like fashion, Post-Modern syndrome fixated our attention onto something more actual than real(2); that no matter what we do, we can only reclaim the superficies of image to connect to history in order to legitimize design in all its guises. This trend also had a uniquely-Japanese turn in as much as “...the young Japanese intellectuals conjectured optimistically that, insofar as some cultural theory was in existence, a new one would follow if they simply added the prefix post- to the existing one… [T]here were not a few young intellectuals who were stricken by a series of self-destructive impulses when they learned that the concept of ‘post-such-and-such’ was in fact insubstantial and when, in turn, they learned that the ‘such-and-such’ thoughts in themselves meant very little, if anything at all.”(1) This moment of theo-historical reflection and self-referential regression coincided with the rising capacity of technology. One such example being Moore’s Law. Soon, the increasing demand for images and the doubling production thereof will engender ample incubation for seduction camouflaging sedation and anaesthetics, to fill the inner void of substance.
1. Harry D. Harootunian, “Visible Discourses/Invisible Ideologies,” in Postmodernism and Japan, ed. Masao Miyoshi et al. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989) pp. 88
2. Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (London: Zero Books, 2011) pp.60-75
3. Ōe Kenzaburō, “Japan’s Dual Identity” in Postmodernism and Japan, ed. Masao Miyoshi et al. ( Durham: Duke University Press, 1989) pp. 203-204
by Kaz Yoneda and Gregory Serweta, AIA
The end of World War II heralded a shift in how architecture was consumed. The post-war era brought an economic boom and new opportunities to build, with the quintessential typology of cookie-cutter architecture being the standard single-family residential house. In the United States, the return of the GIs from Europe brought an immediate demand to house them, which skyrocketed the US housing industry. Cities, such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco – and especially their suburbs – grew tremendously. It was the peak of home order catalogs, which provided numerous choices of housing plans for the consumer to purchase from, ranging in square footage, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, or à la carte additions, such as a sunroom or a library. With programmatic arrangements, details, and materials within a house similar in each model, the standard suburban house transcended the need for an architect, thereby commodifying the basic unit of architecture—the house. The advent of the Levittown model was made possible by New Deal financial instruments, such as 30-year mortgages and amortization, fostering a new consumerist-minded middle class.(1)
War-ravaged Europe and Japan also needed national rebuilding efforts. The above-mentioned American system effectively became one of its lucrative exports, transferring its métier and capital with it. This brand of Pax-Americana or “Americanoiserie” would thrive in those war-torn countries’ reconstruction efforts. One place where this was acutely felt was in Japan, where the GHQ and the American occupation army remolded the host according to the ideals and aspirations of engendering a democratic stronghold in this corner of the world. However, there was a precarious paradox. While they were intent on restructuring another nation into a relative clone of themselves, they were unwilling to invest the capital. According to Akira Koshizawa(2), GHQ’s “Dodge Line” policy enacted austerity measures all the while attempting to reconstruct Japan, likened to the generous Marshall Plan.(3) The superimposition of an American system(4), thus, was unequivocal yet untenable. This ambiguity left room for improvisation, adaptation, and ultimately, reappropriation. Incubated in the petri dish that is Japan, this reappropriation allowed for mutations and variations to run amuck. In the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, new suburbs, such as Setagaya, Nakano, and Suginami, sprouted from what were originally agrarian landscapes. Satellite cities, such as Tsukuba New Town, were built up with new infrastructure and railways to serve as new bedroom communities within a one hour commute of Tokyo, while existing neighboring cities, such as Yokohama, grew to the point that they physically merged with Tokyo to become a megalopolis. This urban growth came hand-in-hand with a building boom, causing many a house builder to create as many low-cost, low-quality, wood-frame houses as possible.(5,6)
In Japan, the transformation of architecture into a disposable commodity began in the Bubble era. With the infusion of global capital, a new wealth, mixed with the promise of the ever-appreciating property prices, set the stage for a market where land became more valuable than the buildings on it. This constructed notion of Scrap-and-Build in Japan also begat a philosophy of “creative destruction”. The influx of money pushed an artificial demand to create greater value and to build higher and higher on less and less ground.(7) Older housing stock, now considered subpar and not worth the time or money to renovate, was typically demolished and discarded instead of improved.
Houses in Japan depreciate like fish at market: the less fresh, the less it’s worth. As noted by economists, Robert Koo and Masaya Sasaki:
“Houses… last only about 30 years on average, effectively making them a durable consumer good, whereas in Western countries a house is a capital good that will retain its value almost in perpetuity as long as it is properly maintained. The market value of Japanese houses falls even faster than they can be depreciated for tax purposes; after 15 years the typical house is worth nothing.”(8)
Japan, in effect, figuratively and literally trashes about four percent of the annual total GDP on housing.(9) With the aforementioned sprawl of Tokyo’s aging suburbs, many houses become abandoned and the heirs of the properties are either unwilling to live so outside the central city or unable to pay the cost of demolishing the homes. Though the quote, “Tokyo could end up being surrounded by Detroits” by a Japanese real estate expert can sound like hyperbole, in all, there are about 8 million unoccupied homes across all of Japan.(10)
Yet with its shrinking population and having three times fewer people, Japan builds as many new houses as the United States.(11) In Japan, there is a preference for having something brand new, not because a previously-owned house is worthless, but no one wants to live in a “used” home.(12) Instead, if it can be afforded, Japanese tend to hire architects to design them their life-long, brand-new, and often novel-looking dream home. Or at a more competitive rate, there is always the catalog made-to-order, pre-fabricated home. Japan’s own mass-produced residential housing industry also established itself after the war, provided for by companies already part of larger keiretsu or conglomerate-type corporations.(13) Japan, though a nation of universal middle-class values, long ago dropped any pretense that a home is any more than a consumer item—“conventional, convenient, disposable”.(14) The Kyoto-based firm, FOBA, tailored the winning formula to carry more “brand appeal” for a niche market of households desiring something between a generic house-maker’s unit and a boutique architect’s design. Instead of prefabricating the materials or construction, FOBA pre-establishes and consistently applied the spatial and aesthetic concepts that go into each order. “They are like products from a convenient store: there are no surprises in content or price, and everyone else is buying the same thing”.(15) For the ultimate Sears catalog homes on bovine growth hormones, Muji, the Japanese-global minimalist superstore, has for more than a decade been leading the charge in premium ready-made homes, and “has become not only an internationally renowned company, but for many people is a way of life."(16) Or in other words, “Less and less are we buying products (material objects) that we want to own; increasingly we buy life experiences, experiences of sex, eating, communicating, cultural consumption. ... We are becoming consumers of our own lives”.(17) Within this mentality of consumption, architecture and urbanism that is consumed, used, and digested through and through ultimately becomes excrement to a society that values novelty and newness, while leaving a hunger for history and culture.
1. Richard K. Green and Susan M. Wachter, "The American Mortgage in Historical and International Context.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 19, Issue 4, (Pittsburgh: American Economic Association, Fall 2005) pp. 97
2.Akira Koshizawa, Story of Tokyo City Planning (Tokyo: Chikumashobo Ltd., 2001) pp.324
3.“Milestones: 1945–1952; Marshall Plan, 1948” accessed January 31, 2017. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/marshall-plan.
4. Hiroshi Miyake, “The Enactment Process of the Building Application Procedure in the Building Standard Law” Architectural Institute of Japan, Vol. 79, No. 698 (Tokyo: AIJ, April 2014) pp. 959-965
5. John Grimond, “The World Goes to Town”, The Economist (5 May, 2007) pp. 5
6. “Relaxation on Wooden Apartments in Quasi-Fire Protection Zones - The Japanese Ministry of Construction submitted the Building Standard Law revisions to the Japanese Diet on March 17, 1998. Info: John Powles, COFI or Hidehiko Fumoto, COFI Tokyo
7. Jorge Almazán Caballero and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, “Scrap and Build: Alternatives to the Corporate Redevelopment of Tokyo”, MONU 4 (Kassel: Universität Kassel, 2006)
8. Richard Koo and Masaya Sasaki, “Obstacles to Affluence: Thoughts on Japanese Housing,” NRI Papers No. 137, December 1, 2008 (Tokyo: Nomura Research Institute, 2008) pp. 1
9. Ibid. pp. 9
10. Jonathan Soble, “A Sprawl of Ghost Homes in Aging Tokyo Suburbs,” New York Times, August 24, 2015, https://nyti.ms/2jSYxNI
11. Ibid. pp. 3
12. Shozo Fujita, “Culture of New Stuff: Apropos of PIka-Pika,” in Self-Reflection of Knowledge from the Psychoanalytic Perspectives (Tokyo: Heibonsha Library, 2003) pp. 272
13. Thomas Daniell, After the Crash: Architecture in Post-Bubble Japan (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008) pp. 69
15. Thomas Daniell, “Beyond Style: A Case Study in Contemporary Japanese Architecture” in Architecture and Identity, edited by Peter Herrle and Erik Wegerhoff (Berlin: Habitat - International, 2008) pp.107
16. MoMAstore, “MUJI at MoMA” (Available: https://store.moma.org/museum/moma/CategoryDisplay_10451_10001_11476_26712_-1_Y_MUJI-at-MoMA, Retrieved: 13 February, 2017)
17. Slavoj Žižek, The Universal Exception (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006) pp. 229
by Kaz Yoneda and Gregory Serweta, AIA
Tempura simulacrum keychain
Photo by Kaz
Tempura is a Japanese dish with medieval origins, whose technique of using a batter of flour and eggs was adapted from fritters brought by early European missionaries. It became Japan’s commercially-successful fast food favorite, sold by street vendors in Tokyo since the Edo period—as deep-frying with oil indoors in what were predominantly wood-and-paper homes was dangerous and illegal. Its name, tempura, which has no meaning in Japanese, was an implicit misappropriation from the Latin for the fasting period during which those missionaries made their fritters.(1) “It is said that tempura... has for its envelope nothing but time, which has solidified it… [R]efined by the... techniques of cancellation and exemption, it is the nutriment of another time… whose real name would be... the empty sign.”(2) It is almost as if tempura’s main ingredient within its vacuous superstructure, its name, and in its mode of sale, is the very denaturing, transfigural process of “time”. The act of denaturing, that is, the act of altering natural qualities, such as with rotting and deep-frying, also alters the state of cities and architecture.(3) Take any of the great cities, Tokyo, Chicago, London, or Lisbon, and one can see the effects of denaturing – such as with fire and earthquake – which can easily give way to decomposition and discardment without expending energy to reconstruct or build anew what was lost, thereby replenishing lost energy. In many ways, denaturing is necessary to metabolize a city.(4) However, increasingly the architectural denaturing process has become more artificial, characterized by dismemberment and disposition. Combined and accelerated by the forces of advertisement and commercialism, a shift occurred in how architecture was understood, from primarily a spatial experience to one based on the consumable superficies of images. Architects are complicit in a cycle of consumption by indulging on a quantity of empty qualifiers; in this case, a steady progression from producing consumable architecture to leading the charge in consuming the images of architecture. Increasingly, architects exist in this processing factory of images, both as sommeliers of empty consumerism and patrons anticipating the next scrumptious plate of image du jour to provide inspiration.
This opportunistic or unscrupulous genre of hunger is ravenous and consumes embedded history, styles, or symbolism—regardless of their origin—as long as the consumption releases the encapsulated energy. In this case, hunger is the demand and consumption, the wants and needs, of energy in any form. This type of hunger transcends national limits, and can engender a new globalism; away from American-initiated efforts for a global society begun in the late 1940’s, and towards a true world mix. Consumption can ultimately devour the whole world and digest in the belly of humanity. This is the hypertrophic manifestation of the fundamentally changed nature of architecture: the forces of globalization and capitalism in the latter half of the last century have transformed architecture into an object of consumption(5), understood in sense of perishable consumer items with an expiration date—here now, gone tomorrow. The post-war exacerbated the hunger, not for the actual space, but for the image of newfound economic prowess.
1. Tetsu Okada, Etymological Dictionary of Foods (Tokyo: Tokyodo Shuppan Publication, 2003) pp.308
Tempura’s etymological root Quatuor Tempora.
2. Roland Barthes, The Empire of Signs (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983) pp. 25~26
3. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Book 1: The Raw and the Cooked, Mythologiques (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983) pp. 01
“Certain categorical opposites drawn from everyday experience with the most basic sorts of things — e.g. 'raw' and 'cooked,' 'fresh' and 'rotten,' 'moist' and 'parched,' and others — can serve a people as conceptual tools for the formation of abstract notions and for combining these into propositions."
4. much like a pine forest requires a fire at times to clear overgrowth and trigger an environmental cue to release seeds from their serotinous cones.
5. Gerald L. Mandell, John E. Bennett, and Raphael Dolin, Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases 7th edition (Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2010) pp. 250
“The historical term "consumption" came about due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.”
Artificial Intelligence has acquired a veneer of a negative image. Like the inventions of most medicines and weapons, I think it's up to the humanity to shape if it will become an existence of menace or benevolence.
If we can harness it's becoming to compliment our lives, even elevate human existence itself to a whole new level, by generating something unimaginable by human imagination alone, then surely we should call it Alternative Intelligence.
"Creative Destruction" touted by some Japanese does not retain its meaning in contemporary housing's Scrap-and-Build cycle. If anything, it has contributed to the obsolescence of building design.
What would be
Architecture and Urbanism in the Age of Singularity
Archipelago insulation allows Japan to exercise selective porosity and osmosis, from foreign intervention to immigration.
“It is said that tempura...” noted Roland Barthes, “has for its envelope nothing but time, which has solidified it… [R]efined by the Japanese techniques of cancellation and exemption, it is the nutriment of another time… whose real name would be the interstices without specific edges, or again: the empty sign.”
The porous batter contains within it an equally vacuous superstructure. The denaturing, transfigural process of “time” (tempura’s etymological root) incarnate.
Like the battered surfaces of tempura, the vegetations overtook the battered masonry bastions and demarcate the periphery of the Center; both of Tokyo and its social hierarchy. Shortly after the Meiji Restoration, the feudal shogun’s castle was reappropriated for a new capital palace apt for the seat of reinstated imperial power. The donjon, outdated and made impotent from modern warcraft, no longer needed the outer defensive walls from Other’s invasion or civil wars. The Tenno within is, rather, protected by an invisible, highly regulated, hierarchical superstructure. Ironically though, throughout most of its history, and to this day, he is devoid of any actual powers. Thus, the Center commands the highest geopolitical respect but lacks any real objective consequence.
He and, therefore, the Center are protected instead by the image of being otherworldly consequential, and the porous overgrowth masks the true void within. Conversely, the images of battered periphery protects the citizens from the reality of their inner hollowness; that their subject of reverence is an image of revery projected onto a being stripped of individuality and choice.
However, the citizenry is too occupied, too happy to exist in their eery bubbles, desensitized by their insatiable appetite for vapid images. The image of the Center has become just “another” of many delectable stimulants and condiments to enrich their inner blandness so regulated by the superstructure of culture. The humanity, in the name of hunger for consumption, has gorged on quantity of images, rather than the quality of spectacles. Architect too also often exists in this processing factory of images; both as sommeliers of empty consumerism and patrons anticipating the next scrumptious plate of image du jour to provide some inspirations for their self-relevance.
"In the next thirty minutes, you will open the door to this mysterious world and regain a lost eternity..."
― Opening narration, Neo Ultra Q
"When two persons in search of a Pokémon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente, is there violence? Is there murder?"
― Werner Herzog, inquiring on the protocol of Pokémon Go
Tokyo doesn't need a protocol, if it in fact even has a protocol. Its urban policy is ad-hoc-ness. In medical terms, there is no treatment plan, no summarized consensus statements, nor no cohesive addresses to practical issues. How an architect deals with the design of a building does not have a prescriptive or universal code. As such, the lack of protocol enables diversity in its aesthetics as well as in its appropriation of aesthetics. Diversity in this sense can also be interpreted as fluidity in its various changes, like physical manifestations of the Japanese cultural psyche, refreshed every thirty years or so.
Even through its many metamorphoses, Tokyo hasn't quintessentially changed since the Edo period. The urban fabric still retains the divisions of the estates of daimyos, but set through periods of codes and appropriations – a kind of urban mitate-e – whether with the 17th C. wabi sabi imperfect beautification of the city, Edo period's shiso architectural humble subtleties, kabuki façades of exaggeration, or Meiji-era imported construction, stylistic mimicry, and military industrialization. Tokyo continued that way in the post-war Miracle and Bubble, becoming a hyper-consuming high-geared capitalist machine, capturing the essence of nowness, status, and cultural regimentalization, and reproducing the image of Japan's growing middle class and petite bourgeoisie in its expanding suburbanity. Even the current kawaii trend of infantile cuteness seems devised from Occupation times as a return to pre-war innocence, as reflected in a minimalist architectural formalism.
Though Tokyo seemingly has a scripted history mirroring a robust national psyche, it allows for moments of 'Absolute Other-ness' to pervade (____- zettai) – parties that you have no control over; whether with the Other's façades: 1950's concrete buildings resurfaced with 1980's tiles, to be resurfaced with 2010's steel panels. Or with the Other's code – as with American start-up, AIrBnB – which is shaking up the city's real estate and hotelier hierarchy, playing in the ambiguities of the public, the private sphere, and the law.
But now, more than ever, it is the culture of shiny new things (pika pika), with media-enabled fantasies, that's taking Tokyo by storm. Coincidently, it's Pikachu (again) and Pokémon Go, a corporate masterwork of how to literally superimpose stupendous kawaii vis-à-vis the city, augmenting reality by projecting parasitic cuteness onto the streets and gameifying the entirety of the prefectures. Technological blinders keep the populace placated while virtually beautifying the present reality that Tokyo as a population and as a city and Japan as a nation becomes... what? (More poor? More Olympic? Even more extemporary?) Maybe this only serves as a hypnotic stopgap until Tokyo receives its next therapy session.
Tokyo is a living manifesto waiting to be exposed. With the fatal weakness of its inherent lack of internal logic and mountain range of affect without intent, Tokyo is agitating to be understood, towards a projective manifesto for the 21st century. Ever since the black ship arrived, a new culture brews in Tokyo as a reluctant actor without the control of its own destiny. The large territory it covers is occupied by presence and emptiness, both incidental and intentional, and mutations are not confined to blocks or units but permeate unmitigated tracts of land. In Tokyo, where it never ceases to surprise us even if we experienced the same phenomenon twice, all oppositions coexist happily in aufheben to prove that the Western dialectic is impotent here. Rather, there is a sense of accepting rich gradations that can be hastily consummated into a term ambiguity, however, we hereby posit a new descriptor. Tokyoism is thoroughly heterotopic, that to be realized the fantasy will have to be integrated inseparably from the reality totally fabricated by man, where even nature is subsumed. Even nature is made, manicured by the meticulous hands of masters.
Tokyo—and in part, Japan as a whole—is a heterotopia because it was never Modern. Now nor before nor for the time forthcoming. This may be a contrarian or even to some, disparaging position. But it is one that supposes a smooth continuum of history, rather than one revolutions or striations that shock cultures or peoples to some new enlightened or ‘modern’ state. In the constant themes that are presented in news and media, art and architecture, high and pop culture, give an aestheticized Japan that we fear losing—fear for the lack of difference that would result, as much as the fear of a lost hegemony in the game of modernity. The West loves to hear how Japan really is a constant paradox of traditional and new, exotic, and erotic. But the simple fact is, there is no paradox. The perceived paradox is simply one of looking at Tokyo and Japan as a dual object of aestheticization—the traditional, and the modern, a construct that fits grand narratives of historians who look at Modernization as Westernization. We solemnly deny this assumption as not useful and outdated, and deny that it is in fact a radical one. Instead, going forth, we propose to look at Tokyo through a spectrum of continuity. The traditional dialectic linear binary has trapped us in an ouroborus of extremes, leading us nowhere with self-congratulatory modish conclusions on the city. Like its physical manifestation, Tokyoism—studies and theories on Japan’s capital—is multidimensional mediation, allowing for many unabsolute possibilities and combinations. With an eye towards theoretical promiscuity and interdisciplinarity, we hope to capture a more demystified Tokyo in all of its architectonic diversity.
The theme of "Continuity" is not a new idea, inculcated by single-surface projects after Modernism. Rather, seems to be one of the most continuous, salient topic in architectural discourse. What varied was the element to which architecture attempted to connect to, and therefore achieving a continuous state of coexistence.
Renaissance was a rediscovery and continuance of humanism.
Modernism connected with the industrial society, mass production and machine aesthetics.
Post-Modernism sought to regain continuity with history via symbols and language.
Single surface was an earnest and most formal experimental project to manifest the democratic society.
Ensuing digital paradigm attempted to connect with the computational capability and enact its promises.
Recently, it seems architecture is trying to form a continuous relationship to community and its formation, particularly in the face of all humanitarian and natural crises. This is epitomized by activist interventions, community workshops, and share-houses to form consensus platforms and cultivate the "culture of sharing."
Transversally, "history" and its implications are continuous in architecture, but have come to be recognized as neither not so teleological nor singular. "Histories" will be, should be rewritten as those that were inconvenient to the victors of time will be unearthed.
Now... what is architecture to connect to, today? To form a continuous relationship to the next zeitgeist? This is a fertile ground for investigation and the beginning of principles towards the next and new phase of Continuity.
Damn!! Some one already had the idea!
Product designers, Maxine Naylor and Ralph Ball, coined the term, "Form follows Idea."
Can we say the same for Architecture?
Or are we tired of these snappy three-word aphorisms that has done much to accelerate the obsolescence of Architecture.
Lately, I am speculating on the notion of "Retrospecta;" a hybrid condition of retrospection and prospecta, whereby the analysis of the past and the potentiality of some futures are combined in the present.
Continuous Architecture is just another form of the same Homogeneity.
The Modernist universal, homogeneous column grid merely being supplanted by a homogenous field condition, no matter how reticulated or differentiated or animated with intellection and imagination. It is nevertheless under the same, I daresay, tyranny of topological Homogeneity; all under the grand mythology/experiment of democracy.