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September 1, 2016
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Theme symposium

This, the first “Urban Public Space Design Competition,” targets students and seeks their ideas concerning public space. In connection with the competition, two thematic discussions were held. The first discussion addressed the theme of what kind of public space will be needed, hereafter, and what form of mechanisms and spaces could aid in realizing such public space. Our guests, Takayuki Kishii, Ryue Nishizawa and Tadao Kamei, were asked to speak and support their statements with concrete examples. (The Editors)


Urban Design Methods: “Giving Centripetal Character” and “Connecting”

Kamei|I have always had the view that we need to think about urban design as well as architecture. Of late, however, people in the architectural field do not comment much on urban design, and those in urban design do not venture into the territory of architecture. This is not how it should be. Believing that architecture and urban design need to become a little more interactive, we are holding this design competition. It is important for people to be aware of the need to think of architecture in conjunction with urban design, early on, when they are still students.
For these two some years, we have aggressively introduced the perspective of “how to create public space” in our projects at Nikken Sekkei. To give an actual example, the new Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona (Shinkenchiku 1606), while a stadium, produces a public space for the city, an aspect that was highly evaluated in the design competition. While grasping the local climate of Barcelona, we achieved an original design responsive to that location by means of a three-layer concourse-terrace, using global technology, and sequential landscapes.
Until now, I have mainly designed buildings, which is to say, the hardware. But recently, there are more projects of collaboration with in-house urban designers and management teams, projects in which management and the aspects of operation and maintenance are important. I would like to include these software aspects in our discussion today in hopes of receiving entry proposals dealing with them.

Thank you. Okay, can I have you discuss our theme—What is public space and what occasions its development?—so as to offer our entrants some hints?

Nishizawa|The poet Goethe made some deeply interesting remarks about public space when visiting the Roman-period arena in Bologna. Seeing the arena’s shape, he spoke of having seen “the most primitive and natural form of human gathering.” This means that people gather in a circle around the entertainments so that late-comers have no recourse but to fashion a platform to stand on to elevate their heads above those in front. Those arriving still later must fashion an even higher platform and, thus, a large crowd forms. As a result, the people gathering view not only the entertainments but the other spectators spread before them. It becomes a situation of a crowd viewing the crowd. Goethe also mentioned it was the architect’s role to suitably aid in the creation of such a form.
What strikes me, whenever I go to cities in Italy or Germany, is that the city has formed as a gathering of monuments. There are monuments to the end of wars and achievements of individuals, streets commemorating poets, and buildings and bridges commemorating all kinds of human endeavors. These monuments, by accumulating, give form to a city. The city as a whole is history. A public space is not just about “now.” Time and memory are also important, I feel. Many contemporary commercial facilities are lonely places when they are suddenly empty of people, but European cities have richness when they are empty too, as well as when full of people.

Kamei|The strength we feel in monumental spaces is their universal character as spaces that continue to be used even as time and functions change. How to create that kind of strength is a point in creating attractive public spaces, I think. Through their accumulation, a city having very high potential can develop.

Nishizawa|The city of Ghardaia in the Sahara desert is in a deep valley. The city has taken form as concentric circles of houses around a minaret. At dawn, everyone climbs up out of the valley onto the dunes and turns to the city to pray. Religion and culture are directly tied to the city’s composition, a fact producing a beautiful landscape. In Japan, too, we have the Farming Village Kabuki Stage on Shodoshima Island, which unites traditional culture, drama, and nature in one wonderful public space.

Kishi|Besides proposals of attractive public space or monumental space, centripetal in character, it would also be good to get ideas concerning city structure. In Tokyo, a road network has been formed on the basis of three loop roads. I have a feeling that, hereafter, these road spaces will be used more effectively toward creating a “city residents can walk in.” Also, Tokyo already has plentiful stock of large-scale parks, and by connecting them, a very appealing city could in fact be achieved. Many of the Olympic and Paralympic facilities are to be built on the urban waterfront, so there is also the issue of how to connect the downtown with the waterfront. In these times, to connect places in a public space network is perhaps more important than new construction.
Public space is extremely broad as a concept. It does not necessarily mean public spaces held by the government; if someone’s private yard has a public character it can be called public space. Lately, “place making” has become a trend. It would be interesting if students gave us proposals not for constructing new spaces but for creating handmade spaces themselves, based on a system or software of some kind rather than the conventions of modernism.

Kamei|One approach to urban space is the method of providing centripetal character, and another method, as mentioned by Mr. Kishii, is that of “connecting.” The Singapore Rail Corridor Master Plan (Shinkenchiku 1411) looks at the special character of locations along an abandoned railway line. By understanding the activities occurring at each location and considering ways to connect them all, it endeavors to awaken a sense of unity in the surrounding community. A vision and masterplan for a 24-kilometer railway line is being made with the aim of solving these issues.

Nishizawa|In Japanese culture, roads are an important urban space. While audiences in Western theaters watch performances directly in front, Japanese Kabuki has a hanamichi (“flower road”) stage allowing audiences to watch the actors from one side. Originally, perhaps, there was a road for inviting the local shrine god to the town once a year, and people sat along the road watching from one side, and this format eventually turned into Kabuki. Roads have both everyday character and celebratory character, and they are also community roads and places for interaction and exchanging information, and this is deeply rooted in Japan.

The Potential of Public Space in Japan

Can you give us some hints for thinking about public space in Japan?

Kishii|Here is a set of photos (below right) of the city centers of Tokyo, London and Paris, all at the same scale. The Tokyo one shows the area from Hibiya Park to Kitamaru Park, and we see the front plaza of the Imperial Palace and East Garden, and in this way, there is an amazing amount of water and greenery even when compared with the other two cities. It would be good, for example, if new potential could be found in seeing this entire stretch of land as public space.

Nishizawa|As we can see in Mr. Kishii’s photos, a lot of greenery still remains in Tokyo. In a way, if we look at Meiji Jingu and the Imperial Palace, this greenery has a monumental presence. Ideas that look at such greenery might also be interesting. When thinking about Japanese cities, it is important to consider how to maintain the Asian view of nature and religion that is at their foundation.

Kamei|“To connect” is certainly one good approach to thinking about public space, isn’t it? Sanneizaka street in Kyoto is a clear example. By way of Ninenzaka street, it connects Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Kodaiji Temple, and Hokanji Temple in the north with Kiyomizudera Temple in the south and always vibrates with tourists.

Aerial view of city core (same scale). From left to right; Paris, Tokyo, London.
Photos courtesy of Google Earth.


A Perspective That Considers Both Locality and Globalism

We have had a range of discussion about expanding the potential of public space. At the end, I would like to hear your views concerning an image of the future city.

Nishizawa|When urbanization spread in the 20th century, every city developed in the same direction. Hereafter, however, each city’s unique history, culture, and individuality will be important. Personally, I am interested in whether we can connect urbanization with each city’s regional resources: its nature, culture, and regional history. In this competition we seek proposals that examine a particular place, whether Tokyo or a regional city, and research the kind of city it was and the kind of people living there so as to discover a future direction in such things. Rather than simply pursue convenience within the present situation, it is also necessary to think about connecting our cities, which have already completed their modernization, to periods prior to modernization.

Kishii|By 2040, for example, these students who will experience the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be the main pillar of society. It is my hope that, having had contact with the world at a young age, they will be using English to penetrate the language barrier and, if I might hope for even more, they will have the strength to communicate Japan’s attractive and deep aspects to the world. If they can do this, the result will be a Japan that can take on the world.
Also, Japanese society is unavoidably aging and becoming a society in which people will have to work at least until the age of 70. With society aging and ICT usage also advancing, there is a potential for different workstyles than before. We will want to keep our characteristic Japanese public spirit alive in such new workstyles.

Kamei|Until 2020, investment will likely be over-concentrated in Tokyo. Considering the problems facing Japan as a whole and risk management in this sense, dispersal of that investment will be important. At such time, it would be ideal to give regional cities and their local charm direct connection with the world. Our design competition this time concerns cities, but we also want to see improved quality in regional areas and overall Japan.

(July 25, 2016 at Nikken Sekkei Headquarters. Responsibility for wording lies with the Shinkenchiku editorial department.)


For our second discussion, we invited Shunsaku Miyagi, Shunya Yoshimi, and Tadao Kamei. In continuing from the previous discussion, they were asked to talk about the potential of public space hereafter. (The Editors)


Public Space Born from Connection

Please begin by talking about public space in the city to come, with mention of concrete examples.

Yoshimi|When thinking about the city to come, we need to ask “What does maturity mean?” As an example conducive to thinking about urban maturity, I will explain the “Plan for the Tokyo Cultural Resources District” I am involved with. This is a plan to interconnect as one area the northeast districts of the city (Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi, Hongo, Ueno, Yushima, Jimbocho, Kanda, and Akihabara). These districts compose an area of 1.5 to 2km diameter that can be toured on foot in about two hours. Yanaka still retains the everyday life culture of older times, so it enjoys great popularity with overseas tourists. Then, Ueno is an art center, Hongo, an academic center, and Kanda and Jimbocho, a publishing center. Finally, Akihabara is a manga-anime-game center and also a center for religions such as Shinto, Confucianism, and the Russian Orthodox Church. The area has extremely high potential in terms of culture and history, and yet the connection between the districts is weak and sporadic. If they could all be interconnected, new tourist routes could be developed. Chinese visitors coming to shop in Akihabara, for example, could handily go to pray at the Mausoleum of Confucius at Yushima Seido Temple. We are currently getting many people’s cooperation and talking about ways of setting up such connection. As one of these ways, we are studying the idea of a tram line looping around the entire area. By connecting the disconnected districts with a line instead of on a plane, a sense of unity might be born in the area.
Public character is not necessarily limited to one location. It also arises when plural locations are connected. To take Japanese art museums as an example, the cities are dotted with museums small in scale but highly specialized. If these could be effectively connected, a unique Japanese value having rich diversity might be born, I feel.

Thank you. How about you, Mr. Miyagi?

Miyagi|I sense there is local character in public space as well. Hereafter, as cities move toward maturity and escape the prevailing government-led city format, such local character will become more conspicuous, I think. My special field is landscape, so I always see public space in contrast with architecture, but actually, there are four contrasts between architecture and landscape. First, in concept, architecture is “form” while landscape is “surface.” The “situation of a place,” this means, is produced by soil, water, and other environmental elements on the land surface. Second, architecture is “vertical” while landscape is “horizontal.” Such is why landscape always cuts across borders. In modern architecture, creating border territories was a theme, but from the perspective of landscape, borders fade and become gradations, and new potential is born. Third, architecture is “concentrated” while landscape is “dispersed.” Even as populations shrink and cities become dispersed, regions can revitalize if they retain high mobility. As such, how to enhance mobility is one factor for public space, I feel. Fourth, while modern architecture is based on the cause-effect relationship of function and form, landscape is the design of a “process.” Because landscape deals with nature, the term of a project is very long, and there is no clear ending point. Because it continues endlessly, many people become involved and they all take part from different standpoints. So, how to view that diversity is also an issue.

Kamei|At Nikken Sekkei we also have frequent chance of late to think about management and other software aspects besides simply the design of the hardware. Right now, Tokyo is over concentrated, but from the perspective of “connecting” discussed by Mr. Yoshimi and Mr. Miyagi, as the city becomes dispersed hereafter, it will be important to create relationships on a large scale, such as between Tokyo and regional cities. The idea of a tram loop was mentioned just now. In Melbourne, when I visited there recently, they had a tram loop in the city center you could ride for free. The speed of the tram, for sure, was nice for viewing the city’s buildings and townscapes.

Yoshimi|The speed of the mobility is important. If the mobility is too fast as with the bullet train, the relationship between places is severed for the traveler. Walking or riding a bicycle or tram, on the other hand, is slow enough to be a means of giving relationship to places. From a tram window, as well, the lower portions of buildings and townscapes are always in sight, so naturally, this promotes awareness of the scenery. Then, during natural disasters, roads often become dysfunctional due to people evacuating by tram, but if there is a tram line that cars cannot enter, an open lane can be maintained.

Ways of Seeing Monumentality

Kamei|Thus far, we have discussed public character that is born by connecting existing buildings and places. In our previous discussion, however, mention was made of how public space is born around a centripetal monument, such as the Sydney Opera House. Are you thinking of creating a new monument as part of the “Plan for the Tokyo Cultural Resources District”?

Yoshimi|No, not a new monument, because there are already existing monuments whose existence has been eclipsed. We are wondering what we can to do to revitalize past monuments in the present landscape, the pagoda at Kaneiji Temple in Ueno Park for example. The words “revive” and “convert” appear often in our issues statement. A maturing society means a circulatory society that can revitalize existing things in a higher quality form, not only resources but also culture, knowledge, architecture, and spaces. In other words, it is important to have a mechanism for creative value conversion. When connectivity arises among areas, the value of past things grows visible. To be attentive to such things, today, when we are moving toward urban maturity, is what can give newness to our times.

Miyagi|The Sydney Opera House with its silhouette and its experiences becomes etched in everyone’s consciousness, so it is not so much a monument as an icon, I think. The point is that this connects with public character, so regardless of new, old, large or small it is an icon having value everyone can share. If a new monument were to be created, some contrivance would be needed to connect it with existing things in order to revitalize them.

Kamei|Certainly, not simply creating a monument but constructing a relationship with the monument is what leads to realizing public space. As a result of the Tokyo Skytree being built, for example, the value of locations around Sumida Ward is being discovered, and the way they are being used has changed. In a sense, Skytree has through its presence become a medium for public character.

Yoshimi|Then, topography is also an important element in thinking about public character. In the modern era, the topography was shaved entirely flat and the city designed on that basis. Hereafter, however, by giving play to the topography with its valleys, canals, and rivers, it can become an icon in itself without constructing a large-scale building.

Kamei: The topography, of course, is unchangeable and something fundamental. In Tokyo today, buildings blanket the land, so it is hard to be aware of the topography. Still, in Shibuya, for example, people feel drawn to gather at Shibuya Scramble Crossing, which sited in a valley.

Miyagi|In landscape design, not only the topography but the seasons, time, systems, and other external elements also provide clues. For example, in a plaza encompassed by buildings, people move in accord with the shifting sunlight and shadows. The boundary lines are always moving and a gradational public character is born, regardless of the interior-exterior boundaries of buildings. In contemporary times, people have push-button access to a comfortable environment, so they grow insensitive to natural features. In this, however, lies the potential to increase that sensitivity.

Designing the Process

The Yanaka-Nezu-Sendagi area Mr. Yoshimi discussed has never undergone any kind of upgrade, and yet from some point, it has received a broad re-evaluation. The mechanism of re-evaluation itself can be called public space design, can it not?

Yoshimi|In the case of Yanaka-Nezu-Sendagi, there was a good town quarter to begin with, and various people appeared there, such as Mayumi Mori who edited the local magazine Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi and also overseas artists, and the area as a whole underwent a renovation in terms of improving its quality. This is similar to the aspect of designing the process Mr. Miyagi speaks of. The area, as a whole, has been changed by means of a very good process, we can say. It would be interesting to receive some proposals for process design with regard to public space.
Another thing that process makes us aware of is that public character belongs not only to people living today but also to people of the past and those of future generations. When we think about people of the past, we grow aware of the need to give history continuance and hold dialogue with the past. When we think about the future, we realize we cannot simply enlarge our spaces thoughtlessly. Japan today, I feel, needs to reconsider how it sees the time axis.

Urban Sustainability in Japan, a Nation with Frequent Natural Disasters

Kamei|Hisakazu Oishi, a former technical advisor for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, has published a book, Kokudo ga Nihonjin no nazo wo toku (“Japan’s Land Explains the Enigma of its People,” 2015, Sankei Shimbun). In it, he points out a fundamental difference between Japan and the West by calling Japan an “act of nature nation” as compared to Western nations, which are “act of man nations.” While Western cities have been shaped by invasions and other “acts of man,” Japanese cities have been shaped by “acts of nature” such as earthquakes, floods, and other disasters. Natural disaster is an unavoidable issue for Japanese cities, so if we could design cities to function well in both normal times and emergencies, a new kind of city not seen either in Japan or the West might develop.

Yoshimi|When a natural disaster occurs, there are fewer travelers but, meanwhile, many disaster victims become mobile. In terms of the mobile population, leisure and disaster are opposite sides of the coin. Hence, in disaster times, hotels for tourism could be converted to accommodations for victims. In Kumamoto, which is now dealing with an earthquake disaster, trailer houses are being gathered from around the nation as temporary housing. If a mechanism for giving play to the complimentary effect of tourism could be designed, we might arrive at a city that secures both comfort and sustainability.

Miyagi|If we could design the process of gradually changing and preparing society for the disasters that will unavoidably occur, then excessive responses would become unnecessary, and we would not need to build 20m-high sea walls. Also, concerning the difference between Japan and the West, in Japan it has been a taboo to connect public space to religion or politics. Religious facilities of long history having public character are found everywhere, but right next door, a condominium is built, and that public character is harmed. If we could think of ways of dealing with this, possibilities might appear.

Technology and New Potential

Currently “Pokémon GO” has become a social phenomenon. Can such technology be used in the design of public space?

Miyagi|In augmented reality (AR), there is also great potential for having public character. In “Pokémon Go,” images of the actual city appear and people seek experiences in places previously unrelated to them. In the process of that experience, fresh, new value is discovered in places, so it is interesting to view AR as a medium for creating awareness of new public character. Its power to control people is also formidable, I sense.

Yoshimi|When AR is introduced, it is important how the contrivance spreads to the real world. Public space existing only in AR has no meaning, so it would be interesting if we could design the resulting change actually occurring in a city.

Kamei|During our two discussions, we have received a wide variety of clues for thinking about public space. In the 1960s and ‘70s, architects made proposals for cities, and city administrations also took an aggressive stance on urban design. Today, unfortunately, there is less of that kind of message, and meanwhile, urban development is surging forward. This competition is open to students active in all fields related to architecture and the city, regardless of whether they live in Japan or abroad. We will be delighted if they can view the city from a broad perspective transcending disciplinary boundaries. Thank you for your time.

(July 27, 2016 at Nikken Sekkei Headquarters. Responsibility for wording lies with the Shinkenchiku editorial department.)