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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Architect's Nightmare or Robot Awesomeness?

Is the photo above an unnecessary close-up of yet another way-cool Japanese robot?

It is called Gundam...  just not to its creator's face.

But, no... this is not some metal man bidding its time to either conquer mankind or save it. Welcome to the Aoyama Technical College, conveniently located in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan. Convenient, of course, being a relative term.

Designed by architect Watanabe Makoto (surname first) in 1990, the Aoyama Technical College certainly is... technical in its design.

It might actually be a cool building design - but not in the location chosen for it.

Maybe I'm just too old-fashioned... but seeing such a futuristic monstrosity piled into an area where one can see a low-level parking garage from what looks like a private home on the right... it just looks like the architect was trying too hard. (That would be in the photo just below.)

According to the school, which has to live it, and ultimately approved the design after having some special Kool-Aid at the architect's office, the building: "represents a new order... through the tolerance of chaos."

Crap. So, if I don't like it because it's too chaotic, I'm being intolerant.

Photo from Wikipedia by user: Wiiii.

Well... I'm as tolerant as the next hooded figure... actually, more tolerant... so let's see if we can figure out just what the hell the architect was thinking or not thinking.

The following is from the architect's own company website. I admit to pulling items from there, but not everything. Hopefully, I have taken nothing out of context.  

"This building consists of many parts. 

They all are essential architectural elements: posts, water tanks, lightning rod, joints of various kinds.
But these parts, even after fulfilling their required functions, maintain the momentum of their growth, rising up like so many young shoots flourishing upon a sufficient supply of water and light."

I'm not an architect. But I do have a healthy respect for architects and their designs, and I try to at least understand what the concept was all about before laying judgement. But... while I can see that in the architectural guidebook for architectural elements, I fail to see how water tanks can, in 2013, be anything more than ornamental, as opposed to a functional item.

Every house could use a water tank - unless you live in a grain mill powered by a water wheel. But a water tank does not have to be a functional element sitting on one's roof like it was 1950's New York.

But maybe I don't understand the architect design logic (I don't).

Just as I continue my psychological diagnosis within this blog, Watanabe continues to explain why he designed what he designed.   

"The site lies in Shibuya, which is one of the main sub-centers of the downtown area of metropolitan Tokyo.

It is a sprawling, unorganized district filled with a hodge-podge of office buildings and shops, condominium high-rises, and apartments, typical of its kind in Japanese cities.

Even Japan, as well known from the example of Kyoto, has its neatly organized cities that have developed through the centuries. But what semblance of order had been carefully fostered during the Edo period (1603-1867) for Tokyo was destroyed by the bombing of Tokyo toward the end of World War II, and in the ensuing rush of rapid economic growth, comprehensive, well-thought-out city planning was ultimately never carried out, leading to the disorderly urban sprawl we observe today."

Coming from Toronto, a city renowned for a lack of proper planning, I can honestly say that I have long thought that Tokyo was one of the most unorganized-looking cities on the planet—after Toronto, of course.

There is nothing about Tokyo that makes you say - yes... Tokyo's urban planners had a design in mind, and they achieved it.

I love Watanabe's poignant comment that there is "the disorderly urban sprawl we observe today."

There's a lot of great wooden buildings - hundred's of years old - in the city... and then there's crappy little apartments beside a modern house beside an old-school Japanese traditional house beside a phalanx of modern apartments and then a temple and school a sake shop and some factories, more apartments... ugh!

And the worst thing is that everything consists of differing levels. At least in Toronto, our mega skyscrappers are all in the downtown core.

That SkyTree tower - beautiful... but imagine living in its shadow - for real - now that it dominates the sky and cityscape.

Obviously... there are some very nice constructs in Tokyo...
Shinjuku-area skyscrappers in Tokyo.
But there's a lot of monochromotic color. Oh well... at least it doesn't detract too much from it's mystic magical Fuji-yama mountain. It's been a long time, however, when everyone in Tokyo could see the local mountain just by turning their head.

But... seriously... just look at the photo of Tokyo below. Pretty? Or pretty effing alien?

Watanabe continues:

"But for all the apparent disorder and disorganization, it is a city unlike any other in the world: its crime rate is low, traffic accidents are relatively few, its economy is extremely efficient, advanced technology continues to shape and reshape the city, the arts and culture, especially recently, have begun to thrive there, and people of all kinds gather there from all over the country, all in all making it one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in the world today.

Yet in fact, the impression of confusion in the city is undeniable.

Architecture ought to represent the effort to find a way for even one structure to have some effect on the city.

Tokyo is built on different principles from those that govern Western cities. There are no clear boundaries dividing the city from its environs, and few broad, long avenues that afford grand vistas. Zoning regulations are ambiguous, so buildings of all kinds mix and mingle.

One-story dwellings cluster at the feet of skyscrapers. Behind the large commercial firms clustered in major city centers, are labyrinths of alleys filled with factories, drinkeries, dwellings, and shops.

But this city still manages to function smoothly. Why ?

On the surface, these separately conceived buildings look disconnected, but in fact they form real relationships with one another.

The whole takes shape spontaneously, without overall controls or coercive regulations.

The whole creates its own integrated system, through the self-organizing relations that form among its parts.

This urban order is one that comes about of itself; it is not forced by means of strict regulations imposed from above.

It is an order not visibly planned or organized, not based on any one single principle, but dynamic and flexible enough to absorb all manner of changes and still continue functioning."

Hunh. Watanabe essentially describes his building design the same way I describe my own writings: organized chaos... or is his more chaotic organization. In my mind, there is a difference. You can figure that out for yourself. I think one of those descriptions gets one paid for their genius, and the other gets to be an unpaid amateur playing with LEGO.

I get what he's trying to do. He is playing along with the supposed lack of zoning regulations. Hell - at least we have that in Toronto.

Granted this was all written in 1990 by Watanabe...  but little has really changed in Tokyo regarding architectural nightmares.

It thus seems interesting to me that Watanabe, rather than challenging the chaos theory that is Tokyo, he chose to embrace it. Meaning that despite creating an original building design probably inspired by some manga I've never heard of, he didn't really push his creative juices. It's like he chose form over substance.

Have you ever been in a room with rounded walls inside? It's damn near impossible to hang a painting!

Anyhow...  the Aoyama Technical College is in Tokyo... and I'm glad I don't live across the street from it.

Although... I am missing out on seeing some of the sexy Japanese female students that I am sure inhabit the crazy robot building.

Andrew Joseph

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