Kyoto Studio proposes research at two different scales. The first is at the scale of object-creation. The second is observing how these micro-economies of traditional craft ateliers are embedded within the contemporary urban society of Kyoto. For the first assignment, the studio proposes to visit ateliers of various traditional craftsmen, including ornamental metal-makers, inlay makers, traditional plaster wall craftsmen (kyo kabe), lacquer ware, roof tiles (kyo gawara), rope (shirabeo), textile dye (yuzen), ceramics (kiyomizu yaki).
The assignment is to transfer these traditional techniques and crafts to contemporary use in design and architecture while concurrently developing its future potential. There is concern that these highly developed and unique crafts only respond to a narrow spectrum of needs. However, a wider contribution to humanity by these exquisite crafts would enlarge their influence and afford opportunities for the exchange of ideas, culture, and transmittance of knowledge beyond the current context.
We have established an informal arrangement with The Kyoto Institute of Technology, formerly known as Kyoto Institute of Textile and Crafts. It is the oldest school of architecture in Kyoto, and it excels in teaching, preserving, and conserving traditional crafts, fabrication techniques, and material research. This institute, which studies the future of traditional crafts, has harvested indigenous wisdom and promoted technical innovation through analysis of traditional materials and techniques. We will work with their program to uncover the future potential uses of these crafting methods.
This studio will continue the Itinerant Architecture paradigm from last year’s studio, in which we proposed solutions for gaps between rescue/ recovery and reconstruction of communities in different parts of the world. Many of the solutions involved handicrafts and manually-accessible materials and techniques, on which traditional Kyoto crafts are based. Traditional crafts in Japan, and in particular in Kyoto, use resources economically and often use local materials and accessible methods of production. Although it may be difficult to imagine a resource-scarce disaster area connecting to the exclusive and refined crafts of Kyoto, Japanese culture has always embraced temporality and strategic thinking in dealing with natural disasters ranging from fires and floods to earthquakes. This wisdom is embedded in the making, maintenance, and especially the portability, ease of repair, and smaller units of measure of fabrication. Additionally, there are many examples of traditional businesses in Kyoto that have leap-frogged successfully into the digital age, such as Kyocera’s manufacturing of computer chips and cutlery, and Nintendo, originally a card game manufacturer that transformed into a global virtual game company.
The second research agenda is at an urban scale, where we perform on-site research on how these craft ateliers are embedded in the community and how it can provide resilience at the societal, cultural, and economic level in the city of Kyoto. One week travel to Kyoto, Japan is planned. The studio is funded by the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at the Harvard University Center for Government and International Studies and by the Kyoto Institute of Technology.