Studio Abroad. Small is Big; Newborn Typologies from the City without a Manifesto

“For the human mind, the tree is the easiest vehicle for complex thoughts. But the city is not, cannot and must not be a tree. The city is a receptacle for life. If the receptacle severs the overlap of the strands of life within it, because it is a tree, it will be like a bowl full of razor blades on edge, ready to cut up whatever is entrusted to it. In such a receptacle life will be cut to pieces. If we make cities which are trees, they will cut our life within to pieces.
– Christopher Alexander

Tokyo is a city in a constant state of becoming; metabolism reigns mighty as history and sentimentality are casted easily aside to make way for “newness” that comes already with an expiration date. Tokyoism[1] is an irresistibly veiled assemblage of the futuristic, the traditional, the ineffable, the finite, all bundled in a poignant narrative of the relational field of networked “super legal”[2] objects. Antithetical to an archipelago of skyscraper blocks and architectural debris floating, self-absorbed, in its own gleeful solitude, Tokyo is an ever-fluctuating, undulating network; thoroughly connected with embedded redundancies, resilient to hollowing, and simultaneously a stubborn collective of medieval structures, both physical and ephemeral. This city is a great laboratory and it is up to us to tease out an unintended, but nonetheless projective theory of Tokyo that may be more about the future of global cities. 

Tokyo is a polycentric city, conceived from its inception and subsequent historical processes to develop in multiple nodes. It serves as a petri dish for a decentralized, highly distributed, and differentiated form of interventions in all scales. With this in mind, this studio will take a critical stance against the prevalent organizational model of consolidation and centralization insofar as urban developments have been concerned. We will begin by analyzing traditionally mega or XL-sized building typologies that occupy vast territories in other parts of the world, thrive in them, and perhaps some that can also be found in Japan. To name a few: shopping malls, hotels, office towers, high-rise condominiums, libraries, museums, theaters, concert halls, universities, convention centers, city halls, gymnasiums, stadia, aquariums, regional transportation hubs, airports, parks, parking garages, seawalls, power plants, water treatment facilities, dams, solar parks, and so on.

After a thorough analyses of those large to extra-large scale typologies, we will rigorously search for ways in which to dissect, fragment, atomize, combine efficiently, perhaps even absolve some redundancies in those bespoke contemporary megaliths into a distributed system instantiated into Tokyo. Thus, the whole city can potentially become a platform that thrives on diversity—in many senses conjured by that word—for complex coexistences of differences rather than demarcated into zoning segments for an efficiency of control, both politically and environmentally. Only then can Tokyo become a truly cosmopolitan global megapolis after the 2020 Olympics, and by chain reaction, can Japan become an open, unisolated archipelago in a sea of capitalism or whatever social order that may rise. Conversely, by releasing the programs from the sophisticatedly controlled interiority of a megastructure, a new kind of metabolism can emerge. This studio seeks to invent new typologies of architectural and urban space of diverse differences, rather than similarities; heterogeneity over homogeneity; heterotopic over utopic; exceptional over banal; small over large gestures.

Small is a new big, as it shall consume the city as a whole.

[1] Kaz Yoneda, 2014
[2] Yasutaka Yoshimura, Super Legal Buildings (Tokyo: Shokokusha, 2006).