Tokyo Study Abroad Seminar: Tokyo on a Crossroads

Factors driving Tokyo’s urban mutation are beginning to change and becoming complex after the long period of economic growth. While it’s busy trying to fulfill newly generated demands of redevelopment to host the 2020 Olympics, the city is pressured to shift gears to cope with a new social condition with the population ageing and shrinking. Whilst it continues to reinforce and streamline urban functions to be more competitive among other Asian cities, the city is also burdened with a growing number of abandoned houses as a result of excessive convergence. The urbanism of Tokyo today needs to handle acceleration and deceleration simultaneously.

At any rate, the city will undergo a massive amount of physical change. Decision making in the urban redevelopment however, is increasingly subject to corporate thinking instead of architectural thinking. Architectural design is being absorbed and dominated by developers, general contractors, large corporate design firms, and even electric manufacturers, leaving less and less space for smaller firms led by creative individuals. Daring architectural statements as Kenzo Tange or Kiyonori Kikutake made for large-scale buildings is now difficult to make. Logics of the market economy prevail, while the residents as consumers become increasingly numb to the issues of urban spaces as common.

The Tokyo Seminar of 2016 will take a close look at the said condition in two contrasting areas of redevelopment: Shibuya and Central Tokyo North. In both areas, we will explore ways to open channels for architectural thinking to penetrate the said concentrated corporate condition. We will define problems and propose ways of overcoming them through meeting and talking to people engaged in the actual changes.

Having undergone several big waves of transformations in the 20th century, Shibuya is expected to surf another big wave from the comprehensive redevelopment around the station. A series of transformation driven by capital somehow culminated in an attractive urban condition in the 1970s through the 90s. Researching the diverse faces of Shibuya, we will explore for the future potential values of the area that could be cultivated through architectural thinking.

After Shibuya, we will shift east to the Central Tokyo North area, a patchwork of old towns with various characters next to the central CBD. Together, these towns are seeking a counter-development way to evolve in order to keep and enhance their cultural, educational and old downtown neighborhood traditions from over a century ago. Here we deal with slow economy and shrinking, a new urban condition of the capital.