OURS: Methods for Habitat City


I am now reading OURS: Methods for Habitat City. This book has been edited by Mariko Terada (Yokohama Graduate School of Architecture Studio Manager. See also Japan. Towards Totalscape edited by NAI Publishers). Ours: Methods for Habitat consists of essays, case studies, interviews, drawings, graphics, pictures, all written in both English version and Japanese version. OURS is most fully addressed to those who are not new to urban design, architecture, urban planning. The main object of this book is regeneration of and fresh reading of Yokohama city, a city of 3 646 890 inhabitants on 437.38 square kms. As usually, Yokohama City, as all Japanese cities, is densely inhabited with a density of 8 340 inhab./square kms.

Guest participants are mostly of Yokohama Graduate School, a school where Nishizawa Ryue, Kitayama Koh, Yamamoto Riken, to quote but few, teach. Apart these participants, Tsukamoto Yoshiharu/Atelier Bow-Wow, also foreigner architects such as Felix Claus and Mark Michaeli, share their approach of designing 21st century cities.

I regularly go to Tokyo, the city that I work on (I do research on Tokyo urban form, and I am currently interested in residential and commersidential areas) but, I curiously never go far from Kawasaki, a new town between Tokyo and Yokohama, and Kamakura, also between Tokyo and Yokohama. As I am planning a study on Tokyo's residential areas, and I need to go to Tokyo for this vast project, I will go and visit Yokohama. As I have not yet finished reading it, I will only present some of these texts and projects.

I just read Fujiwara Teppei (Teppei Fujiwara in western way of reading and writing names) entitled Towards the Half Natural Landform, Half Built City: Yokohama Atlas. Fujiwara Teppei microtopography and landscape of this city. He draws Yokohama's history, and explores its famous places, urban patterns. For instance Tobe (Nishi Ward), residential areas that have sprawled here as though following the contour lines of the gently hilly landforms. One of the aspect of this residential area is that follows the contour lines, which seem almost like the fine lines in a miniature painting. According to Fujiwara Teppei, Tobe Residential area's clusters of structures on a humans scale, adhering to small changes in the landforms, create an environment that is delightfully rich in changes of line of sight. There is a clear geometrical distinction between the main roads crossing the area and the smaller roads within it that seems to protect the territory of this rich residential environment. A kind of typical landscape very common that you can find not only in Yokohama, Tokyo, or other towns in Kanto, but also in Kansai, and other Japanese areas. Pictures give you an outline of these landscapes, in which you see these highly-densed residential areas, and these rôji (Japanese typical small road).

Yamamoto Riken is interviewed on the concept of "habitat city". He calls for a declaration of Habitat City, that is a city for quality of life of inhabitants and environment. Japanese cities has been designed not as a city to live in but a city for speculation, for business, that is an economic space. The result is a desorganized city that calls to be reorganised. Yamamoto Riken says that "we have not yet found the principle of 'city', nor the space for inhabitants who should be the masters of these cities". For him, and for most of these architects, reorganisation of city can be done by starting with existing patterns: existing building, vacant plots (even those that are irregular, and with constraints), existing infrastructure. New challenges must be taken into account such as: demographic changes characterised by population shrinkage, dwindling birthrate, and aging population. Besides population shrinkage, environmental problems and the inevitable danger of earthquake are also key-patterns that should be taken for granted. But this leads to many questions that need to be posed such as: "How does a residence relate with others? What kinds of community systems are possible? What is the position of the old and the children in a city? Do we have any methods to reconstruct a city as a place for residing?" Another question that Yamamoto Riken has not posed, but a question that needs to be posed as well: "what to do with the vast number of housing lots that have already been subdivided? Because these pictures of Yokohama residential areas all show single-detached houses built on small plots, in one hand, and, Japanese cities face with a considerable increase of the number of tiny plots, a bad zoning, etc., etc., Yamamoto Riken's studio presents 12 keywords for the idea of new cities and habitat cities. If you don't read Japanese, you will be limited to the title of these propositions. 1. Global warming gas: After-Kyoto cities must find solution to control global warming gas. And I include that this will have impact on buildings. 2. Residential unit/Pattern of assembly. Yamamoto Riken calls for an area based of mixed use of functions. Residential and office can cohabited in an area. This idea is not new for, one can find it in all urban renewal of international cities (for instance Grand-Paris rapport written by Rogers Agency also calls for a mixed use of functions), and also 3. Traffic (roads must be improved to control car traffic, but despite of expanding car traffic (car ownership is relatively increased), car is not the most relevant characteristics of mode of transport in Japanese cities, Train is still the most favorite and efficient mode of transport, this explains why roads are less developed than railroads; 4. Energy ; 5. Disaster Prevention ; 6. Aging/Fewer children; 7. Helper; 8. Security; 9. Public facility; 10. Expenses of management and others; 11. Natural environment; 12. Garbage.

Other propositions are made by Kitayama Koh's Kitayama studio that focuses on environemntal unit of urban city. Nishizawa Ryue is interviewed two times. His first interview deals with his vision of the place of city design in his architectural approach. Nishizawa doesn't use the word 'city', because it must be approached on acts of experimental design. This is, according to him, imagination that produces architecture and city. Imagination extends to the hole of urban lufen from furniture, accessories and interors to buildings, streets, the city and the environment. In the second interview, he presents his activities within the framework of Y-GSA teaching. With his students, he analyses urban patterns. Main two themes are developed at Nishizawa Studio : 1. Make an environment — think about architecture and the city at the same time That is to examine and analyse existing urban problems, environmental problems and community problems targeting the main areas of Yokohama, and envisage urban and architectural suggestions for them. What is the necessary environment for our rich urban life; 2. What should the New Architecture be? That is What is the value of this new era and its new architecture? Can we gave it form? These are the main issues that he debates with his students. One of my favourite projects that this book contains, is Nishizawa studio's project entitled "Site Trace". This project investigates the transition of the 'site', based onto 4 main factors: Site Condition, Site Scale, Layout and Use. Degree of urbanism, topography, subdivision process, historical periods, transition of the site scale, macro plan and social background, typology of layout, type of the building use…, are among themes that are explored. As I mentioned above, I have not finished to read this book yet, because it is full of information I need for my own research on Japanese cities. Even though some projects have not been translated into English, I warmly recommand to get this book.

Ours: Methods for Habitat City
Edited by Y-GSA
INAX Publishers
240 pages

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