Does Size Matter?

2 June 2012
Author: Jessica Baldwin – Historic Preservation

Our trip to Nara/Kyoto over the weekend allowed us to experience a different scale than what we have seen so far in Tokyo. Kyoto has approximately 1.4 million people and a rich ancient history.  While Nara is not as large as Kyoto, its ancient history is present in most all aspects of the city.  The Todaiji Temple in Nara was erected in the 8th century and rebuilt in the 18th century; today it is still the world’s largest wooden structure though it is only 2/3rds of its original size.  Weaving our way through the school children and the local wild deer that have learned that tourists with biscuits provide a decent meal you enter the temple gate and begin the procession to the monumental piece of architecture.  The people ahead of you already at the temple entrance look like moving specks dotting the facade and an overwhelming sense of just how small you are in the world hits you. Finally you stand directly in front of the building and begin an approach that leads you to the center of the building, pulling you in with some unknown cosmic force.  As you move down the path the building continues to grow in size as you diminish and begin to truly grasp the true size of the great structure.

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Todaiji. Jessica Baldwin, 2 June 2013.

The size of each structural member only compares to that of the redwoods of California.  Each piece is carefully cut and set in place as they rely on each other to support the shelter of the Buddha.  Inside the temple sits the enormous Buddha itself.  One of the largest Buddha’s in the world, he rests on a platform five feet tall diminishing your own size yet again and reminding you of the larger aspects of life.  He looks down on you and, no matter what your religion, a sense of power, strength, and timelessness fills you.

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Buddha of Todaiji. Jessica Baldwin, 2 June 2013.

In Kyoto the train station, designed by Hara Atelier, stands as a large public space and active station in the center of the city.  It was rebuilt in 1997 and replaced a grand Renaissance style building.  As we ascended the 500+ stairs to the top, the roof structure, the massive columns, and the expansive roof trusses leave you dizzy.  We all stood on top of the building looking across at skywalks and looking down onto a staircase turned amphitheater and an extensive system of stairs and escalators.  I was struck with the same sense of awe and power that filled me in the temple.  The station’s gigantic columns are reminiscent of the ones at Toadiji – the difference being these are steel and reinforced concrete (man-made) instead of wood (nature-made).  Looking down through the amphitheater turned staircase, high school bands perform jazz versions of Beatles songs and proud parents clap for their children.  The bands appear so small, and like the people moving further below are reminiscent of the moving specks in front of the temple.

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Drawing of high school band competition, Kyoto Central Train Station. Isabel Miesner, 2 June 2013.

Even though the buildings were created centuries apart they stand as monuments and powerful representations of what man can do.  Todaiji represents what man will do for religion and power, while Kyoto Train Station represents what man will do for need or, it could be said, even for his fellow man.  Both buildings remind each of us that we play small roles in greater world.  These buildings stand through time as reminders of power, wealth and our fellow man.  We are all valuable pieces in the greater world; we are just small pieces working together to create a greater better whole.

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