The red notebooks

4 June 2013
Author: Isabel Miesner – City and Regional Planning

Since we’ve arrived here in Japan, we’ve been recording our days–the sights, our thoughts, impressions, analysis–in a notebook that Jonathan provided for us at the beginning of class back in New York.  I´m unsure of how familiar the blog readers are with this little red notebook, but I would like to formally introduce it.  The notebook goes with us wherever we go and most of what we write in it will be be used to complete our analysis of Japanese public space once we return home.  But we don´t just write.  We also sketch.  On most of our site visits, we are encouraged to sketch and record what we are seeing and how we are experiencing it.

For many of us, particularly the planners (myself included), we don´t immediately think to record information in a visual way, such as a drawing or a diagram.  Early on in the trip, our natural inclination was to take notes on what we were seeing and only when Jonathan suggested we draw, would we add a small sketch to our notes.  And though the amount of drawing has increased in most everyone´s notebooks, Monday marked a more distinctive turning point in how and what we will be sketching.

We began the day by meeting with Rasmus and Jeanette Frisk of arki_lab.  Both are masters of the diagram and are able to communicate their urban designs and analysis through simple, beautiful and quick sketches.  Their lecture, along with our various site visits, was meant to introduce us to three basic ways of recording data visually: the isometric diagram, the plan diagram and the section diagram.  These diagrams lend themselves to easily show vital aspects of analysis like circulation, activity, movement, connectivity and proportion of a space.   The idea is that each diagram would be able to tell a complex, informative story of a space with only a small drawing and a little use of color–like a visual version of the “30 second elevator speech”.

We had our first attempt at diagraming later in the day in the Arts Triangle area of Tokyo Mid-Town. After visiting the National Arts Center (from the outside) and the architecture- and design-oriented Toto Gallery, we were told that the park we had stopped to eat lunch in was the site of our first diagramming exercise.  I think it is fair to say that, for most of us, it was a rough start.  With only 15 minutes to communicate everything that was happening at the intersection of a busy road, construction site, a park, subway entrance, small scale residential homes and large scale commercial development, turning out three well-formed diagrams in rapid succession was a challenge.  But Rasumus and Jeanette assured us that for now, it´s not about how pretty they look–it´s a great quick and dirty way to record what we were seeing so that once we return home, we will be able to remember the feel of a space and the patterns of movement and activity we experienced when we were there.  Refining and beautifying our sketches comes later.

Our little red notebooks, with their soft faux leather jackets, look so great from the outside.  Who wants to mess up the inside with failed attempts at rough sketches?  But I think hearing a couple of pros tell you that it´s okay for your notes to be full of a messy explosion of ideas allows us to really relax and actually record whats happening here around us rather than spend too much time on getting our sketches just right.  Having these three three basic diagram forms in our tool belts now give us a platform to work more frequently on our own, rather than arriving at a site and waiting around for Jonathan to suggest what and when we sketch.  The more we do it, the more we become comfortable communicating a space visually which will surely contribute to a more colorful and interesting back half in our great little red notebooks.


Red notebook. Isabel Miesner, 4 June 2013.


Catherine Nguyen sketching. Isabel Miesner, 4 June 2013.


Isometric sketch. Isabel Mieser, 4 June 2013.


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