5 June 2013
Author: Kelly Smolenski – Architecture


It is alive
It is ready
To die and be reborn,
To adjust.
It does not fear time.
It does not attempt to defy the forces of nature, But rather it succumbs to them.
It does not deny the inevitable
But embraces it.
For it is known before it exists
That its physical being will be temporary.
It exists beyond its walls,
For it exists in time.
It is ready to fall and be built again,
And therefore it is ageless.
It is something intangible.
It acts not as a city but as an organism.
It is not a design aesthetic but a mentality,
And this mentality cannot be disturbed.
The splitting of the earths crust
Wrath of the sea and flames of chaos
Cause what has been built to fall,
And cause what has fallen to be built up stronger. But the shadows remain undisturbed
No matter what form the physical matter takes. The physical forces that thrust upon
The people, their land, and their home
Are a part of them.
They exist as one.

It is natural to them. As if it is a mechanism, programmed to operate. Once triggered, it is set into motion, the pen in the hand, the senses alert. Ready. Ready to observe, to document, to absorb.
It is automatic, a way of being. Each their own system, style, approach, but nonetheless effective. I am here as an observer. What I did not realize was who and what exactly I would be learning from.

Adjusting Transforming Patchwork Temporality

All words used to describe Tokyo. All words read before our arrival, used to describe the realm we would find ourselves lost within. But only here in Japan were these words able to become real, and tangible, within my grasp. The city itself is a decentralized flexible composition of parts stitched together with a transportation network that we find ourselves weaving through. Attempting to understand the chaos we find ourselves adding to confusion but we are adjusting. We are learning what we can as quickly as we can in order to adapt to the urban setting we now exist within.

Adjusting Transforming Patchwork Temporality

All words used to describe Tokyo. All words read before our arrival, used to describe the realm we would find ourselves lost within. But as I list them now, they not only describe the city I find myself

in, but also the research team that I am a part of. Stitched together from different parts of the world, different points in our lives, different points in our education, different skills we have acquired. Branching out in all directions our team is comprised of an immense amount of talent and skill. Yet the only means by which any of this is even possible, is because of the guidance provided. The guides whose capable hands we find ourselves in lead us. A mentor and guide translates the language which leaves us illiterate and teaches us the culture which is embedded in what we research and experience. Alexa has done even more than what has been asked of her. She continually creates a link between this country and our team, a link that no amount of research and preparation could provide. Martin-Sensei translates the language of urban planning, the language of cities, so that we are prepared and able to engage the city as best we can. He attempts to teach us all that he can. He has led a group of researchers, through a pitch black forest until the break of dawn. Only through his guidance were we able to realize that the forest was not dark, but rather it was us who did not yet know how to see. We absorb as much as we can for our stay is temporary, just as the architecture is temporary. Constantly in motion the only moments we stop are to focus the lens of our camera, but sometimes even this is not possible. The shutter must be quick because the city does not wait for us to be ready. We remain disconnected from what we know so that the lens we view through is untainted. Like the Japanese realm of public space, we too are dynamic, transient and unattached.

̈The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language ̈ – Rolande Barthes

The edge condition, how is it defined, dissolved, suggested? These questions consume me. They are the focus of my research. This transition space is composed of layers. Some soften the edge, blurring the boundary. Meanwhile others act as a barrier, drawing a line between one space and another. Whether building a wall or tearing one down, Japanese public space plays with the edge condition. As Toyo Ito said ̈If we compare the architecture of western civilization to a museum, Japanese architecture can be likened to a theatre. ̈ Japanese architecture exists in time, not bound by walls or enclosure. The cities are designed the same way. They are defined by the activity and the people who occupy it. The edge is composed of layers, layers of time and of material. The edge is what we attempt to understand, because the edge condition provides an immense amount of information about the people, the culture and the space.

Today we were given the opportunity to become a part of another research team. We were able to participate in Sasaki-Sensei ́s research process through a workshop held between Pratt Institute and Waseda University. Through engaging the area of Okubo, we were not only able to provide the Waseda students with American impressions of the town, but we were given a glimpse of what Okubo looked like through their eyes. Shohei is an enthusiastic Urban Planning Masters student at Waseda University who eagerly waited for our arrival. He had participated in the workshop last year as an undergraduate and was impressed with what the workshop contributed to their research. Sasaki-Sensei explained to us that in regards to urban/regional landscape design, a shift from appearance to background, from scene to a way of seeing and from control to management was desired. She conveyed to us the importance of facing problems behind towns and landscapes. Research and discussion are vital to the discovery of potential solutions to resolve these issues. The predicament that the American students came to discover was that the older areas where positive characteristics were found, were the areas which faced the greatest threat by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. These areas are extremely susceptible to outbreaks of fire if an earthquake were to occur and because of this the Tokyo Metropolitan Government wants these areas to be developed so that they abide by proper safety regulations. On the other front, many negative elements were found in the newer developments. The predicament at hand is how can the neighborhood retain its identity and the positive elements which create a sense of pride within the community while becoming a safe area to live? Or rather, how can the neighborhood be developed so that it no longer jeopardizes the safety of its inhabitants but also retains its identity? These issues were discussed and possible solutions proposed. The collaboration offered a unique opportunity to the students of both Pratt Institute and Waseda University. I hope our research was as helpful for them as I believe their insight was for us.

I present this to you in a fragmented stream of consciousness, perhaps analogous to my experience here. For all of this is happening simultaneously, and because of this, it is difficult to capture all at once. 


Prof. Jonathan Martin instructing Pratt students. Kelly Smolenski, 5 June 2013.



Prof. Sasaki Yoh instructing Pratt and Waseda students. Kelly Smolenski, 5 June 2013.


Pratt and Waseda students working together. Kelly Smolenski, 5 June 2013.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s