An Interview with Chie Kanno, Te-Co Architects, Tokyo, Japan.
On March 11th, we had the opportunity to visit Regional Care Yoshikawa, a children’s kitchen outside of Tokyo designed by Chie Kanno an architect formerly of Atelier Bow-Wow now with her own firm Te-Co along with her partner Risa Alison. Kanno’s work tries to work sensitively to create new relationship between architecture and the city.
Regional Care Yoshikawa was a refurbishment of one store in the shopping district of a housing estate built in the 1970s. It was to serve as a regional office for social welfare organization specializing in nursing care. A space for the staff to work but also where people in the area could gather easily.
The approach was to open the building to the community. A long bench made for an open facade where the appearance of the interior from the outside could be seen. The bench continued further to the interior. The middle part of the room was equipped with a 2 meter square table with a kitchen integrated so that many people would be able to face each other. What was surprising to Kanno was the unexpected use of the space after its completion.
Regional Care Yoshikawa was first intended as only an office space for the regional social welfare office. Yet with collaboration from the architect and its sensitive design, the project itself became an example of adaptability, change in use, and the notion of ambiguity to generate possibilities for encounter.
Q/ During your time in graduate school and Atelier Bow-Wow you were part of the team that studied the relation between inside and outside through the facade of existing building typologies. What is the notion of facade in this building as an interface between the outside and the inside?
When I was researching in Switzerland with Peter Merkur, I became very interested in the relationship between the inside and outside through architectural elements especially the loggia. I was interested in loggia because it constantly reflects the relationship between architecture and the city without a special or particular application. In Italy, just watching people walking around, watching knitting, etc.
This became a focus of research here at Regional Care Yoshikawa as well. Even in the nursing care space, having such a semi-outdoor space creates a relationship between the tenants and place, connecting with the area where the staff work with the community, watching over the whole city.
Q/ What were some surprises that occurred after the completion of the project?
The intention of the project was to make places where people can gather at the facade of the building. We assumed that elderly people other than visiting nursing care persons and people with dementia can drop in without hesitation and make rice together, will eat together. Although this image was not a mistake, it was children who first took notice of the project, and after school like a routine came to come to play.
The tenants saw an opportunity. To connect young and old. Due to circumstances of parents’ work, there are families where children were alone into the evening. Children often stayed in this space until the evening and ate sweets and rice. So volunteers and people from the commerce committee raised their hands, and with the driving force of the people at the workplace, decided to open a child canteen.
Q/ What are specific elements of the facade that made it a site of community appropriation?
We were happy if the window space would be useful. I felt strongly that it should be open so I proposed to open the facade with a window. But it is a combination of functions, a bench with window with an electrical plug. We discussed whether it would be necessity to provide an electrical outlet to the outside. The first intention was for the client, for occasional events to take place in the covered space in front of the storefront. Yet an interesting thing happened. Local children began to use it to charge their devices, resting on the bench and growing in curiosity of what was happening inside. The outlet itself generated activity at the facade. An idea of a specific use with a specific intention (the client’s), but with the ability to be mis-used, change and generate new possibilities.
Actually the depth of the facade was a point of negotiation. Giving more to facade meant that the space inside would also be smaller. But the client was interested in giving a space to the community itself. The solution was that the depth actually provided a specific moment of encounter. You did not have to go in to see what was happening. In Japan, for social welfare organizations there is social stigma (especially for the older generation) to use their services. But simply to provide a nice space, a moment of rest outside where someone that is sitting here can be approached in a friendly way.
Q/ So when you started in the process they didn’t need an office space but a kitchen space?
In the beginning they only needed a mini kitchen. But we had an idea that a kitchen could bring a community together -also that there would be a directly relation between the work of the Social Welfare Organization and the community it was serving. I drew two plans for the client (both that placed the kitchen at the centre). They understood my intention.
Q/ Did the idea of the collective table at the center of the project come later?
The large table was part of the initial design, yet it took a full year for the kitchen to be used as a collective program. We imagined into the future. In the beginning we imagined that elderly people can gather to have tea. But the design of the table actually is able to host many activities -even the ones for only the office’s use. Ultimately it is an architectural element - a comfortable surface. So even it was not used as a kitchen, it had the capacity to be appropriated for something else that is just as important or necessary at a specific point in time.
Q/ You mentioned that you studied the use of the loggia as a negotiation between the inside and outside. Do you
think this idea is limited to Europe or do you think it has application in Japan?
From what I learnt from my research, it seemed that the loggia could be applied to Japan, and i have used it in other projects. Actually, the loggia is something that gives depth to the facade. It is very similar to traditional Japanese typologies that separate the inside from the outside through many layers of screens with space between them and a change in height. Before in Japanese houses there was the engawa (a 50 cm non-tatami-matted flooring that ran around the rooms, on the outside of the building). This space was always a space for gathering. My thought is that we should encourage this type of gathering. My research into the loggia which has more depth than 50cm, was on this theme.
Also, although each element is thin, it is the layering that gives depth. The idea that Japanese architecture is only about thinness or transparency is not true -what contemporary Japanese architecture does attempt to do is to mediate the condition between the inside and outside. Both are valuable.
The use of the deep facade has a spatial as well as a functional ambiguity. We don’t know if it is inside or outside, and we don’t know its use as pertaining to the program inside. What opportunities does this create? It is an open architecture that lets people discover and decide for themselves the use. In a way the architecture is invisible.
Q/ What is the status of the adjacent businesses to the Regional Care Yoshikawa?
When we started here they were empty, the storefronts were vacant. But now a children’s administration office has moved into the next unit. On the other side, there is going to be a new business that is opening up. I think that our project has had something to do with renewed interest in this particular location. I also worked on another project with the city administration, responsible for the new children’s centre next door. They told me they moved here because of success of the kodomo kitchen that has started here and even the success of the design of the facade at the kodomo kitchen is being used again next door.
Q/ Do you keep in contact with the Social Welfare Organization?
Actually I have some more project with them. They are quite a big company. We have learned from the experience here, what is working and what is not working, and applied it to other contexts. For example in Chiba prefecture that was opened in 2017. Actually the project is very similar architecturally but it is not used as a kodomo kitchen. Rather that project brings together community in a different way between the urban and rural.
An Interview with Eric Klinenberg, author, New York City, USA.
Eric Klinenberg is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He also serves as Research Director of Rebuild by Design, which began as a federal competition to generate innovative infrastructure plans for the region affected by Hurricane Sandy, and now helps cities around the world transform to address climate change.
Klinenberg’s research projects focus on cities, climate change, culture, politics, media, technology, and social policy. His most recent book is Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown Publishing, September 2018). The book argues that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches, synagogues, and parks that help us form crucial, sometimes life-saving connections. These are places where people can gather and linger, strengthening personal ties and promoting interaction across group lines. They are vital parts of what he calls our “social infrastructure,” and they are necessary for rebuilding societies everywhere.
Q/ We have been interested in the idea of extracting literal privatized programmed spaces from the home and working making them shared or collective spaces. Have you seen this sort of phenomena in your own research, and how have these interactions changed the way you perceive domestic space?
Yes I’ve absolutely seen this sort of extraction of the domestic program. Actually in the closing chapter of my book Going Solo, I look at developments that compromise on the size of private domestic spaces and build in more space for shared amenities. It documents shared housing and what happens when you compromise a little bit on private domestic program and build in more space for shared amenities. Fardknappen Stockholm, ground level shared kitchen. If you live in the building and you are over 45 you sign up to cook every month. There is a built in expectation that you will participate in the community by cooking for other people. Then if you are enrolled in that program, you can sign up for dinners any other night you want. There is always a collective notion of cooking and cleaning.
Q/ What makes it more or less likely for people to use these spaces?
In all of my studies I cannot say I’ve found a perfect formula for success. The program of the space absolutely matters, and it’s not just having a physical place, but also a set of activities that encourages participation. It’s one thing to have a library, but it’s another to have one that offers children’s literacy classes and craft courses for adults and karaoke.
Management also matters, if you have a complex with program or activities, it is the local staff that make sure people feel welcome there and that they are wanted there regardless of who they are. Libraries are successful as gathering places in part because of librarians. These are professional people who have a principled commitment to inclusion. Any price tag you place on access raises the bar and reduces possibilities for use for everyone. At the same time some people believe that if you don’t have a price tag on something, it winds up attracting people who have grave or serious deprivation or suffer from some kind of problems. This creates a different kind of space, a free space, but one that could become a stigmatized space. This then creates a different kind of space as one that middle class people will not use. So in the end it really is a balancing act on the part of not only the designers, but also of the local staff and the visitors.
Design matters obviously, places can be more or less attractive, more or less welcoming and pleasant or more or less accessible. For example a lot of libraries are not even wheelchair accessible, not to mention geographic location. Is your infrastructure accessible to everyone? That is a big concern that could dramatically affect overall usage of the spaces over time. Maintenance is very important, architectural history is wrought with amazing buildings opening on the first day and then falling quickly into disrepair because they are not continually maintained. How do you build maintenance into the design and program? How do you make sure that the spaces are continually developed? Can you build something that is flexible enough that can continually be tweaked and adapted to facilitate additional uses? We often have a design idea for something we want to do, but in real life the way the space is used is actually very different.
Q/ Culturally dynamic Tokyo, the urban condition is one of urban porosity. Density has grown but openness continues. Can we look to these in-between space as social infrastructure? What was once one building for a single family is now seven or eight buildings all ranging in uses. Could we look at these open spaces, or the Urban porosity as a site of potential social infrastructure?
Sidewalks are easily considered social infrastructure, they are ubiquitous in nature and are shaped by many people and all kinds of surrounding things that make them hard to manage and design at the same time. They are unlike buildings or facilities in that they aren’t easily contained or maintained by a central team. There are certainly ways that streets or sidewalks work to provide a fundamental building block for facilitating urban public life.
A Sidewalk can be very narrow and used in a very utilitarian way to just get from here to there, or it can be widened and used for lingering or social gatherings. In Palaces for the People book there is a chapter on education and I use an example of this expanded sidewalk in front of my kids school in NYC and how the space becomes utilized as a social gathering point. I compare that to the street and sidewalk area of the suburban school my kids went to in Silicon Valley where everything is very car dependent. I think yes, by all means this area, when used and planned effectively can be a powerful space for social infrastructure. Architecturally we tend to have very limited control over how these sidewalks and streets are operate through design unless you are working on a neighborhood plan.
Q/ The typical home has becoming an insular unit, people are living alone and don’t need to go outside. What was once public has been pushed out from the home. Where has this sense of public life gone within the city, now that it has been pushed outside of the home?
It’s interesting, I was in Beijing and Shanghai about 20 years ago during the summer after I had written a book called Heat Wave which was a social study about how people fared during a major environmental change while engaged in different social scenarios. Survival at times depended on whether someone lived alone or had a strong social infrastructure. It was wild because people had taken their living rooms and placed them outside. They gathered massively long extension cords and pulled their living room furniture and electronics outside. Basically, these people inverted the private space and were living more comfortably during this environmental change. And although I haven’t seen this as much in Tokyo, I’m sure this is a possibility.
An Interview with Shunji Ishida, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genova, Italy.
On July 19th, I had the opportunity to interview Shunji Ishida, longtime associate and personal friend of Renzo Piano inside the building workshop. Shunji is a mythic character in the studio, with a camera in-hand he now documents the daily life of the workshop. It is a new obsession. To discover something about the building workshop, it was important to go to one of its sources -one that has seen everything and forgotten nothing. So I went to talk with Shunji.
Q/ How long have you been at RPBW?
I started with Piano Rogers in 1972 after they won the competition for Centre Pompidou.
I left Japan in 1969 on an architecture tour starting in Italy going north and ended in London and I decided to stay to look for a job. I tried to find work in London and found work at Arup Associates, an experiment at the time that was organized in multi-disciplinary groups, with architects and engineers working together. I was fortunate because my group was next to Structure Group 3 which was headed by Peter Rice and Ted Happold. My group leader introduced me to Peter Rice.
After two years, I remembered the nice time I had in Italy, my wife and I enrolled a language school in Perugia and we drove through France. We packed our bags into our Volkswagen, but as we were driving across France the car suddenly gave up. It needed a week to repair. And so we accept an invitation from a Swiss friend in Genova who had just started working with Renzo, to stay at his apartment. One evening I was introduced to Renzo who took a look at my work.
Renzo then said to me: “Shunji, why do you want to study Italian? Wouldn’t you prefer to learn French?” He had just won the Pompidou Centre competition. When our car was ready, I turned it around we went back to Paris.
Q/ How many people where working for Renzo then in Paris?
At that time maybe 8-10 people all with different personalities. At the time the French architecture scene was really academic and part of the beaux arts tradition. Even with the construction of the Pompidou, it was difficult to continue in the French context. So Renzo created the Piano Rice Associates in Genova. The experimentation to integrate structure, engineering and architecture, it was something we wanted to continue.
After the Pompidou was finished, Renzo asked me “So, Shunji, I am going back to Italy are you still interested in learning Italian?” as if only six days had passed, and not six years. Soon after we moved to Genova. In 1977 I started to working in the small studio in Pegli that was next to the house. I did not speak any Italian, but Renzo organized a place for us to stay in the family apartment. At the start, Renzo spent time with family and he always invited us to join. We learnt the Italian way of life. One weekends we traveled to the new case study house in San Luca. It was very fortunate for us, it was as if we were part of the family.
Q/ You have spoken about key figures, persons, in the history of the studio and in a way they are essential to understand the path the studio has taken. Do you think these figures are important to any practice in architecture?
Very important. For me as well as Renzo. For example when Renzo and Rogers were partners, they wanted to do the competition for Chelsea stadium with Frei Otto, who was too busy, but suggested instead to work with an English engineer, Ted Happold. It was Happold who told them they should enter the competition for the Pompidou Centre. In the early days of the studio in Genova (the one in Pegli) there was a lot of resistance to Renzo even after the Pompidou. Nonetheless, it was with the assistance and encouragement of Peter Rice (and the partnership with Piano-Rice Associates) that we managed to create to some interesting things at the time and we dreamt up projects almost from nothing.
Q/ The studio has been called many different names over time. But the name Building Workshop now carries special significance. What is the conception of this name for the studio, and is it central to the ethos or approach of the studio?
Even In Italy, Renzo was considered an infant terrible. There was a strong bias for an the academic way of thinking both theoretically and historically. Manfredo Tafuri was very influential at the time and Renzo was almost not considered an architect. He was ignored, even if he had begun to gain a reputation thanks to the Pompidou. I remember Bruno Zevi saying to Renzo, “You have to work with space! There was no space in your buildings!”
But Renzo wanted to stay away for this academic way and imagined building as something constructed “piece by piece”. The name building workshop first came from this desire to separate from the establishment. Renzo also came from a line of builders, which his family wanted him to enter but he wanted to be an architect.
When Renzo first went to the University in Florence, he was interested in Brunelleschi rather than Alberti. In the way to invent, to invent the instruments to build, but in also the bottega system, the renaissance style of passing constructive knowledge between teacher and student. In 1996, Renzo was invited to the workshop of the reconstruction of the Ise Shrine in Japan. A way to pass down the craftsmanship through the act of building. It was long process over many years.
So for the term building workshop, the building part is to do with the legacy of construction in the family and a desire to separate from the establishment and the workshop part a fascination with the bottega system. The name of the internship program here comes from that idea. On many occasions, he was invited to teach in universities but instead of going to the school to teach, he decided to invite the student to come work instead in the studio.
Q/ So do you think that the word workshop then is an active term? Does it point to a methodology, a process of negotiating the space between a craft and technology?
I think there is some truth to that. Craft is caring for the detail, but technology can be the methodology for doing a craft. How can the technological expression not just be a technology but beautiful at the same time. The idea of “piece by piece”. When a piece is beautiful it is not only about how it looks but about the way it works and if it works very well, on it own but also part of a system.
Q/ The use of the section is an important device in the drawings of Renzo. Is the section critical to understand this architecture? It is different than other architects, for example in the work of Kazuyo Sejima which is plan-based. What does the section bring to the quality of the space?
It is not only the section, the plan is also important! But we use the section because it is an easy way to understand the scale. With the plan it is quite difficult. Renzo is quite critical of using the proper scale. In terms of understanding the project the section is also an easy way to express the project. For me the section allows us to express what we want. It is a way of thinking.
You bring up Sejima, she is always interested in the plan. Not very much in the section. Sometimes her plan is like a diagram. I remember the associate architect for the Kimbell was the same associate architect for the SANAA museum in Toledo. He always said, that she would continue to draw these diagrammatic plans even in the construction documents!
At the time of the construction of the Pompidou, Philip Johnson would come look at the construction documents for the floors. He was frustrated about how to conceive of how these spaces were working, a resistance to the universal plan.
Q/ About the current studio itself in Genova. It has been a privilege to experience working in a space that is not neutral and takes a position on architecture. This is contrary to the idea of seeking a neutral space, the white box. The building itself embodies many of the characteristics that at least from the outsider’s perspective that defines the work of Renzo. Yet the studio is also a personal space, and extension of a house. The studio is on land that was owned by the Piano family and is in a territory that is understood well -the relation between sky, sea, land, plants, and it was a starting point of many interesting innovations in construction.
For you, what lens do you think one can interrupt the Genova building workshop? As an example of constructive evolution? As an example of a personal project? As an example of case-study house?
I think the building workshop is all these things. If you go around, especially towards France, you see the use of the tiered greenhouses. This typology of stepping down the landscape. In a way, it is connected to the territory and could be an good place to work. It is a local technology, a technological building tied to the Ligurian context, the human element we spoke about before.
Yes, there is the connection to the greenhouse, but also to the legacy of other architects houses. For example, Frei Otto, whom I spoke about earlier had a studio/house in Stuttgart. It is using a very similar idea. We had the opportunity to see the Charles and Ray Eames house, and meet with Ray, and it was also an inspiration. In the case-study houses in California it is a simple building. It was not high technology but using simple construction material. In the 1970s, John Hix wrote a book “The Glass House”, adapting the greenhouse idea to offices and working spaces. All these things were in the back of our minds.
I wanted to say when we started to do the construction here, we consulted with Peter Rice and Tom Barker. Tom told us, “Do not put too many things before, but adapt little by little, learn and add over time! Have a simple greenhouse and then you have to add. If you are cold, just add another layer of insulation.” This is part of the experimental nature of the work. The greenhouse is the primary piece, like a container, but from living and working we can learn from and improve how the building works over time.
Q/ As a young architect, I would like to know what is the relation between the space of creation and the work that is produced?
Certainly, of course, there is relationship. I think you experienced it working here, probably not only in what you produced but in the way you produced it. For Renzo, this relationship is probably best understood by the fact that his house was always inside or very close to the studio. Here in Vesima, the home is in the farmhouse, but in Paris at one time, it was in an apartment in the same building as the studio. At the studio on the Piazza San Mateo, Renzo took an apartment across the square. This closeness to your work, means that there is a back and forth relationship between what you make and where you make it.