This means that economic value is (perceived as) the only criterion to construct our city, and it is an international current that also affects such contemporary megalopolises as New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, Shanghai, and many others. However, Tokyo seems to be the most exaggerated case where such driving force is maximized without public consideration (take the current plans to redevelop Shimokitazawa as one of such cases). In short, as the critical scholar David Harvey describes, most advanced cities today are being controlled by a purely capitalist urban entrepreneurship that focuses solely on an attractiveness evaluated through the level of human traffic. In other words, urban managerialism at the hands of the state government is yielding its place to for-profit business organizations. Just take a look at the Roppongi Art Triangle where two of the triangle’s vertices are managed by the Mori Building Group (Roppongi Hills) and the Mitsui Fudosan Group (Tokyo Midtown).
Now, when Atelier Bow Wow say “we want to make lively space”, they are not measuring the liveliness of a public space by the numbers of people occupying it (and thus the economic transitions being processed there). Rather, they are trying to activate a discussion on how to think of alternatives to the current, unbalanced situation that drives our cities. What situation? Well, it’s mainly about the hype over bling-bling art-culture-design-food-relaxation-petshop-whatever complexes you are encouraged to visit every weekend to be both physically and mentally worn down by the relentless crowds, where you are continually surrounded by brain-washing advertising campaigns – a world of billboards, gigantic wall-embedded LED displays, and speakers blaring out mind-numbing J-pop (Aw, man!). Welcome to a world where commercials are so ubiquitous you don’t even notice it until you find yourself at home with three shopping bags in your hands. This is how corporate urban planners can define the successful design of a “lively public space”. Really.
Well, thanks to Atelier Bow Wow, we can take inspiration from another definition. The term ‘lively’, presented here in this tiny yet condensed exhibition of miniature models and real-sized actual pieces, intends to draw attention to each individual’s autonomy within that space. Needless to say for all the architectural savvies among TAB readers, Atelier Bow Wow has been active as one of the most context-aware architect duos (Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima) well known for their cutting-edge research works that take a critical stance toward social protocols. ‘Pet Architecture’ is one of their research topics that involved seeking out examples of parasitic architecture they found around Japan (such as a driving school built on the roof of a supermarket), and demonstrated how creative and efficient solutions are adopted in highly restrictive situations in a self-organizing way, without any need for the help of professional architects or planners.
This exhibition is separated in two parts. The first half shows mobile and ‘portable’ architectural models such as a puppet-show theater, origami-folding archways, an outdoor inflatable room, a rickshaw-based classroom, a limousine-café and a small manga library you can easily fold up. The common thread that runs all through these projects is the re-definability of these structures: ‘users’ of these spaces can reconfigure them according to their own needs. In the second half, visitors can take a close look at the project models for roughly a dozen houses that the Atelier has realized in and out of Japan. Each of these meticulous crafts is modular and open, in the sense that they contain many spaces without presupposed functions assigned. Unlike the work of most contemporary post-modernist architect groups, these models are not built to impress with the marvel of their form – instead, they are meant to be built – beyond the completion of construction – around each user’s needs and creativity.
Mobile, portable, reusable, reconfigurable: Atelier Bow Wow succeeds in showing that such ideas are keys to realize real liveliness and openness; you can spend a whole afternoon in this elegantly-crafted exhibition, absorbed in your own interaction with their playful proposals. Atelier Bow Wow’s philosophy can be found in today’s online discussions of network neutrality and participatory media, along with the open-source and free culture movements. It seems like it’s time for us, both in the real world and in cyberspace, to start reclaiming our own spaces of sociability and historicity.
Click here to see Atelier Bow Wow’s bilingual portfolio page