Tokyo is the largest metropolis in the world. A megalopolis with an urban model based on the flow of goods and people through its railway system and stations that form centralities, like islands in an archipelago. However, it is not this abundance of humans that is most surprising, but the jungle of objects that proliferate these spaces.
The train stations allow the storage and flow of material goods, luxurious or cheap, food, colors and images that invite the crowd to walk, consume and then leave at full speed to go to work or return home, as renovated individuals. These spaces are for Tokyo, the center of its consumer society. They take us away from our own banality and promise us happiness through objects. The presence of so many commercial spaces is surprising us and begs us to consider the opposite: a space of non-consumption.
If today’s society does not seek to consume more objects, what is left today to find happiness? Happiness is something we cannot really program, because life is misfortune and happiness at the same time. In reality, the place of consumption is everyday life and its refuge is architecture. When new consumer goods are produced, architectural programs multiply according to these uses.
The number of building typologies is proportional to the number of new objects that appear.
But what if we de-program architecture?
By depriving architecture of any program, objects disappear or cease to be protagonists, but what remains of them is a framework (the constructed material, the structure) and space. Space, unlike objects, is much more interesting, because it promises an infinite number of emotions in constant renewal according to the times and the people who consume it, that is, those who live it. Then, the notion of happiness comes to life in space and in its relationship with constructed structure and nature.
When people exist in this “built framework”, they consume space and give it meaning.
The project advocated for the consumption of space and not objects. Nothing else is needed.
What prompted the project?
Water…Before visiting Tokyo we questioned ourselves about how the city and its inhabitants related to this element, so predominant in an island country like Japan. Also the project’s site was located just next to Tokyo’s bay, making it almost an obligation to consider water as an element to produce architecture.
What drew you the three words of Tokyo - Archipelago - Paradise? Could you please define each one singularly?
Our Project Research Studio was structured around this three words as a starting point. We analyse them separately and together to understand how they relate to each other and consequently develop our own interpretation of them to create something new.
Tokyo is the the biggest Megalopolis in the world, making it quite hard to define form the very start – specially for two south americans architects living in Paris and now trying to enter a world that seemed totally oblivious – and that, could only lead to unexpected results.
From the 3 words, we could say that this one allow us too narrow the investigation to more or less a geographic location, a specific population and thus a particular culture. For us it was inevitable to associate water with Tokyo, even in a more abstract way. The urban structure built through its train stations forms some sort of Archipelago of urban islands with dense programs within the city.
Defining Paradise took all year of research. We start from the etymological origin of the word, which comes from the Greek paradeisos, and which alludes to the Garden of Eden, where good and evil coexist. It is also said that paradise is a state of full happiness. We took it a little further, and got involved with the cycle of life and the fundamental acts: which led us to define paradise as the present moment.
How could one start to define these spaces which seem to have surpassed the very notion of what train stations were in the past?
The train stations in Tokyo are fascinating: the number of people is overwhelming. But even more overwhelming is the respect they have for each other inside the subway, the implicit rules that each citizen assumes when living in the city. That demonstrated us that today train stations can be important living urban centers for leisure, culture and other types of social interactions that go beyond a constant flow of goods and services. Today this multi-programme buildings invite people to stay, but mostly to consume.
Although the site proposed by our tutor was Shinagawa Station (Tokyo), each student was free to place their proposal inside the station, or not. We decided to generate a proposal that would question the consumer society in which the Tokyoites are immersed, a consumption that is lived intensely in each train station, from the moment you leave the waggon.
Our aim was to consume space, not objects.
What informed the development of these spaces into commercial hubs? How did this process occur?
Since XX century the urban development of Tokyo has been strongly entrusted to the private sector, in this case formed mainly by private railways and japanese real estate companies who acquire concessions to make the land profitable through shops, office and residential towers, among others. In short, by diversifying and multiplying the services within the train stations they increased the number of commuters.
From a commercial aspect, how integral are these space to the lives of the inhabitants of the city? How would the removal and alteration of these spaces affect the routine of Tokyo's inhabitants?
This answer relates to the previous one since these spaces are, and have been for many years, a fundamental element of the urban morphologie and the city’s dynamics, consequently affecting the way its inhabitants live.
Tokyo is a major urban agglomeration. The people who make a living in the city depend on urban transport for their mobility. I mean, you can’t walk from Shinagawa to Shinjuku, for example.
From a commercial point of view, Tokiotes live according to the train stations near their homes, and their place of work. Regular social activities as shopping, going out with friends and others, vary depending on the proximity of bars and shops with the train stations.
So they are indeed very much an integral part of their daily lives and removing or altering them would mean to completely transform the basis of their society.
How would you approach the re-distribution of these within the urban fabric of Tokyo?
It’s an interesting question. However, it is out of our interests: our aim was to provide Tokio society with a different consumer alternative. A different definition of paradise.
When in Tokyo, you get the feeling that paradise is consumption, a kind of default paradise, as if the consumption of objects were the only thing that one could really acquire.
This is why the re-distribution of train stations is not an issue that we explore throughout our research. Our intention was to think about deprogramming space in a delimited area, or at least to free it from precise concepts in a way that we could actually consume space itself and therefore be able to experience the fundamental acts of life in a more conscious way, this is all in the search of the paradise that, as we mentioned previously, we define as the present moment. For understanding this acts we base part of the research on SUPERSTUDIO’s work on Fundamental Acts. All the references used can be seen here: https://tropicolab.eu/tokyo-deprogramee-1-2/
Published in 2001, OMA's project on the city claimed that 'Shopping is arguably the last remaining form of public activity.' How accurate is this statement after almost two decades?
I think we’re living in a time where consuming is almost an obligation. Even if you are invited to dinner at a friend’s house, arriving empty-handed can be seen, in some cultures, as a gesture of bad manners.
I don’t know how accurate this OMA statement can be today. But from my personal experience, there is no decision I make in my life that is not directly related to my bank account (laughs). I believe that the notions of spending, saving, investment and profitability have been present in my everyday life since I was a child.
However, there are small daily pleasures that are camouflaged for free. Going to a public library to work may be free, but you won’t get the same comfort in free access spaces, compared to spaces for which you pay an annual subscription.
We have become a society where we must buy the right to inhabit the space. Which, a priori, is immeasurable.
In a way, shopping hasn’t stop but its dynamics have changed a lot since the beginning of the 21st century. The online world is changing the way cities behave and what it use to be, physically evident public activities, aren’t so evident anymore and this opens the door to a reinterpretation of the existing spaces within the physical structure of the city as well as new possible uses that transcend shopping.
On the other hand, it should be noted that the current environmental movement has also influenced these old dynamics of consumption and shopping, although these do not cease to exist, the approach is very different. These two current phenomena are increasingly evident in the development of cities but much remains to be seen, to study and to discuss.
How do your collages allude to a different use and understanding of this new space?
Our objective was to evidence the life cycle through the water cycle, using deprogramming as an excuse to generate a “free of specific uses” proposal, therefore free of the consumption of objects.
The collages show everything that could happen in these spaces that we have created: we only wanted to generate the minimum spatial framework for life to happen: to be born, to live, to create, to eat, to bathe, to cry and to die. These were for us the fundamental acts from which we started to design the proposal. In this sense we propose multifunctional spaces, where water can circulate freely through them, and generate different atmospheres, depending on the fundamental act being carried out in a space (bearing in mind that the action could change space with freedom: everything or nothing could happen, we have only created an architectural framework).
What is a space which is free from objects?
The place to live the present moment in full happiness.
Alicia De Nobrega is an architect (2019) graduated from ENSA Paris – Val de Seine. She lives and works in Copenhagen.
Genesis Loizaga is an architect (2017) graduated from the Central University of Venezuela. In 2019 she did a master’s degree in architecture at ENSA Paris – Val de Seine. She lives and works in Paris.