post building back better

September 20th, 2011

Filed under: news — will @ 8:46 am

зъбни имплантиfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1082;#1086;#1085;#1086;#1087;#1080;#1089;/a/fontOur planning partner, Christian Dimmer, wrote an article for the Japan Times recently, directing his thoughts to the current prime minister

img class=alignnone src= alt= width=350 height=233 /

emDear Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda,/em

emOver 560 sq. km of northeast Japan was inundated by the tsunami that followed the massive March 11 earthquake, leaving over 20,000 dead or missing and devastating farmland, ports and nearly the whole regional fishing economy. The subsequent shutdown of most nuclear power plants, part of Japan’s highly centralized power generation system, caused an unprecedented energy crisis with severe repercussions for the national and even parts of the global economy./em

emThe aftershocks have sent tremors far beyond the areas directly hit by the natural disaster. But the widely accepted notion of a triple disaster of the earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear crisis is a misconception, obscuring the fact that the afflicted areas had already been suffering from deep structural problems for decades./em

emA comparison of the current crisis to the Great Hanshin Earthquake throws the demographics of these problems into stark relief. The 1995 quake primarily struck Kobe, a single densely populated city of 1.5 million inhabitants where 13.5 percent of residents were aged 65 or older; the Great East Japan Earthquake hit hundreds of kilometers of coastline in mostly rural regions with a population of nearly 7 million, 22 percent of whom were older than 65./em

emBy March 11, 2011, many younger people had already left Tohoku to study or work in Tokyo, creating a demographic imbalance where the share of elderly had risen above the national average, eroding the region’s economic base. Accordingly, agriculture, fisheries and forestry face succession issues and a shortage of labor, with the result that the country’s food self-sufficiency is on the wane while carbon dioxide emissions from increasing food imports are aggravating global warming. Large-scale shopping malls, mushrooming in rural Japan, have sapped the last energies of retail districts in existing town centers. These are manifestations of the lingering attraction of energy-intensive, car-centered lifestyles, whose resulting urban development patterns have left the old and immobile isolated in dilapidated, atrophying downtowns./em

emA comprehensive, long-term strategy is needed to help solve these and other demographic, social, environmental and economic problems that were already in place prior to March 11./em

Check out the full story a href= style=position: absolute; overflow: hidden; height: 0; width: 0;a href=свети георги/a/spanfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href= style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1091;#1076;#1086;#1078;#1085;#1080;#1082; #1085;#1072; #1080;#1082;#1086;#1085;#1080;/a/fontfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1082;#1086;#1085;#1080; #1085;#1072; #1089;#1074;#1077;#1090;#1094;#1080;/a/fontfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1091;#1076;#1086;#1078;#1085;#1080;#1082;/a/fontfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1090;#1082;#1098;#1076;#1077; #1076;#1072; #1082;#1091;#1087;#1103; #1080;#1082;#1086;#1085;#1072;/a/fontfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1076;#1077;#1103; #1079;#1072; #1087;#1086;#1076;#1072;#1088;#1098;#1082;/a/fontfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1072;#1082; #1079;#1072; #1087;#1072;#1088;#1082;#1077;#1090;/a/fontfont style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href= style=position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0a href=;#1086;#1085;#1076;#1072;#1078;#1080;/a/fontикони

post new digs

September 17th, 2011

Filed under: news — will @ 8:17 pm

иконописfrontoffice was given a chance to move base to akasaka (an area in the center of tokyo) recently, and happy opportunists that we are we jumped.

we found a place that is becoming more and more rare in tokyo as the city continues to modernise – an old wooden house at the back of a narrow lane.  currently a tea shop inhabits the ground floor and we are on the second.  Apparently the floor was used at some point as an actual living space, but has been empty for awhile.  As living spaces go it was probably quite alright, but as an office space it needed some work as the floor plan was composed of a series of rather small rooms divided by a stairway that has not been used for at least a decade.

luckily we were given permission to do as we like with the premises and so we decided to remove all of the walls, fill in the stairs, and keep only the structure.  We now have a pretty decent space for making models and enough desk space for everyone to sit down.  This is all a very nice luxury that I hope will be the norm from now on. It is definitely a bit different kind of space but the location can’t be beat and the mix of old and new make for a nice place to work in the 21st century.

if you are in the neighbourhood don’t hesitate to drop by.  In the meantime here are some before, during and after images of the new digs.



demolishing walls

with the walls removed the small rooms give enough floor space to put in a desk

structure and floor are painted with waterproofing paint

note how the work desk accommodates the columns – we’re very clever that way

post the multi-lingual age

September 4th, 2011

Filed under: news — will @ 11:19 pm


i know the world is small.

the reason i know this is because even a wee office such as we have thrown together is published in way too many languages.  I guess we always expected our work might be published in English magazines, and most of what we have written or been featured in, fits that category. But surprisingly a lot of it doesn’t.

It all started with the Russian version of Interni, and expanded to include Korean (Details and C3), and Dutch (Starchitects book) publications, and finally last year we also made into the Japanese press (this was not an easy thing to do, even though we are based in Japan).  Just this week we received our copy of a book on small houses that is written in Chinese and English featuring two of our projects.

Now, I am happily the first to admit it is incomprehensibly surreal to see our work in so many languages, especially since we are often set alongside such amazing people.  In this latest book for example we are there with UN Studio.  Absolutely makes us feel we need to work harder (at the very least).

The thing that I can’t help wondering is why we find ourselves so accidentally international, especially since we are so decidedly local in our practice, at least so far.   After all it isn’t like we sent our work to all of these publishers.  To the contrary they always come to us.  My theory is that we are picked up in so many languages because of the internet and the blogosphere. It’s kind of like word of mouth, but everyone has their eyes closed

The upshot is that somehow our projects end up relayed all over the place, from the UK to India, the USA and China, without any apparent awareness that national boundaries even exist.  It really does seem like the world is growing flatter and smaller.  Would be nice if that meant we could move into those markets more easily too, though I somehow doubt it works that way. иконииконописikoni

post recent goings on

September 3rd, 2011

Filed under: news — will @ 12:04 pm

like everyone else we wanted to help with efforts to restore japan after the tohoku disaster.  The question was how?

Being architects joining Architecture For Humanity seemed an obvious first step, and along with several others we have put together a Tokyo Chapter, and hopefully will have some interesting activities to report in the coming year.  One thing that is becoming more and more clear however is that it will not be a short-term thing and we will be involved in the project for some time.

On that score the emergency phase of the disaster is coming to an end.  The moratorium on new construction on the coast is expected to be lifted this month, after which Japan will begin its real reconstruction effort.  Up until recently the only kind of work architects were officially allowed to do was temporary and even then the entire issue has been problematic.

One way that we have been able to get involved is to use the teaching platform that I have available to me from my position at Keio university. This year I was lucky enough to run a studio with Fumihiko Maki and Yasushi Ikeda aimed at  building resiliency in Japan after the disaster.  I have started a kind of blog at the archinect website that offers some highlights of the studio, and is probably going to be an ongoing project for the near future.  It does not involve building things exactly (although i have hopes some of the projects will be done for real at some point), but has definitely been an education for us all.  The issues are incredibly broad and will not be going away anytime soon.

fumihiko maki @ keio university 3.11 studio review

I was also lucky to join professor Ikeda with a related project in kesennuma a few weeks ago.  For those who don’t recall, Kesennuma is the city that had massive boats sitting in the streets, carried in on the massive wave that destroyed so many homes and lives.

Within the first month after the disaster Professor Ikeda went up north with a few professors from Keio and began a small project with the community that has a few too many faces and too many parts to outline here (I’ll try to cover it in another post), but involved being invited to contribute something for the O-bon festival this year.  Since the university program we belong to is based on student involvement we ended up taking a dozen students up north to do a workshop with elementary school students – the intent being to give them a sense that after so much destruction they could be involved with building something with their own hands.  I guess we also hoped the project might be a small symbol of the beginning of reconstruction.  To put things in context the O-bon festival is held every year all over Japan to remember family ancestors and to visit the graves of the dead.  Although it may sound a bit odd usually it is a holiday akin to christmas, a time for families to gather as children return home from all over the country, share meals, argue with siblings and cousins, play games, etc.  Basically doing all the things families usually do when they get together after a long absence.  This year though in Tohoko there were too many dead to be remembered so it was a  sombre event more than a happy one.

In a way it was also cathartic, and I hope our small project offered some catharsis as well.  We were very grateful to be invited to join in something so personal.

the streets of Kesennuma are mostly passable now

but the damage is still entirely visible and will take years to restore

temporary housing at school grounds

most/many residents will be here for years not months

workshop with elementary school children

pieces are signed with messages of encouragement

For the project the students made use of  laser cutters to make a series of fish shapes (for this fishing community) that could be assembled even by children to create a series of arches.  In the afternoon a group of elementary school students gathered to build the arches, and in the evening they hung LED candles and the arch became a part of the years festival.  Because the community has been wiped out, at least on the coast, many of the people involved in the festival are living in temporary housing built on the school grounds, and the festival itself was also held at the school.  It was a bit of an odd feeling for me, since I have been to many events like this and they are generally quite noisy and positive.  Here though the organisers purposefully kept the celebration simple and minimal.  It was the right choice and the event as a whole felt…significant.  Not so much our part in it, but just the fact of gathering together to remember the dead and, in a way, to celebrate life.  I can’t help but feel that in the face of disaster the best tool for ensuring resilience of a place and of a community is not the new buildings and the money being thrown at projects but rather the people themselves.  Resilience maybe is more about attitude than a master plan.



The fish were signed with messages by supporters in tokyo who joined the students for a summer festival at Keio university earlier this year (you can read a bit more about this here at  After the festival in Kesennuma  was over we broke the fish arch apart and gave the pieces out to the folks who are now living in the temporary shelters.  I’ll admit I was not sure how that would be received but in fact the community really embraced the project and they all wanted to have the signed fish to take home.  It is a good thing to be reminded that in times of disaster it is not only the practical and the needful but also the symbolic and the heartfelt that make recovery possible.

post tv

July 22nd, 2011

Filed under: yoyogi house — will @ 5:51 pm

иконописthe hows and whys of the invitations we get are still a mystery to us, but not so long ago we received an e-mail out of the blue from a popular japanese architecture tv show asking if they could showcase the yoyogi house in an upcoming episode.

after a quick discussion with the owners of the house we agreed to introduce them to the producer and almost magically the house was on the tv machine with very little work on our side (which is a nice change).  Which means through the magic of the internets we can bring it to you.

It is of course all in Japanese, but the host is so happy and positive it really isn’t necessary to understand the words. For myself I am impressed that he has been happily viewing homes for 22 years and still seems completely enthusiastic.

check out the video links below!

part one


part two

икониПравославни икониикони на светци


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