Entrances manned by security guards. Haphazardly placed paper signage for directions. Navigating endless tape to get in and out of buildings. Getting around the city can feel very much like entering a war zone nowadays. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only disrupted our everyday lives but our urban landscape too. The sudden need for new screening protocols has led to many makeshift solutions that have upended the design of places and fragmented them into ugly, awkward and even dead spaces.
While once regarded as temporary inconveniences, measures such as screening and social distancing look likely to become a permanent part of our everyday with cities planning to live with Covid-19 as an endemic disease. How they are integrated into our built environment needs to be re-examined lest they permanently remake the city into a fortress.
➜ Read the full column in CUBES #102 — Rethink, Reinvent
If you’ve ever wondered about what makes Japanese culture unique, this brochure Roots of Japan(s): Unearthing the Cultural Matrix of Japan tells it all. Published by Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, this publication marks a shift in how the country promotes its creative industries, from its previous “Cool Japan” to “Creative Japan”. The aim: to communicate to Japanese and the world its unique brand of culture.
The book establishes the notion that Japan is made up of diverse cultures and briefly traces their history. What comes out of these lyrical pages edited by the Editorial Engineering Laboratory (a research institution “providing pilot models for the information age“) are exciting connections of Japan’s past, present and future. For instance, cosplay, an act of representation to bring a fantasy world to life, is traced to Japan’s Byobu screens, which once carried images of Chinese landscapes to the country’s hotel lobbies and banquet halls.
Besides outlining distinct Japanese traits, the book also theorises how its culture is generated, giving extremely fascinating insights to Japanese philosophies. Tarako (cod roe) Spaghetti, an Italian dish unique to Japan, is an instance of the trinity of concepts Shin-gyo-so, which are three basic styles of calligraphy that represent formal-casual-punk. As explained in the book:
“The pasta is cooked al dente, following the shin (authentic) Italian method, and sprinkled with dry seaweed according to the Japanese gyo (way). Eat with chopsticks rather than fork, and you’ll be so (grass) in style.”
Roots of Japan(s) was given out during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Bali, and there’s no information if you can get them anywhere else. However, you can hear the laboratory’s director Seigow Matsuoka talk about this book at the recent Creative Tokyo event website (with a voiceover in English translation; start from 22:40). You can also look at images of the book and read notes in Japanese about it here and here.
You may have heard by now, I’m currently involved in the revamp of Fivefootway, an online journal about asian architecture that was founded in 2007 by architectural students Adib Jalal and Yeo Jia-Jun. This year, Adib decided to develop Fivefootway into a full-fledge online magazine about asian cities and roped me in to help him out. We hope to bring the discussion of architecture and urbanism in Asia beyond just architects, and include everyone else whose daily lives make up the city.
The inaugural issue is set to launch 09/10/11 where we bring you a bumper two-month long issue that looks at EVERYONE and the idea of the inclusive asian city. We’ll still on the lookout for contributors — writers, illustrators, videographers, etc — to explore this topic. So do drop Adib or I a line to talk!
As for now, we’ve started a daily Fivefootway Broadcast and you can also follow us on Twitter at @fivefootway.