Innovation in the Cities
of the Future
Innovation in the
Cities of the
Toyota Motor Corporation,
Head of i-ROAD Development
How will the cities of tomorrow change, and what will the lifestyles of the people inhabiting them be like?
We have gathered together an architect, a film director, and an engineer from Toyota, all professions that, despite their differences, all share at their core the unfettered exploration of what lies ahead, for a freeform discussion of what cities will be like in the future.
The first member of this roundtable is Kengo Kuma, a world-renowned architect who is designing Tokyo’s next monument, the New National Stadium, for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games. Next is director/producer Hideaki Anno, whose sci-fi worlds like Neon Genesis Evangelion series and Shin Godzilla that bridge present-day and near future cityscapes have spawned legions of fervent fans across the globe. Completing the triumvirate is Akihiro Yanaka, an engineer at Toyota who developed the i-ROAD and searches for new definitions of mobility. We spoke with the three about their respective visions of what lies ahead for cities.
Kengo Kuma was born in Yokohama in 1954. He graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Architecture in 1979. After a stint as a visiting researcher at Columbia University, he became a professor at Keio Gijuku in 2001, and a professor at Tokyo University in 2009. In 1997 he received the Architectural Institute of Japan Prize for Design for the forest Noh stage made for the Tome Center for the Inheritance of Traditional Performing Arts, also winning the Benedictus Award from the American Institute of Architects for “Water / Glass”. In 2002, Kuma would receive the Spirit of Nature International Wood Architecture Award from Finland for his wooden structures like the Nakagawa-machi Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art, and in 2010 he received the Mainichi Art Award for his design of the Nezu Museum. His recent works include this same museum and the Suntory Museum of Art. Kuma has also written books such as “Natural Architecture”(Iwanami Shinsho), “Losing Architecture” (Iwanami Shoten), and “New City Theory: Tokyo” (Shueisha Shinsho).http://kkaa.co.jp
Hideaki Anno was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1960. After producing several films independently as a student, Anno would go on to work as an animator on the animated television series “The Super Dimension Fortress Macross” (1982) and the animated theatrical feature “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1984). He would make his debut as an anime director with the original video animation “GunBuster” in 1988. Anno would take part in the production of the animated TV series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” in 1995, which would go on to become a social phenomenon alongside 1997’s “The End of Evangelion” theatrical feature. 1998 would make first foray into directing live action with the film “Love & Pop”. In 2006 he founded Khara, Inc. and now serves as its representative director. Anno is executive producer of Khara’s in-house production of the “Rebuild of Evangelion” series, which started in 2007, also in charge of the original story, screenplay, and overall direction. His latest work is the live action film “Shin Godzilla” (2016), which he wrote and directed. Anno is currently engaged in the production of “Evangelion: 3.0+1.0”.http://www.khara.co.jp
Yanaka first joined Toyota in 1993. After working in development for chassis parts design and cruise control systems, he engaged in planning new concept vehicles and planning/examination of urban transport systems. Yanaka has also developed and promoted many concept cars and projects that embody these principles. He has been involved with every iteration of “i series” personal mobility, and is currently heading development of the i-ROAD.
Innovation in the Cities
of the Future
Before we started this roundtable we had everyone take a look at the i-ROAD. Where did the concept of “personal mobility” behind this one or two-person vehicle originate?
Akihiro Yanaka (hereinafter referred to as Yanaka) / For a long while since they were invented, automobiles have continued to evolve along a principle of addition: faster, further, and more comfortable. While the vehicles did become more high-performance and comfortable to drive, at the same time their connection with our increasingly complex urban environments has diminished.
I’m not saying this to try and negate all the advances made in automobiles, of course. I just think it might be good if we were also proceeding along another vector besides that of simply adding more functionality. One answer I came up with was mobility for one or two people. Cars aren’t just for families anymore. If a vehicle is meant for just one person, the driver can think of it as his or her personal space, and since it is compact it can also traverse narrow roads and park in smaller spaces. This concept of personal mobility is what I wove together after rethinking our relationship with cities in the days to come.
Hideaki Anno (hereinafter referred to as Anno) / The nice thing about the i-ROAD is that it makes the very act of moving from one place to another so easily. It’s even easier to hop on or off on i-ROAD than it is a bicycle, so I get the feeling that if I had one of these I would be more inclined to make multiple stops once I’m out on the road.
Kengo Kuma (hereinafter referred to as Kuma) / I’ve never driven anything except convertibles up until now. Feeling the open air on my skin as a cruise along is a great form a stress relief for me. I even keep the top down at night or when it’s raining lightly (laughs). It looks like it will be easy to get this same open-air feeling with the i-ROAD, too. I was also really intrigued by the way my body leaned along with the chassis.
As an architect, you must be keeping an eye on what’s going on in cities today all over the world. How do you envision the cities of future?
Kuma / Up until now the goal has been big cities, but I think what lies ahead for us are smaller cities. Skyscrapers were mainstream in the 20th century architecture scene, but I think we’re seeing less and less of them, with the exception of Dubai and other financial hubs. The way we are making cities now is too large when compared to human measurements.
What lies ahead is a reorganization of urban settings to suit our physical sensations. For instance, one theme I think we will see in this sense is compact or low structures that fit the stature of people better. Our vehicles will also be included in this process. Up until now the dimensions of cars as these 2-by-4-meter metal objects dictated many aspects of our cities, but I think we’re going to need to start asking ourselves whether this size is really best or not.
Yanaka / I agree. Perhaps we need to start questioning this fixed notion that all vehicles need to be a certain size.
Anno / I’m really onboard with this idea of smaller cities. The population in Japan is declining, and it’s unlikely we’ll be able to stop the drop in the birth rate, so I don’t think we can expect much financial growth. At a time like this, we need to rethink our cities under the pretext that there won’t be much growth and make them more and more compact. And I think the same goes for automobiles.
I think the big cities we have today are actually missing way too many things because of their sheer size. If all we do is prioritize economic efficiency we’re always going to be cutting it close to the line. We need to find ways to better harmonize with our surroundings and bring more comfort into our lifestyles.
Kuma / Exactly. There are plenty of ways to find abundance even without prospects for economic growth, especially when we’re thinking of wealth from different perspective than that of just having lots of money. I have the feeling that “small”, “soft”, and “warm” will be some of the keywords that people will be looking towards as ways of realizing this sort of wealth in the cities and buildings of tomorrow.
Yanaka / I hope that the i-ROAD will become something that softens communication in urban living. The amount of time automobiles spend motionless is vastly longer than the amount time they spend on the road. Just obtaining a parking space in densely populated cities is an enormous expense. The i-ROAD could add a bit of flexibility to this situation by allowing people to park under overhangs and other spaces that wouldn’t normally be used for cars.
Kuma / Overhangs, that’s a great idea! I was actually just thinking the same thing. Flat structures with no eaves are preferred in modern architecture, but the truth is that adding even just a meter of eaves changes the entire look of a building. Eaves also allow you to cut the amount of sunlight hitting the building, reducing the heat and thus helping the entire structure save energy. Add to that the fact that the basic parking space in most designs here is around 2.5 by 6 meters, which considering the small size of plots here in Japan, really reduces the amount of space left for living areas. I think being able to put the parking space under the overhang could greatly change the state of architecture in Japan.
Functionality and renovations
that bring harmony to cities
Innovation in the Cities
of the Future
Kuma-san, as it happens, your design for the New National Stadium features wooden overhangs. What made you decide to go with the theme of a wooden structure that blends in with the nature around it?
Kuma / The current National Stadium lies along with road I walk along to get to my office. Unless there is an event going on, that area is almost completely empty. It’s especially quiet at night, so I’ve always felt it to be a bit of a lonely place when I pass through there.
The intent of my design for the New National Stadium was to make it a place that people would actually go out of their way to pass through. The surrounding area will have streams and parks, and there will be vegetation on the upper portion of the eaves of the stadium. The intent is to create a sense of harmony between the exterior of the stadium and the scenery around it that makes for a pleasant environment for pedestrians.
“Pedestrians” is a key point here, since most architects tend to begin thinking of structures from the model first. However, one thing I think I did differently here that stands out is build the concept of the structure from the perspective of someone walking through the area as they go about their daily life.
Anno / This line of thinking really resonates with me. Tokyo is full of buildings designed with no thought towards what the people walking below will see when they look upwards. There is no consideration given to the idea of scenery, basically. What we have in Tokyo is a big jumble of buildings, each trying to stand out more than the other, and the result not appealing to the eye at all. I feel that these buildings made only of metal and glass are trying to hard to appear unique on a superficial level.
You could say that these buildings are only thinking of themselves and aren’t giving much thought towards how they fit in with the rest of the city. That’s why cities lose their sense of coherence. The only beauty left in Tokyo these days can be found in the telephone poles.
Everyone / (laughs).
Anno / I know there are some people out there who dislike telephone poles, but I don’t want them to disappear. Telephone poles are pure functional beauty. Their clean, upright forms make them a presence that maintains consistency in any city. I really like the way there are no wasteful elements in their design. In my mind there is no substitute for the unselfish dignity of telephone poles and how they don’t fawn on the scenery around them.
Kuma / Tokyo used to have something called “ the 100-shaku regulation” that set the maximum height for building at around 30 meters or less. I think it was a very good and revolutionary rule even on a global scale, but eventually it was abolished and new regulations based on floor-to-area ration were introduced. I think that’s how Tokyo lost its original “compact and functional” character.
Anno / I agree. It would’ve been nice if Tokyo ended up more like Paris. Put all the high-rises in the outskirts, while having the center of the city filled with lower structures. That would’ve made the sky look more expansive and picturesque. It would’ve suited the scale of the residences and workplaces better, and just been more comfortable and rational overall.
Yanaka / “Small and functional” is also part of the concept of the i-ROAD. When it comes to getting around a city, I think each city needs a mode of transportation that suits its nature.
Kuma / Perhaps part of the reason our cities became filled with skyscrapers is the way we Japanese have fallen for the misperception that concrete structures are strong, safe, and last forever.
But, I believe that wooden architecture is both much more flexible and sustainable. If a structure is made of wood you can replace only the parts that are damaged or need replacing, which makes it easier to maintain it for an extended duration. With concrete, if one part goes bad the only thing you can do is repair the entire thing. It’s completely binary.
Another thing about concrete is that it will always crack as it ages, allowing water to get in and corrode the metal frame inside. They say that concrete buildings last 100 years, but as the Ise Grand Shrine and Ginkaku-ji Temple have proven, wooden structures last for 1,000 years as long as they receive the proper care.
Anno / There’s a prevailing attitude in Japan today where old things are seen as being bad. Even though a lot of those old Showa era buildings could still be nice homes with just a little renovation, people just tear them down and line our streets with these standardized prefab houses. All of this is probably a consequence of prioritizing efficiency, but I can’t help but feel a bit of discord in the way the resulting townscapes look.
Kuma / Yes, the whole premise behind modern architecture in Japan is that things are going to be knocked down and rebuilt. But the fact is that we Japanese are better suited at renovating things and using them over long periods of time with careful maintenance. An example of this would be the construction technique for freely changing the location of structural columns holding a building up that was born in the Edo period. The technique entails maintaining rigidity in the roof in order to allow the columns below to be moved. It’s an amazing invention the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world. This technique made it possible to renovate the damaged portions of homes bit by bit while still using them. States of harmony like this are hardwired into the system of Japanese culture, so I’d like to find more ways to use them in modern architecture.
Yanaka / I think you can say the same things about the automotive industry. It might be good if we established a system for “renovating” our vehicles so we can continue using them rather than just pumping out new cars. Actually implementing this would of course require a massive upheaval in the structure of the entire industry, but I feel that we should at least be a bit more freethinking in these regards.
a cerebral future to a somatic future
Innovation in the Cities
of the Future
Throughout the 20th century we have seen many images of what cities will be like in the future in countless works of science fiction and other sectors. What do each of you envision our tomorrow as being like given all of the technological advancements we are seeing today?
Kuma / When I was in elementary school, I admired the architecture of Metabolism, the idea of architecture that metabolized and grew organically in society. But, I think now the end result of our way of doing things is that nothing ever truly metabolizes or grows. In fact, it was the wooden cities we used to have that repeatedly grew and renewed themselves like living creatures.
This sort of cerebral architecture just doesn’t function well. I think perhaps now we’re beginning to see people come around to the idea of thinking about the in terms of flexibility or smaller sizes, of finally thinking about how things will function in line with our physical sensations as humans rather than just following heady concepts.
Anno / When I was a kid in the 1960s and 70s, I was obsessed with the Osaka Expo. When I went to the Expo, I just knew in my heart that that was what the future was going to be like; I felt that sure that in the 21st century we would achieve that kind of urban lifestyle where we lived sheltered by science and everything was interesting and fun.
As I grew up, though, I began to have some doubts here and there. In the end, the Expo was another example of a future conjured using only our heads. Everything was based upon human ideas, so all we were seeing were the good aspects of these ideas, like their economic efficiency. They didn’t show what sort of problems or sensations would occur if a person lived in that setting or another animal showed up. As it happens, what I wanted the most out of everything I saw at the Expo was the fully automatic human washing machine, since I wasn’t a fan of bath time.
Everyone / (laughs).
Yanaka / The idea is to not emphasize efficiency alone, but also adjust our vision so that it also takes sensations that work with the human body into consideration. That’s one of the things we are going for with the i-ROAD. When I visited Hanois, Vietnam once, I saw families of three or four people all sharing a single motorbike. One such family stopped their bike in front of an old man making his breakfast by the side of the road and began having what seemed like a fun conversation with him.
I realized that if cheap and comfortable cars were available here, that little bit of communication would disappear. Of course, the spread of automobiles in place of motorbikes is a sign of technological progress. But, I felt that the question of whether this progress would actually be a good thing for these people was another matter entirely.
It could be that considering what people in the future will think of as a better way of living may unlock new paths of progress. Anno-san, how much connection is there between your work and what you see on the horizon for society?
Anno / The truth is that my work is always a depiction of the present, even when it’s talking about the future. The first step in depicting a future that seems feasible is taking a good long look at how things are today. It does take two or three years to make a movie, though, so it does involve some prediction of what society will be like when the feature is released. That said, things are changing faster than ever recently, so of course I’ve been missing the mark on things more and more often.
I think that the lifestyle we had around 1955 to 1965 was the one that suited Japanese people best. I’m not trying to say we should pine for yesteryear so much as imagine that we could see something like that again in the future, only in a different form. We can’t really stop the population decline here, so I feel that as time goes on this way of life may make a natural recurrence as people start seeking out those sorts of sensations.
Yanaka / Sometimes when I’m thinking of what should come next in mobility, I’ll just stop where I am on the street and close my eyes. Pretty much the only sounds I can hear come from cars. The city reverberates with the roar of countless vehicles as they rush by and the claxon of their horns beeping. It makes me wonder what things must have sounded like before the invention of the automobile.
The shape of a more desirable future where automobiles and buildings are thought of not as single units, but as connected parts of an urban system would surely be different from what we have today. In that sense, I feel like we still have plenty of room for change in automobiles.
Anno / I think Kuma-san is really onto something with his idea of going back to wood. There’s an anatomist by the name of Dr. Takeshi Yoro that has said similar things, like that the architecture we have now is made so that it looks its best at the moment of completion. Buildings last for decades, though, so I feel like the original premise should be to design them so they look even better several decades down the road.
Kuma / Instead of just building everything entirely new each time, would like to make structures that “age gracefully” under the premise of sustainability. Once when I was designing a building for the Tokyo University of Agriculture, I remember being surprised to hear the president of the university tell me that I shouldn’t use materials that wouldn’t change color over time. Because everyone at the time was going on about how with buildings you need to maintain that original, most beautiful state. In the words of that university president: “In the world of living things, only the monstrosities don’t change.” Since then I can’t help but think of buildings that don’t change as monstrosities (laughs).
Architects are consumed completely by the process of making the buildings and often don’t give much thought to what happens after they hand them over to the client, but all their efforts are for naught if the owner is just going to tear it all down in a few years. That’s why I try to select materials that will still look beautiful even after they have degraded with age several decades down the road.
Anno / I think what we’re going to need for the future of our cities isn’t progress so much as “turnabout thinking”. Marathons often feature courses where the runners turn around after reaching a certain and run back along the same path they just took, but this doesn’t mean the distance they are running is any shorter. Depending on how you think about progress, perhaps it’s okay to go back to the way things once were now that we’ve reached a certain point.
Kuma / We shouldn’t be concerned strictly about our own territory when it comes to automobiles or architecture; we also need to think about our neighbors, so to speak. So when we ponder the future and what cities will be like in it, we must also think of the relationship between buildings and their neighbors, and even what neighbors the roads our vehicles traverse as well as the communication surrounding it all. People have been speaking of necessity of this for quite some time now, but no one ever created a proper venue for thinking of these things. Our conversation here today made realize again that this is the most important thing.
Yanaka / When I consider that we humans live analog existences, it makes me as a human myself want to be partner to feeling out a desirable future with all my senses and creating the kind of mobility to suit it.
Edit by Arina Tsukada / Text by Akihico Mori / Photo by Takeshi Shinto / Translation by Luke Baker / Location: PIGMENT Tokyo