After an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Sendai region of Japan on March 11, 2011, a lengthy recovery and rebuilding is underway. This is the basis for Nanako Umemoto and Jesse Reiser’s “SUPERJURY,” a collaboration between Princeton University, Tokyo University, Osaka Sangyo University, California College of the Arts, Tsinghua University, and Nagoya Institute of Technology. It explores large-scale reconstruction solutions which mediate between occasionally conflicting political interests of infrastructure construction, economic redevelopment, and memorialization of the site. Serving as inspiration was the utopian planning of Japanese Metabolism that addressed the destruction of WWII Japan, a situation similar to the devastation of the Sendai region. All parties convened at Princeton’s School of Architecture on Tuesday, May 15 for a “science fair” of their research findings and proposals.
The political, social, and cultural “cross-contamination” that is fostered by this type of collaboration breeds new ideas and addresses the specific issue more sensitively. But it also offeres a new model for an architecture studio. Rather than a unilateral critique by a jury of experts, this format permitted an open dialogue between students and faculty, which not only incorporated a group of diverse viewpoints, but also a local cultural sensitivity which is often missing in global projects where the site is thousands of miles away from the designer. For instance, people in Sendai are more interested in creating a memorial for the nearly 15,000 dead or missing. This cultural sensitivity could be easily overlooked by a simple studio project, but the network of schools offers multiple viewpoints, and thus new understandings.
The studio prompts the question, what is large-scale? Is it top-down planning from nothing? Or is a system of smaller-scale objects that grow out into a networked system? Some proposals were large-scale infrastructural projects, others were memorials, and others mediated between the two by exploring how time could change the site. It could start as memorial, but transition, or grow, into a more utopian project of infrastructure. This is a rethinking of the original concept of Metabolism, one which proposed utopian visions based on single-family units that were then replicated and repeated. Unfortunately, the Metabolist approach still ended in top-down plans, simply focused on the small-scale as a departure point to Corbusian masterplanning. The SUPERJURY studios looked to return to Metabolism’s roots, and proposed ground-up plans which could grow organically over time with all the social, political, and cultural thinking that Metabolism’s rhetoric possessed, but that the work lacked.
The explorations mainly focused on future energy systems, future water systems, and developmental expansion in the large-scale infrastructural landscape. Natural ecological systems, as well as past utopian projects such as Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Bay Project and Arata Isozaki’s Sky City were examined as precedent. Newer developments in China and the Middle East were examined, too. All in all, the timely nature of this innovative and important studio was on ample display. Hopefully in the future, more institutions can foster this kind of networked, international collaboration.