School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

Nergis Kalli

Learning from Tokyo

“What can we learn from Tokyo?” I asked two of my close friends—an architect and an urban planner—on a rooftop in Asakusa. We were facing a mesmerising view that brought all opposites together: old and new, big and small, serene and hectic, sleek and shabby and so forth. The answer was, “It is dangerous to learn from such a thing.” The journey of my thesis started there. Learning from a city that is so radically different from others can be disturbing or favourable, depending on the observer’s frame of reference. If it is experienced as disturbing, then it can be described as a chaotic mass that is downright ugly. However, when the mainly analytical mode of philosophical thinking is replaced with a child-like curiosity and naïvety, this chaotic mass reveals itself as a playful labyrinth waiting to be deciphered. 

One of the key research questions of the thesis is how this chaotic mass can be revealed. Existing theoretical frameworks do not work well on Tokyo, but this thesis constructs a new one using Gilles Deleuze’s ideas. Through it the thesis explores Tokyo at various scales starting from the patchwork of the city itself, to the smallest dot as the house in this framework. Deleuze took hold of the entire thesis as mentor and guide, but others also found their way in: Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour with Learning From Las Vegas; Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Momoyo Kaijima and Junzo Kuroda with Made in Tokyo; members of ROJO with Street Observation Studies Primer; and the most humanistic of all, Kon Wajiro with Modernology.

The study takes a design process as its route in urban research, to illustrate the singularities of the original source of inspiration, to learn from the experience itself and most importantly to experiment with the lessons drawn from those experiences. Two of the concepts are fundamental for this work: home as city, and microspace. The first notion broadens the meaning of house—one’s private space, shelter and temple. Just like “a room of one’s own”, there is the everyday space of one’s own, and house is just a “part” of this “whole”. They have physical, social and programmatic connections which melts the house into the city, and (necessarily) the city in the house with its broader meaning. The second concept is about the space that has no formal borders like walls and doors. Space is seen as a form of density containing events. Questioning and stretching this argument to an extreme also shows that space can emerge in the dimension of time between two durations, and then disappear (as in the case of a traditional Japanese house which becomes a living space in the day time). The question asked in Asakusa was answered with these two main concepts and various other tools introduced in the course of the thesis that can be taken up by others who would like to learn from Tokyo.

Supervisors: Andrew Ballantyne, Prue Chiles