That’s right. You read that right. Gundam Architecture!
Today’s post was inspired by my podcast group. I was griping about work last week, and asked if anyone wanted to take over my job. Granted they started spouting random architectural ideas that just didn’t sound safe and about what kind of place they would design. Reading their random thoughts about architecture and design, a light bulb went off in my head. I was going to find architecture regarding what was spoken about in the group chat.
What you’re looking at is the Aoyama Technical College, located in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan and designed by Architect Makoto Sei Watanabe. The college is Watanabe’s first built project, and this was built in 1990. If you google “Gundam Architecture” this is the first thing you’ll see pop up, aside from the giant Gudam robots located on Odaiba in . Not only does this make an aesthetic statement, but Watanabe was attempting to do so much more than something beautifully weird.
The thing that stands out to me when reading about his thoughts on this project, was how much he thought about this in relation to the rest of the city. He discusses how organized the city of Tokyo had been during the edo-period, but whatever was left of that was completely destroyed in WWII. He further talks about how the surge of the economy post-World War II caused buildings to be built faster than zoning regulations could be established, which ultimately leads us to how we see modern day Tokyo now, disorderly Urban Sprawl. If you’re not familiar with what “urban sprawl” is, Los Angeles is another perfect exacmple: the growth and movement that expands from a central location expanding exponentially faster than it can account for. It’s uncoordinated and ultimately forces it’s inhabitants to be car dependent. However, while Tokyo is a city that suffers from Urban Sprawl, it has one of the most effective and efficient transit systems I’ve ever encountered.
When I studied in Tokyo, our studio professor constantly hammered the urban condition that Tokyo represented It really is unlike lots of cities in the world. You have pockets of city centers close by one another and the in-between is filled with housing. And instead of being divided into a Grid-Iron system (the US Standard) and the ideas of broad avenues with vistas (A euro-centric standard), the city of Tokyo radiates out from the center of the Imperial Palace.
With the Aoyama Technical College, Watanabe tries to address a more meta driven narrative of how something as chaotic as Tokyo’s urban sprawl actually allows the city to run smoothly. The message and ideal he’s trying to convey don’t necessarily relate to Gundam necessarily, however you can’t deny that there is a parallel to what he’s trying to say in relation to mecha. I’ll try to bridge the gap, however my knowledge of mecha is quite limited.
Tokyo as an Organsim
“The whole creates its own integrated system, through the self-organizing relations that form among its parts.” -Watanabe via source
Watanabe says, that while the city looks disorderly, each building in tokyo is a direct reaction to the neighbor next to it. The architecture around Tokyo is reactive to it’s environment, changing to see how it will fit in next to its neighbors. And due to the push and pull of this, In a way, the disorder creates it’s own inherent order: orderly disorder.
“Tokyo is built according to mechanisms that permit maximum liberty to individual parts and promote their integration into the whole , rather than subjugating them to the whole. They operate on a principle that seeks a free and well-balanced order that does not stifle individuality or undermine the whole.” -Watanabe via source
What Should Architecture Be?
Further expanding the idea of the exponential growth of Tokyo as an organsim, Watanabe discusses the implication of a building growing as an organism itself. If all the basics of a building, whether it be water, electricity, structure, you name it grew erratically, then the building would collapse in on itself. There has to be a kind of order, a kind of hierarchy that allows the building to sustain itself.
If the parts of a building were to somehow react to one another and adapt accordingly then it would naturally even itself out in a harmonious relationship.
Conveying the Message Through Built Form
Architecture ought to be something capable of moving people’s hearts and giving them a physical thrill in a way possible in no other art. – Watanabe via source
Building the Aoyama Technical School meant sending a statement to the architectural world. Watanabe felt that modern architecture had lost it’s power in creating a statement, and he felt an obligation to bring that sentiment back.
While we think of organisms as something fluid, in this case he was looking at using that fluidity to generate a new kind of order. Sounds odd I know, but think of it as extracting something from the chaos to build upon.
Here we see an approach in which diverse parts, while pursuing their own vigorous fulfillment, achieve an integrity of the whole without being forced to do so from above. Individual autonomy is respected, a theme that befits a building that houses a college.
It represents a new order, not achieved through simplistic control from above but through tolerance of chaos. – Watanabe’s explanation of Aoyama’s design (source)
So, how does one link this back to the mechanical aesthetics of a Gundam? When we think of the future, we think of technological advances. We think of robots. Robots are made of of small mechanical parts that react to one another to create a cohesive working whole. When you think of it that way, the “parts to whole” thought process is derivative of what allows a robot to function. It’s really not that much different than an organism. It’s just more systematic and mathematically based. What better way to depict the future (especially in the 90s) of architecture through a mechanized organism?
But also, at the end of the day, Watanabe’s design aesthetic is very calculated, mathematically based. Most of his designs are actually reflective of this ideal, and often times mathematically based designs look futuristic, I could go on and on about that, but that’s something to be further discussed in another post.
What do you guys think of the Aoyama Technical Building? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’m actually hoping I get a chance to walk by it when I’m in Tokyo this coming April!