Case Study Tokyo 2020

Case Study Tokyo 2020
7×7 in, 18×18 cm
438 Pages
Publish Date May 01, 2020
Preview the entirety of the book here.

Take one part working methodology from the influential 1972 book, Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form, combine with the megacity of Tokyo, add Fordham University Gabelli students, stir for ten days in Japan and what do you get? You get direct acquisition of knowledge through experience with a small team, realized in a hardback research volume focusing on branding, sensory marketing, architecture, design, photography, and urban planning.

There is a fiendish pleasure in meeting your students at Tokyo's Narita airport after they have endured a fourteen-hour flight and crossed the International Date Line. Their disorientation is palpable—from bloodshot eyes to messy hair (which actually fits in quite nicely with the local, youthful styles) and from the need for sudden naps and its alternate in the form of sleep-deprived rambling. It is the equivalent of barging into someone's room at 3:00 a.m. and saying, "Wake up, the class has started!"

Nonetheless, over ten days, endless miles of walking unfamiliar terrain, including innumerable fresh sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences, a transformation occurs. The initial shock and strangeness of being in a new country yields to impressions that are increasingly nuanced and personal. Here follows a description of the primary objectives and methodologies employed in this class, which will contextualize the storm of thousands of images that is to come on the following pages.

Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour is a landmark study that looked at a city in terms of architecture, density, lighting, signage, sound, and numerous additional prisms. It is an eclectic research tome whose structure served as the skeleton for our case study of Tokyo. While we are not architects, nor did we travel to Las Vegas, we were interested in the idea of looking at a city from multiple vantage points, both literal and conceptual. The eclecticism of our approach has led us to unforeseen revelations and to find engaging connections across different aspects of our topic city, Tokyo.

The megacity of Tokyo (population over 13.9 million) served as the base for our investigations, with research itineraries that brought us from the cosmopolitan ward of Shinjuku to the center of youth culture in Shibuya, from the cutting edge fashion districts of Harajuku to the traditional temples and shrines of Asakusa. Each day brought new and different locations where we quantified aspects of the city for our study. Our team conducted primary visual research via smartphones with an emphasis placed on generating straightforward images that were decidedly not photographic works of art. These images were subsequently categorized into our working data set and eventually output to this book.

For the ten days that comprised our study, each of the students in our team produced five images per day in each of the following categories: sign, object, area, color, and architecture. Images were organized by date, as well as assigned one of the five keywords. In assigning only single, descriptive keywords to each image, several intriguing dilemmas arose almost immediately. How does one appropriately label, for instance, an image of a crumpled, colorful gum wrapper covered with graphics and brand logos, or architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake's 21_21 Design Site in the Roppongi district? With the former, the wrapper could easily fit into the category for either object, color, or sign. With the latter example, the roof of Ando's building, based on Miyake's clothing concept, "A Piece of Cloth," is folded from one sheet of steel and functions as both an enormous sign and advertisement for Miyake's concepts. Beyond the branding of Issey Miyake, the building's single sheet of folded steel potentially references the sheet of folded paper used in origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. It thus functions as an advertisement for a traditional aspect of Japanese culture. The complexities of categorization are numerous.

During generating thousands of images and assigning keywords, class members began to ask questions. Need signage be large, or be linguistically based? Might a building's silhouette serve as signage? At what point does an object's scale shift into being an architectural structure, or diffuse sufficiently and transform into an area? Is there a color palette specific to Tokyo and fundamentally different from elsewhere? How do companies negotiate co-branded endeavors in regards to color, object relationship, and shelf placement hierarchy? Even with their inherent absurdities, the five basic categories we employed provided a method by which to consider Tokyo, prioritize the defining characteristics of the images produced, and organize our research.

At the very beginning of this course, the class viewed French filmmaker Chris Marker's 1983 essay film on travel and Japan, Sans Soleil. Oddly, here at the end of our process, a quote from the film's narrator resonates strongly and states our Case Study Tokyo's objectives perfectly. She says, "I've been around the world several times, and now only banality still interests me. On this trip, I've tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter." Along with architect Tadao Ando's description of 21_21 Design Site as a "venue to redirect our eyes to everyday things and events," we can see how this study is a collection of small, but precise examinations by a group "relentlessly" traversing Tokyo. The primary goal was simply to see.

What one makes of their observations, detects in the trends within the book, or how one might utilize this data in the future is yet one more very interesting and wonderfully complicated discussion.

Stephan Apicella-Hitchcock, 2020