Caledon Tokyo?

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As I wander through The Sprawl, I often find stories and bits of cultural information which cause me to look at life in Caledon and the Metaverse a bit differently. The article I am reposting here is one I found today and thought would be of interest to my fellow Caledonians.

Published at www.wired.com by the well-known cultural/technology observer Momus, this piece about how the future is being reinvented daily in Tokyo made me ask myself several questions as I looked around Three Graces, Mayfair, Caledon and indeed the entire Metaverse.

The most relevant and intriguing of these questions, in my opinion, and one to which I would value your responses is this: Is Second Life growing more and more to resemble real life as some have stated, or is it vice versa?

Tokyo, Living Lab of Possible Futures

TOKYO — For the last 10 years I’ve been coming here annually to work, to live and to catch glimpses of the future. Arriving from London in the early 1990s, I got the sensation I was walking around in a preview of the 21st century. That feeling persists, though the glimpses have gotten smaller and more incremental.Last year, for instance, I saw a man kissing his cell phone screen. This year people aren’t just making video calls, they’re watching TV on their phones, on little swivel screens.

But glimpsing the future in Japan isn’t just about first sightings of cool gadgets. It’s also about seeing a city change — fast — as if photographed in time lapse. The city is shockingly unstable. Buildings disappear, replaced by new ones. Entire districts come and go, seemingly overnight. Roppongi is the hot district just now, with a new art museum and the massive Tokyo Midtown complex drawing people to the formerly sleazy neighborhood. Other districts, like Odaiba, rise spectrally and speculatively from Tokyo Bay on artificial land.The Odaiba monorail snakes westward across the Bay toward its terminal in Shiodome, a cluster of 13 skyscrapers that wasn’t even finished when I visited last year. Here, land was reclaimed from the railway company rather than the sea. Just across the elevated Shuto expressway from the apartment where I’m staying, Shiodome’s high-rise offices cluster around prowed, shiplike Dentsu, the nation’s biggest advertising agency. The new building is a vertical, skyward sea of glossy glass. It’s just as well Dentsu’s windows don’t open — their old place in Ginza was notorious for the number of employees who cracked under the pressure and jumped from high windows.

The Shiosite complex also contains some bizarre — and typically Tokyoite — synthetic vernacular architecture. After a long nocturnal walk the other day, two friends and I found ourselves in the main piazza of Shiosite’s Citta Italia, a Disneyesque Little Italy containing thirty too-tall, too-new Italian terrace houses flanked with expensive delis and shops selling luxury Milanese brands. It was almost as bizarre as stumbling across St. Grace, the plastic-looking, garishly lit Romanesque cathedral which has suddenly sprung up on a side street in Aoyama. It isn’t a consecrated church, but a romantic rental space where you can get married.

It’s easy to scoff at “fake” buildings like these when they rise like mushrooms after summer rain. But the fall of old familiar sites makes you wonder whether they weren’t just as temporary, just as spectral. Near St. Grace Cathedral, on a tiny flat site now wreathed in plastic sheeting, once stood Las Chicas, one of my favorite cafes. The charming old wooden building, the palm trees, the radio station, shops, art gallery — they’re all gone now, as if they’d never existed. It’s a shock. But how old, how real, were they, anyway? And how come the site seemed twice as big then? Maybe Las Chicas, too, was some kind of illusion.

Tokyo is a city where yesterday’s tomorrow is constantly being replaced by today’s. Down the block from where I’m staying stands the Nakagin Capsule Tower, the world’s first stackable capsule building, constructed in 1970 by Metabolist Kisho Kurokawa, and now overshadowed by Shiodome and scheduled for demolition. If Kurokawa had succeeded in his mayoral bid earlier this year, the building might have been reprieved (I personally think it should be a UNESCO World Heritage site). But that just isn’t the Tokyo way. The Tokyo way is to try stuff, trash it, then try something else. Whether it’s the legacy of earthquakes or Buddhism, everything here is understood to be temporary. It’s best not to get too attached. The spirit of what you lose will probably pop up somewhere else.

The future never turns out quite the way we imagine. That’s why it’s good to have a few alternatives on hand in case yours fails. Up on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Building there’s a big exhibition celebrating the life and work of Le Corbusier. The Mother of all Modernists saw almost all his private houses and chapels built, but very few of his big-scale corporate and civic structures ever made it into the real world. The irony is that Modernism itself has had quite the opposite fate; it’s succeeded in corporate buildings, but failed in private ones.

Even in Tokyo, people work and shop in Modernist and Post-Modernist structures — the new Tadao Ando-designed shopping centre on Omote Sando, for instance, which mixes clean Modernist lines with jokey pomo references to the buildings it replaced — but return, of an evening, to relatively conventional houses with pitched roofs and wooden frames. Last week I took a trip deep into the city’s southern sprawl to see SANAA’s Moriyama House, a pleasing, clean, retro-Modernist cluster of tiny white oblong boxes. Le Corbusier would recognize this Purist piece as something he might have designed in the 1920s, but would surely be discouraged by the way the house utterly fails to fit its surroundings — cluttered, ugly, practical residential dwellings whose basic template is still essentially a 19th century one. Most of greater Tokyo — the world’s largest urban area — consists of undramatic, undemonstrative, stubbornly un-Futuristic stuff.

At Tokyo Opera City there’s a wonderful exhibition of the buildings of Terunobu Fujimori, the kindly old architecture professor who took last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale by storm. Fujimori presents a refreshingly different vision of the future. His structures — teahouses built in the trees, wooden museums with flowers in the facade and leeks sprouting on the roof — are rough-textured, handmade, quirky, sentimental, organic. They make the skyscrapers of Shiodome look cold, callous and dated. Their recent success marks, I think, not just the ongoing popularity of the Slow Life movement, but also Japan’s desire to distinguish itself as a gentler, more sustainable, more meditative culture than nearby China, currently skyscraper central (and, incidentally, the cash source of Japan’s strongly resurgent economy).At the heart of Fujimori’s exhibition there’s a dramatic model of Tokyo in 2107. Rising sea levels have flooded most of the city. All steel structures lie under water, Planet-of-the-Apes-style relics of a forgotten age. On higher ground, lumpy, stumpy, rough-textured buildings have replaced the old skyscrapers of the Steel Age. Made of wood, these rounded, cactus-like dwellings are coated in a white plaster made of coral. Coral and wood are the most effective materials, thinks Fujimori, for trapping and taming excess quantities of CO2.

One detail of Fujimori’s vision of 2107 is already anachronistic. His model humorously shows the familiar 333-meter red-and-white Tokyo Tower snapped in two, half-submerged in Tokyo Bay. But by 2011 a new 610-meter structure, designed by Tadao Ando and sculptor Kiichi Sumikawa, will replace the 1958 tower. It’ll be the world’s tallest self-supporting structure — until the Chinese build a bigger one, or flood, fire, earthquake or Toho monster (pick your own Sim disaster) strikes the world’s most fascinating, fast-changing, future-friendly city.

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1 Comment

  1. Ah, another Caledonian Tokyoite? Nice article, I’d noticed the same thing, myself. Midtown, however blocked my view of Fuji, so… is the volcano also fast-changing?


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