GSD celebrates impact & engagement in Japan

Since its beginnings under the leadership of Walter Gropius, the Harvard Graduate School of Design has cultivated an important and long-standing relationship with Japan’s leading designers. Lately, the School’s investigation into Japanese design culture is reaching fever pitch with studios, library acquisitions and exhibitions on campus, highlighted by GSD student teams winning first prize in two international design competitions.

In the fall of 2012, Mark Mulligan, associate professor in practice of architecture and director of the master in architecture degree program, was invited by Kengo Kuma to assemble a Harvard team to participate in the 3rd LIXIL International University Architectural Competition to develop a sustainable habitat in the remote flats of the Taiki-cho province of northern Japan. Together with Kiel Moe, assistant professor of architectural technology and co-director of the MDes program, Mulligan opened the competition to GSD students and selected a team from the nine group entries. Representing a cross-section of GSD disciplines, the team of eight students—Matthew Conway (MArch ’15); Robert Daurio (MArch ’13); Carlos Cerezo Davila (MDes ’13); Mariano Gomez (MArch ’13); Natsuma Imai (MArch ’15); Takuya Iwamura (MLA ’14); Ana Garcia Puyol (MDes ’14); and Thomas Sherman (MDes ’14)—responded with a design that was conceived as a horizontally continuous landscape providing 360-degree views of its surroundings, thus dubbed the Horizon House.

“I believe that we won because we considered the human dimension of energy—the views, the experience and Japanese culture,” Mulligan recalls. After selection, the students had the unique opportunity to work for two months last summer in the Tokyo office of Kengo Kuma developing the construction drawings for the house. Horizon House was built in the fall of 2013, and the students had the chance to spend the night in the house they designed over the winter break. An exhibition on the development and construction of the house is currently on view in Gund Hall this month

A second team of six GSD students—Maria Ignacia Arrasate (MDes ’14), Elise Delphine Baudon (MUP ’14), Natalia Christina Gaerlan (MUP ’14), Karina Lynn Gilbert (MAUD ’14), Kristen Lee Hunter (DDes ’15), and Trevor Arthur Johnson (MUP ’14)—advised by Jerold S. Kayden, professor of urban planning and design, won the Toyo University Tohoku Recovery International Academic Competition, intended “to foster innovative and creative ideas in the use of Public Private Partnerships,” by addressing the triple threat that hit the Tohoku region of Japan in March of 2011—earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. While in Japan, GSD students spent a day at Toyo University and engaged with Japanese government leaders to discuss the execution of their strategies.

Japan continues to be a fruitful site for options studio investigations. Last fall Toshiko Mori led “Kyoto Studio II,” the second in a series started in 2012 on the “responsive nature of architecture,” and Junya Ishigami is currently teaching a studio entitled “Another Nature” which is considering an expanded notion of architecture. In spring 2012, 12 students were in residence for an entire semester at the studio of Toyo Ito to study the devastation in the Tohoku region. Ruyi Igiehon (MArch ’13), who participated in the option studio, landed a full-time job in Ito’s office after graduating. “When I saw Ito-san at an event, we discussed my interest and right there, on the spot, he gave me an interview. I had no resume or portfolio, but we had worked together on the Home-for-All project.” This summer, in collaboration with our alumni faculty leaders in Tokyo, GSD faculty will be participating a two-week workshop for local Japanese university students currently studying the built environment.

The GSD’s Loeb Library is equally engaged in supporting our Japan pedagogy and is now the permanent home of two recent acquisitions—the Kenz Tange Archive and a museum-quality set of 62 traditional Japanese carpentry tools. The Tange Archive was gifted to the Loeb Library in 2013 and is currently being conserved, catalogued and digitized for global access online. It includes original models and drawings of Tange’s best-known works, re-examining the role of housing, monumentality, communication, and scale in architectural and urban thinking.

The Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum donated the traditional woodworking tools as educational resources for the GSD’s materials collection and fabrication labs. Amid the current focus on contemporary industrial process and computer-aided design, the tools emphasize making by hand. This past winter the tools were displayed as part of The Thinking Hand exhibition, co-curated by Mulligan and Yukio Lippit, the history of art and architecture professor, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Harvard University Reischauer Institute. They will soon be on permanent display in the Loeb Library.

Our students’ success in Japan provided an exciting backdrop for Dean Mohsen Mostafavi’s February visit, during which he celebrated the School’s ongoing activities, growing impact, and longstanding commitment to the historical significance and contemporary excitement around Japanese architecture and urbanism, fueled by the world’s recent post-disaster engagement. While in Japan, the Dean was invited to address architectural and engineering students studying at the University of Tokyo and lead a conversation on design education and societal engagement. His trip concluded with a GSD alumni dinner co-hosted with Fumihiko Maki (MArch ’54) at Hillside Terrace.

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