2015Twelve essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Eiji Hato
Director’s message

Getting cities in gear and linking communities


The map of Tokyo and surrounding areas is being significantly redrawn in preparation for 2020, building on current mobility and infrastructure not limited to stations, roads, and public architecture. How will life change for urban and rural dwellers here, as the landscape changes? Winners in this year’s award program provide an opportunity to consider future mobility and infrastructure.

Tokyo mobility design: elevators and hydrogen vehicles

With the arrival of a maglev bullet train line by 2050 that will put 60 million people within an hour’s ride from each other, major metropolises will seem like Tokyo suburbs. A way to carry people between the surface and stations deep underground must be designed, but when one imagines the faster flow of future traffic and information in Tokyo, current subway elevators seem like an ancient solution. In preparing for the Olympics, cities also take the opportunity to update their image, as in London’s new “Legible London” signage for 2012 and major urban renewal for both the London and Rio Olympics (which reminds us of Tokyo’s in 1964). As a period of considerable population decline in Japan coincides with a global increase of 3 billion people by 2050, we ask ourselves what can be done for 2020 today through good design? From this perspective, displays of a gently rounded elevator and a hydrogen vehicle at the exhibition catch one’s attention. In the elevator, everything is smooth and rounded, perhaps fitting for Tokyo’s futuristic vertical traffic flow. In the car, which hints at next-generation energy, features for fuel cell cooling double as a design element. Here, good design shows the world how new energy and transportation for 2020 are taking shape in Japan.

Putting good mobility design on the map: roadside stations and agricultural logistics

Tokyo continues to expand, but how should areas with fewer people adapt? Outside of cities, design is beginning to connect the dots between people and local resources in new ways. We can admire Uber and Amazon as novel approaches to moving people or goods between places, but Amazon can only offer such well-developed services in Japan because it relies on an outstanding mobility infrastructure already established by local courier services. Roadside stations are another distinctive Japanese institution, but through sales of local specialties, they make some connections that are expected and others that are quite innovative.

Unlike rather boring bus depots in some other countries that have all seemed the same for many years, these stations in Japan convey the local flavor to those who stop for a while. The enterprising Solene Shunan station neatly ties together local life by collecting produce from the elderly farmers and delivering it to local households that have ordered it. The idea of providing logistics to link farmland where this riverside station is located to the homes of customers sets a good example of sustainable mobility design in depopulated areas. (Road stations themselves are a fine example of good design in Japan.) A vision of community design that takes full advantage of the infrastructure of roadside stations is very interesting.

Open architecture, available to communities: turning vacant factories into roadside stations

Another interesting development is roadside station design that transforms the industrial space of a vacant factory into the open architecture of a roadside station. Factories are synonymous with highly focused industrial architecture, built for specific purposes – hardly shared infrastructure. In effect isolated from their towns, many of these utilitarian buildings that sprang up across Japan are now vacant, which has hollowed-out city centers.

People have sensed the potential of somehow opening these buildings to communities and making them valuable once again as infrastructure attuned to local needs. This renovation to transform small-town factories should be viewed as a new form of infrastructure design that gives neighborhoods access to these formerly closed spaces.

Although the complex topics of mobility and infrastructure seem impenetrable, the issues came into vibrant focus and seemed to shed their skin and emerge as I walked around the entry evaluation site. An exciting Mazda roadster stirs our primal desires for mobility, and Subaru’s automatic braking system represents remarkable safety design. Overall, this mobility and infrastructure design suggest that people’s lives in cities and rural areas will be changing significantly over time.

In this, we look to designers to endow their work with some special significance, but in the mobility and infrastructure design on display for this year’s program, we can already also see signs of future landscapes in Tokyo and across Japan.

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