2018Director perspective & Design stories for our times
Osamu Nishida
Director’s message

Design of localities that maintains our desire for connectedness


Valuable localities that satisfy our craving to belong

Quite a few people seem to have sensed the limits of driving the economy through cycles of mass production and mass consumption, as promoted in Japan for years. Even in the construction industry, there is a growing sentiment that with the population in decline, there is no need for more scrap-and-build than we already have, and that we need a new model, different from building something from nothing.

The old model is still alive and well in cities, however, so people looking for new fulfillment in life or meaningful values have turned to localities. This change represents a shift from being content to own land, possessions, or wealth to valuing community and other social capital, or building a life full of the nature and local culture of Japan, for example. A desire for possessions is never-ending. The moment we acquire the object of our desire, we start craving something new. Even if our quest for more can be satisfied under favorable economic conditions, this seems less likely at the present. In contrast, as we share life with other members of a community or area and pursue meaningful relationships, we find value in how these relationships endure over time. The more time we invest, the more valuable these ties become to us.

Many believe that localities are essential as a wellspring that helps to satisfy our desire for these relationships that bear fruit over time. Here and there, this thinking is already becoming established. Increasingly, we see examples of design which, in the spirit of nurturing localities, creates opportunities or arrangements to satisfy our desire for connectedness and weaves together enriching elements.

Localities spanning the urban and rural

One particularly intriguing award winner involving this kind of continuous cultivation is Food Hub Project. The project is organized in a few notable ways. Multiple initiatives and programs develop organically in a single area, unfolding at a rapid pace with ample opportunities to join in and be proactive. Also noteworthy is how it creates situations for nonresidents or urbanites to participate and be part of the community. Cities tend to homogenize diversity, but through each rural product made and story told in this outstanding project (which are brimming with local traditions and history), city dwellers are reminded of the significance and sustenance of localities and the richness of Japanese heritage.

Another award winner, hanare, is located in the older Yanaka area of Tokyo. Renovation for this hotel concept has skillfully preserved the venerable wood building, evoking a sense of the neighborhood and the passing of time. Here, shared values are maintained between the hotel and existing public baths, delicatessens, and other businesses nearby, enabling effective outsourcing of hotel functions. Walking around Yanaka, guests may even get the impression that the whole town is at their service. Another award-winning hotel that promotes locality is OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka, which offers tours by community members and sightseeing influenced by local perspectives.

Both examples of design expand guest services, but this is less to satisfy a desire for possessions than one for connectedness. Both blur traditional boundaries between the hotel and the neighborhood. By arranging for local businesses to share the roles of the hotel, and by nurturing these ties, the hotel fosters a sense of belonging that makes accommodations more pleasant while keeping a watchful eye on local changes and growth. Still, although the proprietor may feel that their hotel is a local institution, there is no need to engage with all nearby businesses. The key is probably to keep an open mind and support the autonomy of guests of all kinds through fuller services.

In this sense of designing an open-minded arrangement where one can determine the extent of ties with others, an award-winning Kissa Laundry stands out for having created a place that patrons appreciate visiting repeatedly to mingle. As design that in effect lets us discover things on our own terms, it encourages a kind of locality for our times.

Another notable award winner addressing locality from a somewhat different perspective is Gogoro. In this approach to solving urban problems, all elements of the system are quite well-designed. Yet this design itself is not emphasized, and as a result, the platform in place promotes the user experience and allows users to decide for themselves how the platform fits in their life. Thanks to expert use of IT, Gogoro is also flexible and can be adapted to a variety of localities. As systems and an array of services are expanded, it may continue to grow across borders.

Insightful and connective business operationsconnective business operations

In architecture, most urban planning and large-scale construction has been driven mainly by developers, and the desire for possessions has figured prominently in their thinking.

However, in a growing number of cases, participants focused on the character of cities or on a desire for connectedness have played a greater role. Already, we are beginning to see the possibility of new cities being built under the guidance of companies such as WeWork or Airbnb, whose business models emphasizes social capital. As good design is employed to plan new experiences that yield deeper insight from traditional sources of knowledge (such as lifestyles, local culture, and established practices) while responding to emerging values of our era, it will no doubt be linked to enhancing localities.

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