Toyo Ito interview at Omishima Island: Architecture then, now and next (2-2)

That sounds like a massive alterations of natural environment, which is so uniquely pristine and beautiful in Tohoku.

It’s a shame because even when the very victims, whose coastal communities were destroyed, do not agree with humongous walls that separate them from the ocean they love, it’s hard for them to say no if it make them look as if they don’t care about other people’s safety. This is a really difficult situation.

I am afraid that, at the end of the day, all the disaster-hit places – be it Kamaishi or Kesennuma – will look exactly the same, because that’s what the government wants. They are audacious enough to say, “It’s going to be a problem if one community did something unique or different.” Everything – from a temporary shelter to a public housing project, and the rehabilitation plan itself – needs to look identical both in appearance and quality, no matter where it is implemented. I felt that 3/11 emergency inadvertently revealed the real agenda of the modern system which is to make every single place look the same for the sake of efficient management. How symbolic those rehabilitation plans were in exposing the true face of modernism.

How is the “hidden agenda” of modernism you just described affecting normal urban development projects?

I live in the densely populated Shibuya Ward in central Tokyo which is in the middle of a massive re-development. They are building a countless number of high-rise buildings as we speak. And the high-rise building is just another way to manufacture compartmentalized spaces leveraging technology that separates/decouples people from nature. And in doing so, they are also bulldozing and wiping out Shibuya’s rich history and unique local culture/heritage. For such a large urban project, the only motivation is the economy – society demands re-development so that more money will flow through the area. It no longer matters whether or not local communities/people need so many high-rise buildings, because that’s not the point of the project.

My office is also in the Shibuya area, and it’s probably one of the lowest buildings remaining in the neighborhood – just four stories. I like it because it feels very comfortable. But there’s a new high-rise residential building right next to ours. When the 3/11 earthquake happened, I was in the office and felt a strong jolt. Startled, we immediately ran out onto the street. And guess what we saw? That high-rise building – which is probably about 120 meters high – was swaying – very slowly – because of the earthquake. It was slowly moving back and forth, probably around one-meter each way. I knew that it wouldn’t collapse seeing the way it was swaying, but it was very disturbing – almost nauseating to watch such surreally slow back-and-forth moves by a super tall building. And the absurd thing is, in that property, the higher floors – which were swaying more – are the more expensive because they are more popular.