Tokyo (Summer)

studio in the shibura house

The Tokyo study abroad program is designed to reinforce direct personal observation and experience as a way to study the complex interrelation between architecture, urbanity, culture and history. Students explore the unique context of Tokyo to discover challenging sites and opportunities for architectural intervention, and travel to rural areas to study Japan’s significant historical traditions.

Although the program exposes students to many places throughout Japan, the majority of time is spent studying in Tokyo. Re-built after WWII, Tokyo has a rich body of structures built on awkward, compact sites with multiple, often conflicting programs. The majority of these buildings are essentially architectural coincidences rather than forming part of the designed city. The city is in constant transition, as many structures are habitually demolished and reconstructed within 25-30 years. While New York has been thought of as the 20th century metropolitan model, Tokyo has been referred to as a model for the metropolitan future which, put into terms by architect Peter Wilson, is “not due to the appropriateness of its layout or the visibility of its architecture, but because of the apparent absence of these qualities.”  At the same time, Tokyo is home to hundreds of built works by leading architecture offices from around the world.  For these and many other reasons, Tokyo is an incredibly unique place to study and experience the interrelation between architecture, urbanity, and culture. 

The coursework is designed to reinforce direct personal observation and experience as a way to study the complex urban conditions of Tokyo, as well as the rich historical traditions of rural Japan. While in Tokyo, our aim is to engage in the emergent behavior of public spaces to discover challenging sites and opportunities for architectural intervention. Students will use both analog and digital design techniques to map, visualize, model and analyze Tokyo’s rich variety of urban fabric, programmatic mixes, and constant relations to technology.  Additionally, a portion of the coursework is in the workshop format giving students the opportunity to collaborate with local students and professionals from prominent institutions and organizations in Japan.  Topics include; the study of traditional Japanese wood joinery techniques and how they may be reconsidered with current digital design and fabrication processes, and the study of Japan’s avant-garde Metabolism movement including tours of their built examples throughout Tokyo.  Currently, workshops are co-hosted with affiliated faculty from Meiji University in Tokyo and with FabCafe Hida, located in a small town in Gifu that is known historically for its traditional architecture and wood joinery, abundance of natural resources, and local timber industries. Previously, the program collaborated with faculty and students from the Tokyo University of Science and Shioya Sangyo, a 100 year old metals fabricator based in Onahama, to design and build a full-scale prototype using an industrial 6-axis steel laser cutter.

The program also includes a week-long excursion via high-speed rail to visit several of Japan’s most important historical and culturally significant architectural sites.  Locations include; Ise, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, Hiroshima, Kurashiki, and Fukuoka. 

Studio director and faculty lead: Nicholas Bruscia, clinical assistant professor of architecture