Six years ago, Gehl Architects traveled to Tokyo on a study trip. Throughout the many planned site visits, meetings and collaborative sessions, we managed to meet Darko Radovic, who recently joined our ‘team of specialists’ – our external collaborators who bring ‘specialist’ knowledge to our projects. Darko is founder of Co+Labo at KEIO University, where David Sim, Partner at Gehl Architects, has been a guest lecturer for the last 3 years.
In the spring of 2013 David collaborated with students from Co+Labo to observe and map ‘life’ in the streets of Tokyo. As a result of this collaboration, a new publication from Co+Labo at KEIO University is in the pipeline, the fifth book in the series called “Measuring the Non-Measurable”. The “Measuring the Non-Measurable” topic encompasses seminars and publications which highlight the methods of putting numbers to, and understanding what livable (and loveable) cities contain, while determining key qualities of best practice human centered urban environments. In book number 3, “Intensities in Ten Cities” David also contributed an essay entitled “Notes on Nyhavn – 34 Observations”.
Yesterday I had the chance to sit down with David to talk about the collaboration with Co+Labo. We talked about the Tokyo experience and what we can learn from this fascinating city and how we can further inspire each other to continue developing better cities for people. Here are some of the essentials from the conversation, which highlighted the importance of focusing on details and the necessity for the human scale in mega cities.
Capturing City Life
Gehl Architects has a tradition and methodology for capturing city life, and these methods have been transformed and developed since they were first introduced by Jan Gehl in the 1960’s. Different contexts and cities influence the evolution of the methodology and how it is applied. For example, the city of Tokyo provides, through its careful attention to detail, culture, and small-scale experiences, inspiration for how we capture and measure the broader picture of city life. This awareness to details and small-scale situations fits perfectly with the Gehl methodology of listening and looking to evolve an understanding of city ‘life’, and therefore serves as an inspiration, and points to a possible evolution of our methods.
Small-scale situations in a big city
When you visit Tokyo you are immediately struck by the scale, size and intimacy of the things and environments around you. You come to understand that a big place can actually have a human scale, a combination, which we can learn from as our cities urbanize at a quicker and quicker pace.
The human scale can be introduced when you connect the physical environment to the people and businesses using them, for example in Tokyo where small design shops and creative businesses are reusing basements, former apartments, etc. over the expanse of neighbourhoods. This is a tendency which is the opposite from the symptom of gathering a cluster of shops in one place, as we see in large scale malls. Acknowledging that this can be part of the urban fabric, an urban environment with an emotional appeal as well as a functional and physical one, offers an interesting way to introduce the human scale into a highly urbanized environment.
There are many ‘life’ situations that you can never recreated in malls or high-streets. The experience of personal encounters between people is a value for city life that has been overlooked in the functional and effective evolution of western cities. Thereby, Tokyo’s small scale offers us some insight and inspiration on how to introduce the small scale in big cities.
Scale in Tokyo
Tokyo is a mega city and there is a paradox in its attention to the small. Although the growth in Asia is increasingly rapid, Asia has an incredible tradition for detail and small scale interactions which offers many opportunities for creating new developments that apply best practice knowledge of planning and designing for the human scale.
The Japanese tradition for sophisticated and detail oriented design and behavior resonates with an attention to the human scale in city development. Japan has an interesting focus on quality, highly developed and sophisticated design, combined with a tradition of smallness and human scale, a focus that might help us as we develop mega cities around the world.
Inspired by the experience in Japan, our tools, for determining and developing city life, have potential to evolve for and in an Asian context, and could add to the global experience of inspiring for small-scale development in cities around the world.
Have a listen, to another thought about the Tokyo, where children and families benefit from the human scale in their everyday life. From The Urbanist broadcast from Monocle (Tokyo Story starts 23 min into the program)