Cities: ideas and insights on the cities we live in

It was always a natural disaster that directed the course of our civilizations, but the great disaster of 3.11 differed from any other catastrophes since the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. Nature was desperately forceful as never before. However “strong” or “rational” the structures were, the tsunami flattened Tohoku coastline in seconds. The nuclear accident that followed further revealed the inability of “big and strong” architecture. In front of radiation, concrete or steel meant nothing, even though nuclear energy was a solution for our desire since the Lisbon tragedy, to become bigger, stronger, and more efficient. Now that such a process collapsed on itself, we have to start from scratch. Even before 3.11, I had already been fed up with massive concrete and steel buildings, and began to design a number of small works of architecture. You can build them on your own with nearby materials and be totally independent from strong powers – or rather, dependent solely on the nature, and power of the place. Now I sense that the whole world is shifting toward small things. We are no longer passive creatures who are spoon-fed from a giant yet unreliable system. Each individual starts to nest by him or herself and get energy on his or her own, taking advantage of their locality. A new relationship is being formed between people and the place.

-Kengo Kuma

I came across this quote from Kengo Kuma a few weeks ago. In the wake of the natural and man-made disasters of the last year, Kuma’s thoughts shed light on the relationships we have or maybe we don’t have with our local environment, our local community and ourselves. In the pursuit of economic progress and global expansion above all else, our societies are suffering the repercussions at the local level. Do we know our neighbors? Do we focus more on people in our design work, or on whether or not our designs are novel enough to get noticed by big publishers? Do we push to grow our businesses only because economic models tell us we should?

I think as we all strive to become independent from large scale industries that do not seem to have our best interests in mind, we will become increasingly interdependent on the people around us and in the process, discover the value of our local communities again.