Rebuilding Public Space from the Bottom Up: Research and Practice from Japan
Saturday, July 29, 2023, 10:00 - 12:00
Drawing from research and design practice in Japan, Jorge Almazán will argue for the significance of
architecture and urban design to rebuild the public realm in a bottom-up, emergent way. He will connect
the research in his latest publication—Emergent Tokyo: Designing the Spontaneous City—with his
projects and public space interventions in Japan.
A wealth of publications contends that Japan historically lacks a sense of publicness. Some attribute this
to the absence of a pre-Meiji Period equivalent word to “public” in Japanese. Others suggest Japan’s lack
of Western-style civic traditions. This lecture rejects this view as cultural essentialism that denies the
importance of public space in Japan. Almazán builds the case for architecture and urban design as one of
the primary devices that any society (Western or not) has to create and enhance public life.
This lecture will tackle this issue in the two radically different built environments to which Japan is
gradually polarizing. The presentation’s first half focuses on Tokyo as Japan’s prime metropolitan
agglomeration. Almazán will show how postwar Tokyo developed an emergent publicness that is alive
today. However, it is increasingly under threat from neoliberal urban policies favoring the large-scale
corporate redevelopment of its central neighborhoods.
The second half will focus on projects led by the speaker, primarily in small-city Japan. Through
mapping, interventions in public spaces, and renovations of abandoned houses into community spaces,
Almazán explores the benefits and difficulties of enhancing the public realm in regional Japan’s
suburbanized and car-dependent environment.
Since the 1990s, cities worldwide have made a “neoliberal turn” in their policies, leaving the task of
designing public space to the so-called market forces. Japan is no exception. As a result, Tokyo and many
small cities across Japan have lost their vibrant streets and communities. How can architecture contribute
to amending this tendency? What is the role of the architect in rebuilding public space? The final part of
this lecture will address these questions and suggest possible answers on how to rebuild public life from
the bottom up.