2017 Summer Workshop: Tokyo

Aging Tokyo in Japan
New York: July 17 - July 21, 2017
Tokyo: July 24 - August 4, 2017
Research Question

Due to the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest fertility rate, nearly one quarter of Japan’s population is currently over the age of 65. Japan’s population is shrinking and becoming more elderly. By 2100, Tokyo’s population is forecast to drop from thirteen million to seven million people. At that time, Tokyo’s population over 65 is expected to equal the “working age population” of those between the ages of 15 to 64, a radical shift in the proportion of those engaged in labor. This signifies a fundamental transformation in not only social and economic structures, but also urban form and architectural typologies of housing.

In the summer of 2017, Columbia University GSAPP faculty and students, in collaboration with Waseda University, participated in a two-week workshop in Tokyo. The workshop investigated the future of Tokyo based on shifting demographics and longer human lifespans. The workshop observed how aging currently impacts the city and its periphery, and identified broader trends and issues. The workshop has focused primarily on architectural issues of housing, but has also touched upon broader issues such as policy, mobility, and the urbanism of aging.

Methodology and Process

As many Japanese architects and researchers are currently examining aging vis-à-vis villages and rural territories, the workshop has focused on Tokyo itself. Four specific sites and typologies were located that form case studies to reveal critical challenges and opportunities facing the future of Tokyo.

• One team has looked at Sugamo, a shopping street that has been termed the elderly Harajuku, referring to another neighborhood of Tokyo which is known as the center of youth culture and fashion. The team has examined not only Sugamo’s stores which provide retail products and services aimed at seniors, but also Sugamo’s ecology of architectural and urban elements, including the adjacent Koganji Shrine.
• In the periphery, another team looked at Takashimadaira, a prototypical Modernist public housing project (danchi) that has become a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) and which caters to a concentration of elderly residents. This team has speculated that the residential units themselves may offer the possibility to flexibly adapt to new types of users and living situations.
• Another team investigated the neighborhoods of Yanaka and Nezu, an area of low-rise wood-construction buildings (mokuzou-misshuu-chiiki). Having survived the earthquake of 1923 and destruction during World War II, these neighborhoods have much older buildings, a deep-rooted community, and a high density of elderly people. At the same time, the urban qualities of these areas have started to attract a younger generation and creative class, leading to a multi-generational demographic. The team has investigated how the spaces between buildings facilitate interaction and community between its inhabitants.
• Finally, in the city center, one team has studied private, purpose-built residential facilities whose fee-paying tenants require a range of care, from independent to more assisted living. With their diverse programs that include not only residential units but also numerous amenities and other functions, these facilities can be seen as “cities within the city,” or, as Michael Foucault has termed, “heterotopias” for the elderly. Cumulatively, we believe these sites and typologies may offer forms and strategies that will become increasingly desirable or useful for a future with an aging population.

The workshop has also undertaken an exploration of the unique urban environment of Tokyo. For a city becoming older, Tokyo is ironically characterized by its newness, constant reinvention and renewal: the average lifespan of residential buildings is merely 26 years. Coupled with increasingly subdivided and smaller lots, along with a proliferation of single-family homes, Tokyo (and Japan in general) has become well-known for its architectural experimentation, particularly in the realm of housing in the post-Bubble economy. Students and faculty visited a number of significant projects, both contemporary as well as post-War and connected to the Metabolism movement. Finally, as an opportunity to understand the milieu of contemporary architectural production, the workshop visited four studios and offices of practicing architects in Tokyo, including Atelier Bow-Wow, Shigeru Ban, Junya Ishigami, and SANAA.

Output and Findings
The workshop produced a small booklet documenting these four specific sites and typologies through text, photographs, and original drawings. The booklet has captured insights from the time on the ground in Tokyo. This workshop is anticipated to be the beginning of a longer-term project, the first in a series of two workshops, and to eventually culminate in a publication. The broader project is concerned not only with observation and analysis but also the design of speculative prototypes and proposals. Nonetheless, this initial phase has mainly focused on what exists or is implied through existing demographics. While this workshop has been based upon the specificity of certain neighborhoods and types found in Tokyo, the ambition of the broader project is to explore expanded issues, beyond specialized knowledge about senior housing or prescriptive guidelines, nor concerned with a geographic or typological focus. Ultimately, the project aims to engage broader disciplinary implications and opportunities through the study of elderly populations.