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People, nature & place

[Takero Shimazaki/Toh Shimazaki Architecture] ‘Shimazaki examined the idea that negotiations with the client may lead to architecture that is compromised’

Takero Shimazaki’s exploration focused on Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa, whose architecture displays remarkable abstraction yet is intimately connected to its location and users. By investigating the work of Hasegawa, who often goes against the grain of architectural fashion, Shimazaki examined the premise that negotiations with the client, public or planners may lead to an architecture that is dull and compromised, and that the role of the architect is often to act more as a facilitator than as a design leader.

Shimazaki documented four of Hasegawa’s public projects and conducted a series of interviews with Hasegawa and her peers, revealing her attitudes and approach to her work. The investigation shows an architect who is prepared to challenge and, sometimes, be unpopular, yet who builds lasting connections with the communities in which she works.

Where did your idea come from?

Given the abstract nature of plans, sections and elevations, communicating architectural ideas is one of the most difficult parts of the design process. Architects are educated to communicate ideas to other architects and frequently adopt a self-referential language. This can alienate the people for whom they are actually designing. Hasegawa addresses this by ‘crafting’ her drawings, writings and artefacts. She decides many details on-site, which empowers the builders and involves them in the process. I wanted to find out how she made this approach work in an age when architects operate within an economically and politically challenging environment.

Most surprising thing you found out?

Hasegawa takes clues from the dialogues with both the client and community in her workshops and makes them integral to her designs, while still retaining the qualities of an architectural leader. The preconception within architectural discourse in the UK and Japan is that participatory community projects can be architecturally diluted. However, we found that Hasegawa’s workshops are not about ‘facilitating voices’ or simply incorporating the comments of ‘end users’ into the design. Instead, she uses the workshops to investigate and ‘hear’ the local context.

Most challenging part of your trip?

We were challenged to retain the clarity of our own exploratory agenda while interviewing architects with different and conflicting opinions and experiences. This aided our understanding of the challenges of taking on the leading role and maintaining your focus through the design and development process, even as additional parties are involved.

How do you plan to take this forward?

We will develop the course agenda for our international t-sa forum workshop around the theme ‘Towards New Leadership’. With Europe experiencing economic and political imbalances, we will investigate our role as architects in uncertain times both intellectually and practically through community-focused designs for our local area, Elephant and Castle.

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