"Beyond Public: Architects, Activists, and the Design of Akichi at Tokyo’s Miyashita Park," with Catherine Tsukasa Bender; in Architecture Research Quarterly, 23.2 (2019).
Decades before the Shibuya ward in Tokyo was defined by its commercial high-rises and bustling transportation hub, Miyashita Park was a narrow strip of green space that stretched along the Shibuya River and was designated during the 1930s as akichi, or ‘open land,’ for everyday use. During the 1960s, the early 2000s, and yet again in the 2010s, the park was redesigned and increasingly built up—each time provoking a new debate about the definition of ‘public’ in Tokyo and in Japan more broadly. This paper examines the practices of a group of homeless art activists who rejected the proposed redesigns and the definitions of ‘public space’ each represented. The paper reveals how, through art installations, writings, impromptu concerts, ad-hoc sporting events, and bodily protests, the activists revived alternative definitions of ‘public’ as spaces of activity and asylum. While at first glance, the work of the activists operated peripherally to architectural discourse, this paper argues that the spatial and material tactics of the activists align with the interventions of several Japanese architects, including Arata Isozaki and Teiji Ito, who critiqued prevailing definitions of democratic public space during the 1960s. The art activists and politically-engaged architects of the 1960s both demonstrate how maintaining spaces of informality as well as the rights of marginalized populations to urban spaces serve as important forms of critical architectural production. Together, they suggest that the social, political, and ideological tools of the architect are—not unlike those of the art activists—prime for challenging and critiquing hegemonic frameworks of public space.
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