USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

A Simulated Retrospective

While watching the film Tokyo Ga, I couldn’t help but think of the idea of simulacra and simulation- a concept propelled by Jean Baudrillard.  For Baudrillard, simulations are more real and better than reality. A simplified example of this would be a football game- going to the actual game would be the real experience, and watching the game on TV would be the simulated one. One may consider the simulated one better because you have the comfort of your living room, get instant replays, and never have to worry about someone blocking your view.  The simulation is therefore a different reality than the truth of its origin.   This is a crucial part of understanding Tokyo for me.  I started to realize this with the viewing of Tokyo Ga.  Every incidence in this film seems to prove a simulation of reality- the wax food, the golfers, and the greasers.  The pieces of wax food seem too perfect to be real- in fact, their very lack of imperfections seems to declare them as unreal.  The Japanese greasers have no historical connection to what they were doing.  The pseudo golfers, legitimately think they’re golfing but have so thoroughly detached it from its origin that it no longer retains the same objective of getting a ball in a hole.

Our own experiences echo those documented in the film and further prove to be simulations of truth.  We witness greasers do their thing, bumpin’ their music- when I’m not too sure they knew what the Rock’a’Billies even were.  On every street we walk wax food seems to haunt us.  We even spot a golfing range in a well-netted enclosure and men practicing their swing with a rolled up newspaper.  Clubs play American music from several years ago, or even Disney music from most American’s childhoods, but the Japanese eat it up as if it were the greatest trendiest thing out there.  Nothing however compares to a local baseball game. The experience is unlike any American baseball game I have ever seen.  As Americans, the point is to go to see your team win, and hopefully get few drinks and good laughs while you’re at it.  But for Japanese, you’re there to support you team- win or lose.  The baseball leagues don’t even seem to be that good by American standards, but still the people come, doting umbrellas, team flags, and other team paraphernalia.  When a home run hits, everyone opens their umbrellas and cheers, pumping their umbrellas to the sky.  Their ‘game-food’ somewhat references our own- plates of ‘lil-smokie’ type wieners and oddly sauced potato wedges with the addition of takoyaki and rice curry.

None of these things connect back to their original meanings, to their truths.  They only make vague references, yet somehow become better than the actual due to their simulated nature. To compare these two counterpoints would be irrelevant.  The greasers take on a different social construct than their predecessors because of their adoption into this new context.   People are more excited and happier with these simulations because it fits their environment appropriately.  If one were to misplace these simulations into the settings of their original they would have no bearing.  It’s the wax food that entices one into the restaurant, the loyal spirit of supporting your team that draws you to the game, and the eccentricity of being a greaser in a homogenous society that are the truths of these things, the simulation, not the real truths they represent, the simulacra. It affects us a visitor to this setting because we become part of it. We become part of the ‘other’ that is the environment of the simulated.

So how does this connect to architecture?  Three buildings we saw describe how- the Tokyo Forum, Sendai Mediatech, and the port in Yokohama.  These buildings use shipbuilding as an instrument to a new reality.  Some essence or truth of ship building is transformed into something new and unrecognizable from its origin- and it’s beautiful.  They no longer relate to their simulacra, no longer hold the same truth of functionality.  They have their own realities of unmitigated structural boundaries.  The Tokyo Forum uses ship building as a structural basis to construct a multi-level open space the size of two football fields with only two columns.  It essentially uses ship building techniques to ‘float’ a solid structure in ephemeral space.  Consequently using the same techniques but disconnecting it from its inherent function, to float in water.  Sendai Mediatech uses ship building techniques to connect its structural features that curve in ways land based architecture cannot fully answer.  Each tube is treated as a ship’s bow and is used to hold up each floor, circulation elements, and service elements.  These techniques could not be farther removed from its original function.  However, it works in a whole new manner separate from its original idea yet still referencing its origin.  This instance is most fully reflected at the Yokohama port.  Sectionally this structure reads as a ship, walking into the body of the building even feels like you are in the bowels of a ship.  Furthermore it is used to board cruise liners and floats in its own precarious way like a ship.  Walking to its edges is even like standing on the edge of a ship looking onto the ocean.  Yet this ‘thing’ is ironically used to board the vessels it reflects.  The ship references in this project create a different typology that does not functionally connect to its origin.  In all these cases the reference is there but its original purpose removed, thereby making judgments based on the original irrelevant.  They are not less real than their predecessors, they just follow a different truth.  Subsequently they are the simulation of the simulacra, they are the Rock’a’Billies of Japan, they are the wax examples of food, and the golfers without a club or ball.

Filed under: Architecture, Tokyo

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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