Franco Purini on Tokyo

The minute and the colossal follow one another and clash in a powerful energetic flow that knows no rest, while tangled strips of infrastructure wind between buildings in spectacular spatial combinations.  All is bathed in a hazy, dim light, which rarely brightens, and permeates every interstice of the city, from window to window, sign to sign and corner to corner.  At night, artificial lighting transforms Tokyo into a fantastical apparition of artificial mountain ranges that glow like braziers.  The visual trauma is due to Tokyo giving no sense of any recognizable structure.  Compare with Europe, or the West in general, where cities still have a perceptive — albeit residual and fragmentary — urban form which is always based on a more or less rational order, in Tokyo you find a randomness in which every urban rule is overturned or negated.  Or at least so it seems.  As a matter of face, once initial impressions have been overcome, you begin to notice the presence of recurring threads in the urban fabric, first on a subliminal level, than more consciously; a fabric made of multiple, fractal agglomerates of settlements.  These agglomerates are groups in self-similar masses, suggesting urban spaces which are not defined by clearly scaled hierarchies or distinct morphological types.  Here, urban spatiality seems to feature the unplanned coexistence of architectural units and the incidental contiguity or what is small and large, simple immaterial — rhythm beats over everything, constituting an amazing unifying element in its almost hypnotic repetition of the same model.  In this sense you discover that in the end Tokyo is a simple city that is different from European and American cities only because urban planning is practically absent.  If the former are cities of space, governed by the laws of perspective, then Tokyo is a city of situations…in Asia’s greatest city you are completely disoriented from the start. 

That is in a good book called Tokyo: City and Architecture.  I am struck by how much the Tokyo Metro and underground corridors are in fact the defining parts of the city and the most memorable destinations.


Comments for this post are closed