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Japanese Architecture and Urbanism Talk - 2 December 2021
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Japanese Architecture and Urbanism Talk - 2 December 2021


Date Session 1 (18:00)
Ticket Japanese City Design and Architecture Talk

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Join Stephanie Mills at WAZA Japan Labo for #FirstThursdays on 2 December 2021 for a talk that explores Japanese architecture and city design.


When I studied architecture at the UKZN in the early1970s there was not much material available about Japanese architecture and culture. However, my interest was piqued by two opposites on the Japanese design spectrum: In History of Architecture, we had a module on the Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyū) and garden in Southwest Kyoto which ignited a love of Japanese gardens. In contrast, the library’s architectural journals, revealed, amongst others, the works of Kenzo Tange following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the brave new world of Britain’s Archigram and the Metabolist Movement epitomised by Kisho Kurakawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza, Tokyo (1970-72). Although now threatened with demolition, this building was an inspiration and extremely prescient given today’s move towards small personal spaces (tiny houses, pod hotels), shared commons (co-living) and plug-in pods / prefabrication with adaptive reuse in mind. As a student of Futures Thinking and the drivers of change in cities, Japan still is, for me, one of the front runners in metropolitan experimental future living.

During the 1980’s while studying urban design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and subsequently after moving to London, my exposure to Japanese design and culture grew through architectural discourse, film, fashion and food. Like many creatives I am attracted to the clothing designed by Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. There is something uniquely ‘architectural’ about the form and materiality of their garments.

At this time, German filmmaker Wim Wenders was commissioned by the Pompidou Centre in Paris to make a documentary film about Yohji Yamamoto. NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES – which Wenders describes as a video essay - was released in 1989. The narrative takes place between Yamamoto’s studio in Tokyo – and Paris, where he is preparing for a show. Between places, Wenders uses parallel footage on his videocam while traversing the (somewhat similar) Paris Périphérique and the Tokyo Expressway. The film is an intriguing dialogue about identity, craftsmanship, authorship, and the similarity between the iterative, creative, processes of editing a film and assembling a garment. Yamamoto defines craftsmanship as “finding the true essence of a thing in the process of fabricating it.” He says he does not identify with being a ‘fashion designer’ rather as a ‘dressmaker’ (tailor), a vocation inherited from his mother. While not unique to Japan, this attitude and tradition of passing down vocations and skillsets, resonates when I experience Japanese design be it a simple implement or a building.

In recent years, exposure to Japanese design, culture and food has grown substantially in major cities including London, New York and Paris. People have become familiar with retail brands such as Muji and Uniqlo. Two Japan Centres in Central London have been joined by Japan House in Kensington. A venue for multi-faceted cultural exchange combining retail, restaurant, travel, exhibition, library, and lecture spaces, it’s become a favourite destination.

Prior to visiting Japan in 2018 (I don’t know why it took me so long), my first-hand experience of buildings by Japanese architects was in other countries. Being in Japan was profoundly stimulating. I felt equally ‘at home’ and ‘other’ there but insatiably curious. I had planned to return in 2020 for an extended period of exploratory travel in the country – and to live in a ‘share house’ – a model of collective living. This was not to be. Instead, during lockdown I enrolled in online MOOCs offered by the University of Tokyo. One series ‘FOUR FACETS OF CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE ARCHITECTURE’ was co-hosted by Kengo Kuma and Yusuke Obuchi; another “TOKYO HILLSIDE, TOKYO RIVERSIDE’ was convened by Shunya Yoshimi, a Professor of Sociology, Cultural and Media Studies. For my talk, I’ve distilled some themes from a combination of all of the above. I hope you enjoy it.


  • DATE & TIME: 2 December 2021 at 18:00 or 19:30
  • VENUE: WAZA Japan Labo, 111 Loop Street, Cape Town
  • COST: Free

  • What is provided:

    • Reserved seating for pre-booked guests.
    • Complimentary green tea and cookies by WAZA.

    What each participant should bring:

    • No prescribed items required.

    WAZA is open for shopping and attendees receive discount on the day.


    Q: Is it necessary to buy a free ticket?
    A: Entry is free, but preference will be given to guests with pre-booked tickets. In the event that there are seats available, walk-ins will be allowed, but it is strongly recommended to reserve your seat, since we will only allow a certain number of people. 

    Please note:

    • Masks are compulsory.
    • A maximum of 20 people will be allowed in the shop at a time (workshop participants and hosts).
    • Right of Admission Reserved.