Álvaro Bernabeu Bautista @ Master in Architecture (University of Alicante, Spain)
The project Haikyo City takes place on the abandoned Hashima island, an ancient city that emerged and grew due to the extraction of coal and that was abandoned in the 70s which is currently in ruins, with and area opened for tourists. Before tackling the project stage, I started searching for a theorical framework -in addition to the haikyo(abandoned places) tourism phenomena- which I found in Caitlin Desilvey’s text entitled Curated Decay, an approach to the ruin and heritage from a more ecological perspective that defends that heritage it’s based on a dialogical relationship between human agents and other non-human agents and their environments, that objects generate meaning not only in their persistence but also in their destruction, that letting natural processes run their course produces a clash between the limits of natural and cultural heritage and that conservation is based on knowing how to manage the transition from the past to the future by transferring the maximum possible meaning.
My personal positioning based on contemporary architecture and urban planning ideas is that these architectures -and the biological and natural factors that accompany them- already have a value in themselves -historical value, cultural value, ecological and environmental value, landscape value , etc.- And before abandonment leads to a total disappearance over the years is necessary an awareness of the real value through the experience to know, where society no longer acts as an external agent, but as an involved agent that is part of the experience itself beyond being a simple tourist as it currently occurs. The project, from my point of view, has found a new way to reflect about or approach the ruin nowadays and how to improve the user experience in the environment.
Due to the impossibility of knowing the island from my own experience, the analysis through social networks like Instagram, working with the images of the island that users share has helped me, on the one hand to detect which are the most outstanding elements and, on the other hand, to graph the current ruin at two levels:
- The architectural space with the reconstruction of three scenarios -the house as a private space, the bathroom as a public space linked to leisure, and the temple as a public space linked to religion- represented from the objective and subjective view that I acquire when I see those photographs.
- The urban level -with the help of historical cartographies and orthophotos -with the global map of the island with the buildings, the connections between spaces, the colonizing vegetation, the current touristic route, etc.
Within the last phase, the intervention, three positions are adopted depending on each urban space: either maintaining the current value, leaving the ruin as it is, either favouring the human experience in the ruin or favouring biodiversity and the biotic agents that exist on the island. A series of urban scenarios are proposed that are divided into:
- The body worship and the water management, intervening in: the bath through a thermal circuit that uses the traditional rite of shower, cleaning and bath formed by a series of devices like the corridor of nebulized water, the water tanks or the tub overlooking the partial ruin; in landscaped roofs through the creation of a natural filtering system for bathing water, protected areas for vegetation and hydroponic orchards as an evolution of the urban gardens that existed in these spaces once; in the flooded area through the creation of a natural seawater pool also taking advantage of those spaces that have accidentally originated.
- The biodiversity of the ruin, intervening on the one hand in the partially demolished temple, which through structural reinforcement and completing the original symmetry, becomes a new sanctuary of nature where, like a time capsule, various species of local flora are introduced for its preservation in the future, also creating an aviary for the species that have been colonizing and nesting on the island like the black kite or the Japanese whistle; in the industrial zone, taking advantage of old infrastructures to create reserve ponds for aquatic fauna and flora, as well as the creation of artificial structures for nesting and refuge.
- The evolution of traditional lifestyles, intervening on the house that takes advantage of the central space that in the past was a living room, dining room and bedroom and ultimately a nucleus where family life developed, for the implementation of modules that agglutinate areas where to carry out these activities and that allows the connection between interior and exterior, blurring the existing limits between both; in the market through a series of “street food” modules where it’s possible to acquire and consume the products grown on the island directly, mainly fruits and vegetables that were the nutritional basis of the population at that time.
- The accessibility through prostheses that are implanted in those routes partially collapsed or in a collapse situation, to continue allowing the flow of people.
These interventions are carried out from light modules that do not stand out in their environment -moreover in most cases these allow to the colonizing vegetation to grow by them, camouflaging them. The white colour acquires a double meaning in this case, on the one hand it is a graphic resource to highlight the intervention on the scene, and on the other hand it is a design strategy based on contemporary Japanese architecture, based mainly on light materials, on white tones, playing with transparency and visual permeability, as opposed to the modern architecture of the 60s that was based on reinforced concrete and wood structures.
All these spaces intervened and not intervened, in addition to other elements of environmental, visual or cultural interest scattered on the island, are connected through the existing network of streets and external corridors, taking the intervention to the urban level and creating a series of tours that offer freedom to explore the ruin.
The interventions, finally, are reflected in a series of postcards that offer an image of what the island can become through the creation of these new landscapes, that can be productive, leisure or natural.
What prompted the project?
In fact, I didn’t know anything about Hashima Island until one year before my Final Thesis Project, when I was asked to do a little research about contemporary heritage, abandoned industrial areas and landscape. The island itself, with all the natural and biological factors that emerge from the ruin, and the historical, cultural, ecological and landscape values were determinant to consider the area as a potential space to develope the project, also taking into account the fact that only a small percentage of the island can be visited nowadays and the tourists act as mere observers, without experience the whole city. The project proposed a new way to reflect about or approach the ruin and how to improve the user experience in the environment.
What were the biggest challenges in not having physical access to the site? What mediums did you use to acquaint yourself with the condition in Japan?
One of the difficulties of working in a site where you have never been is the lack of information when it comes to mapping the area. For me, one of the most important steps before starting the project phase is the complex and detailed representation of the site where I am working at and, although I had easy access to photographs, old cartographies, building plans, etc. it was not as accurate as my own experience. However, the idea of represent and intervene the ruin using other mediums was one of my premises before starting the project. On the other hand, the project is also based on japanese lifestyle. For occidental society, Japan is a country rooted in its past, with a particular culture based on ritual and tradition and, in this case, reading classics like Yukio Mishima’s novels or watching Yasujirō Ozu and Studio Ghibli’s films was a good approach to understand the culture I was dealing with and the relationship they have with abandonment and ruin.
What role did social networks as instagram play?
Due to the impossibility of knowing the island from my own experience, the analysis through social networks like Instagram (working with the images that users share) helped me to find out which are the most outstanding elements looking for repeated or similar patterns between the images. Because of the large number of photographs downloaded, this task has only been possible using special image-analysis software like ImageJ or Deep Dream.
On the other hand, photographs of the island have been decisive to map the current ruin at two different scales: the architectural space with the reconstruction of three scenarios (the house as a private space, the bathroom as a public space linked to leisure and the temple as a public space linked to religion) and the urban space with the global plan of the island. In both cases, the space, the remaining objects, the buildings, the connections, the colonizing vegetation, the current touristic route, etc. are represented from the objective and subjective view that I acquire when I see those photographs.
How and to what extent have these mediums effected the discipline and practice of architecture?
Social networks have changed the way we relate with other people, not only in a personal way (with family or friends), but also in a professional way. Nowadays, architects and architecture students use social networks or online platforms to share our work, research or projects with society, increasing the number of other architects, students or potential clients who watch, react, share or take as a reference our production. In the past, architecture diffusion was only available through specialized magazines, books or the personal experience, but now it is much easier: we have created a worldwide net that connects people with the same profession, concerns and different ways to understand our discipline.
However, they can also be used as tools because everytime we share, post or check in a social network we are giving an information that is recorded in a digital way. This kind of “record” (images, geolocalized posts, check-ins…) can be used to understand urban phenomena, the way people perceive and behave in the city (what they share, where they go, when they go) in order to take decisions that improve public spaces and their surroundings.
How important as the timeline as tool through which to trace a historical understand of site?
In a certain way, all the events that happened in the island -and also in Japan- since it was colonized until it was abandoned are determinant to understand the way we know it nowadays. The timeline is divided in six different topics: extraction of resources (coal extraction, salt extraction, tunnel openings…), buildings and island growth (creation of residential buildings and urban equipment, land reclamations…), Japan’s modern history (changes in industrial and energetic politics, war conflict…), natural disasters and accidents (typhoons, explosions, fire, supply cuts…), infrastructures (supply network, communication network, port infraestructure…) and population & lifestyle (population growths, laboral hierarchy, new appliances…). In general, when a war with other country started the amount of coal needed increased and so the workforce. The workers were transferred to the island with their families and more residential buildings and equipment were needed to house them, the same buildings that are still standing and confer the island its particular skyline.
What define the various drawings through which you articulate the project?
All the main drawings that define the project are represented in axonometric view because I am acquainted and I feel very comfortable working with this format. Besides, I thought it was the best way to represent the architecture spaces I was working with, rather than a plan or a section, in orden to get a complete view of them and understand the relation between all the elements on the image. All the axonometric views were accompanied by other details that explained more deeply the intervention using other complementary formats. I articulated the project as a “promenade” through seven different axonometric images that are related to seven areas in the island where I focus my intervention. These interventions consist of light white modules that do not stand out in the environment. The white colour acquires a double meaning in this case: on the one hand it is a graphic resource to highlight the intervention on the scene and, on the other hand, it is a design strategy close to contemporary Japanese architecture, based mainly on light materials, on white tones, playing with transparency and visual permeability, as opposed to the modern architecture of the 60s that was based on reinforced concrete and wood structures.
What is the effect and purpose of the postcard format? What role does the grid hold?
Rather than a classic realistic render, the postcard format using the collage technique was an easy way to convey the idea of what the island can become in the future, creating this natural, ecological, leisure or productive landscapes. Like in a random souvenir shop from a random city that sell postcards from the most important venues that you can visit there, I wanted to beef up this relation with tourism creating some postcards with the most important venues of the island that everyone can take home.
Depending on the drawing, the grid can serve as a scale reference for length measure (like in the island plan) or act as a simple background to highlight the main drawing without leaving a simple colour (like in axonometric views). In both cases, for me, the grid is a representation of space, that can be real or virtual, where other spaces are overlap creating different layers of information.
What tools did you use throughout the development of the project?
Mainly, I’ve used social networks like Instagram and image-analysis software like ImageJ and Deep Dream in the analysis phase, 3D modelling and rendering tools like Rhinoceros or Sketchup Pro + VRay for the axonometric images, 2D drawing tools like Autocad or Illustrator for diagrams and plans, image treatment tools like Photoshop for postproduction and layout and finally, work models which I use to create an stop-motion video showing the experience in the ruin that you can check in the next link: https://youtu.be/6oZZPN_h9F0. All this work has been developed alongside with other tools like movies, books or research texts that have been crucial to set up the theorical frame of my intervention.
What would you say is the architects most important tool?
I think that our discipline has been divided into many developement lines in the last years, opening a wide range of possibilites to work as an architect nowadays, that it will be very difficult to find a single tool which is mutual for our profession. I believe that every architect should find their own tool to carry out their work in a personal and comfortable way but if there’s one thing that we should never set aside is our creativity, to design, to create, to explore or to rethink architecture; then, the tools will appear automatically.