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What our students say: Wataru Doi

Recently we spoke with Wataru Doi, who graduated from the program in 2012 and moved to Mumbai to pursue his interest in architecture built by the architect's hands. A highly energetic student Waturu spent an enormous amount of time on reconstruction in the tsunami-devastated area of Japan in 2011 and 2012 while also working on his Master's degree.

1. What is your background before graduate school?

I entered Keio in 2006 and joined the lab of the architect Shigeru Ban in my first year of undergrad studies. While learning about design we had many opportunities to think about and actually build temporary buildings that were aimed at supporting and rebuilding in disaster areas and similar places. My graduation project looked at the problems around cemeteries in urban areas and proposed an alternative spatial model for the type. I was lucky that the project was awarded the university’s Shigeru Ito Prize and an honourable mention at the JIA architecture competition.

For a year after graduation I was a bit rootless and travelled around to see and study architecture as well as communities in person. During that time I was able to join in a pre-event at the Venice Biennale in Italy called Studioplex and finally returned to my master’s degree at Keio.

2. What are you doing now? How do you use what you learned at SFC and in the EI program?

I’m currently working in Mumbai, India, in a design/build office called Studio Mumbai. It’s well known as a practice that turned to building its own designs in order to ensure high quality construction in what is often called a developing nation. Basically they build anything and everything. Even their own tools used to design with are handmade by themselves.

Over time they have built up an archive of distinct work and merged their design process together with the construction process. In my case I am here as an architect, and my job is to wrestle with design problems. Interestingly, because I am working with the carpenter who will actually build the projects we catch many problems before hitting the site.

With regards to what I learned at SFC, there are many things I could talk about, but for me one of the most important things was the expectation and support of independence of the students. I can’t say that it is good or bad, but in many ways the structure of SFC is (by design) un-systematic. For example in the architecture department the obvious things that we might expect to be taught are not always covered in class. Instead some kind of cutting edge technology was placed in our hands and we were asked to think outside the normal limits of the architectural field. That kind of thing happened quite often. That is to say, if we waited to be told everything we needed, then we would probably never get started.

To speak plainly that is a way to become quite self-reliant and independent, and how I work now is much the same. Resourcefulness is extremely important here.v

3. What kind of experience did you have at graduate school? Was it meaningful?

Northern Japan was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami just before classes were to start in 2011. Immediately following the event, I worked to help my former professor (Shigeru Ban) with reconstruction. He had previously worked out a system for privacy screens that could be used in emergency shelters. I helped to build and install them. Since he had already worked out the system it was possible for us to build and start putting up the screens at the disaster site after just 10 days. In the end I went to 49 shelters and installed 1872 partitions over the first few months of school.

At the same time Professor Hiroto Kobayashi was leading a class called “Practical Environmental Design”, which was organized around a project to design and build a community centre in Minami SanRiku, one of the cities wiped out by the disaster. At any rate I thought it would be useful to the victims of the disaster and that it broke the mold so to speak as a class. With that class the project was about bringing together many people in common cause, not just a chance to learn as a student. The building itself was designed so that anybody could build it. In order to make that possible we designed and tested a new construction method using plywood sheets that could act structurally when put together according to a simple system we devised. Working with the residents of the area we built a lot of experience as we built the community centre.

Following on that project we built a similar building in Maemihama in Ishinomaki, using much the same design and construction method. After some reflection we decided that in order to make it easier for un-skilled labor to carry out the work it would be useful to make a construction manual. In this way the things we had thought or imagined were important were tested by reality, and we could see what was difficult, what was actually important. With regards to architecture it is usual that architects will design and builders will build. But with these projects, as we both designed and built the works we could develop a consistent architecture from scratch. My master’s degree was, in the end, about just that subject.

4. Did your interests and point of view change once you began studying under the EI program? If so, what caused them to change.

I don’t know if this is exclusive to the EI program, but I have come to realize one important point with the graduate school of Media and Governance (the host of the EI program). That is, simply, that with many projects there is an opportunity to gather a lot of experience. Precisely because we undertook so many projects it was possible to understand my own interests and find where I wanted to focus. To put it simply it was an effective environment to confront our own understanding of things.

5. Anything else you would like to share? (advice for future students, or anything else is most welcome!)

For the projects we undertook not knowing what you want to do or how to do it can make each project a worrying experience. At the same time once you have decided to do something it is important to carry it out as completely as possible. I think self-awareness helps to make the most of the experience.