Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Tokyo energy workshop: Where do we go from here? (#5 in a series)

By Dana Buntrock

This is one of a series of posts on an energy conservation workshop a group of us from Berkeley offered in Tokyo June 23-26.

“I received your mail with the resources of the whole workshop.

Thank you very much for giving us the wonderful opportunity.
The workshop was very fun, and productive!

The chance made me think about engineering in environmental factors,
which I personally did not pay attention this much (In fact I was busy touching computers…)

As you were talking about the workshop’s intention, I can assure you that
the amount of impact had changed my perspective to be always make my design
environmental efficient. I understand that four days is
not enough to know all the fundamentals and technical equations,
but still it triggered me to buy a book for continuous study.

From my point of view, I found it very interesting…knowing that the computer
side has a lot to do with environmental engineering, thinking some direct
possibilities and proposals combining the two, as my way back home.

Anyways, thank you again for organizing such a great time!
We are looking forward meeting you again.”

(A participant)

All together, 57 individuals participated in the workshop; this was more than we expected or were, frankly, prepared for. But many groups, under pressure to respond not only to the paradigm shifts in thinking about energy, but also the more immediate need to rebuild in devastated areas, sent different participants on different days. Ten professional offices, two contractors and two university labs sent at least one participant all four days; three more offices joined the workshop for three of the four days. Many leaders made time to join us, including Dr. Kengo Kuma, Dr. Shuzo Murakami, and Dr. Masao Koizumi, who participated in planning and offered presentations; practicing architects Kazuyo Sejima , Jun Aoki, Astrid Klein, and Kumiko Inui, who sat in for discussions and sent staff; architectural designers from Takenaka Construction and Kajima; and faculty and students from the University of Tokyo, Keio University, Tokyo University of the Arts, and Tokyo Metropolitan University.

Susan Ubbelohde and I had been eager to get the workshop underway as quickly as possible because we believed that it was important to offer our support early. It felt like the right decision once we started the workshop; many came in the first day with a sense of an overwhelming responsibility in Japan's new architectural era, but quickly got fired up.

Dr. Kuma set the workshop dates, but looking back, I see that first day was "tomobiki" on the Japanese calendar–a day for drawing friends together.  I think that is what we all felt most excited about. Those of us from Berkeley learned as much as we taught, and we all came away with a deeper appreciation for the technologies available to support the work ahead. Members of the Architectural Institute of Japan's Sustainability Committee met the night after our workshop ended and discussed next steps; they have already asked Loisos + Ubbelohde, Susan's consultancy, if they would like to come back soon.

But we also were aware each day of how large the challenge is for all of us, and how little support there is for making changes in each of our societies today.  While we were in Japan conducting this workshop, the State of California again slashed our university's budget dramatically, making it much less likely that any of us will be able to quickly stitch together workshops like this in the future.  In Japan, politicians dithered; small firms struggled with the enormity of the demands on their skills, and little likelihood of fast financing for the work that needs to be done.

And as we moved through Tokyo, we often saw extravagant or unthinking energy use, even as the capital pushed its electrical supply system very hard. The Wednesday after the workshop ended, electric demand exceeded 93% of capacity–and it is not yet the hottest part of the summer.

(Added on July 27: Want to know how much energy capacity there is in Tokyo right now?  Neon Genesis Evangelion offers an unofficial tracker here.  Time in Tokyo is given below the meters.)

TEPCo, the owner of the Fukushima nuclear plants, has been a good friend to the profession. Electricity has been the basis for many aspects of Japan's wealth, from air-conditioning in sweltering summers to large LED advertising panels, entertaining pedestrians at busy crosswalks or admirably fast trains and enviable public transit systems.

On July 5, I left for Taiwan, to continue my earlier research on an exciting structure by Toyo Ito in Taichung, where I was reminded that the challenges we see in northern Japan are regional ones. Taichung's booming industry, too, is reliant on electricity; its soaring glass towers are sealed against the summer heat, and there is a new public debate about nuclear power.

Two of our graduate students, David Fannon and Jeremy Fisher, stayed behind in Tokyo to make follow-up visits to participating offices. And on July 10, David was the last one in the capital when a M7.0 earthquake struck near the site of the original epicenter.  We are Californians; we understood strong aftershakes were a possibility–but it was a stark reminder than things are not over yet.

See all the entries on this workshop:

#1: Architects talking energy–in Tokyo
#2: California Collaboration: Activate a Cloud
#3: Technology & Toys
#4: Software for study and simulation
# 5: Where do we go from here?

Or see photos:

Everyday Wurster’s site on Flickr