Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Araki Elementary School (明石小学) - Exhibit at Gallery-403

This exhibit of photos of the Araki Elementary School (in Tokyo's Chuo-ku) that is slated for demolition were apparently at another gallery first, and are being displayed at Gallery-403 in the Okuno Building as a sort of an extension of the original exhibit.

While in the gallery I discussed the exhibit with another viewer who passionately spoke of how well-engineered and built structures like this one should be preserved, rather than destroyed in order to build ugly, stylistically cold boxes in their place.  I said how Tokyo really ought to preserve a little more of its structures, instead of relentlessly tearing everything down.  Another man in the room, apparently an employee of an architectural firm, said that many people are saying the same thing recently.

Ah!  So I'm not the only one then!  That Tokyo is a relentlessly modern city is okay, but I think many people are increasingly thinking that there should be at least a little room for preservation of old respected and still serviceable structures.
(Photo from 明石小学  site)

Actually - the chronology of my discussions in Gallery-403 the other day went like this [the following all translated into English from the original Japanese conversations]:

First I was talking with the gallery owner, who explained what the exhibit was about.  I commented that "New buildings and new construction is all very well, but complete eradication of old structures and a city full of nothing but new buildings is overdoing it!"

To this, a man behind me said: "That's what everyone is saying..."

The gallery owner introduced the friendly-looking man as an employee of a large architectural firm and we all laughed.

I began talking with the architectural guy and brought up the former Tokyo Central Post Office, which has been mainly demolished, other than the front section, which is being preserved along with a new structure going up behind, on and beside where the old post office used to stand.  The architectural man then began explaining that project in detail, saying what percentage of the building had been destroyed and what percentage was being preserved.

I was interested in hearing the details of this, but when I said "It's good that they're saving at least part of the building", a woman (who had come in while were were talking) turned around from her position in front of the elementary school pictures and said "No!  That's not good at all!"

I turned around and said "Well... better than completely destroying it..." to which she replied "It's worse!  It allows them to say they preserved the building when in fact they destroyed it!"

About this time, the architectural man made his escape from hostile waters and I began talking with the woman about Tokyo's relentless destruction of anything over a few decades old.  People get used to buildings only being allowed to stand for 20 or 30 years, and buildings such as my apartment, which is about 22 years old, and - I think - not old at all, are considered to be ancient.  When I tell someone that my apartment building is about 22 years old, they often act surprised and say "It's old!" as though I had said 828 years old, and not 22.

From there, the conversation naturally went to the Okuno Building, which is becoming quite unique in Tokyo, as a concrete structure that is (shock!/surprise!/gasp!) over 70 years old.

The exchange was an interesting one for me, as I felt I could see the viewpoint of both the architectural man, and the woman fed up with Tokyo's construction monster, which is continually destroying bits of the city as though there were a never-tiring Godzilla monster at loose all the time in Tokyo.  Maybe the construction industry should be renamed "Godzilla, Inc.".

Joking aside, sometimes it does seem like things are constructed for no better reason than someone has a pile of money to spend on demolition and reconstruction.

The above is from the back of the promotional post card - which is from the first exhibit of the photos, which was held at a different gallery.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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