Talking to UIA – Architecture and Children members: Junko Taguchi

A series coordinated by arch. Monica Popescu
Junko Taguchi
Reading time: 
6 minutes

More than half of the world’s population lives at this moment in urban areas. The United Nations states that 68% of the world population will be living in cities by 2050. It’s not bold to say that as much as we, as professionals, are shaping the built environment, it shapes us in equal measure. Our well-being, as city dwellers, is deeply connected to how well our environment is planned, designed, shaped. This puts on our shoulders, as architects and urban planners, a huge responsibility. But we are not alone in sharing this responsibility. Together with the authorities and law-makers, we have the duty of providing a sustainable built environment, suited to the needs of the people living in it today, as well as for the future generations that will inherit it. Keeping in mind all of the above, it is quite obvious why the citizens, the communities, have an important stake in how our built environment is designed, as much as the professionals do.

In order to improve how our built environment is planned, globally there’s been a wave, a movement, in which professionals are raising awareness about the importance of built environment education. If more and more people become aware of their surroundings and get involved in reshaping and improving it, the result will be a better co-existence within the smallest or largest of communities, an improved quality of life, in direct link to the quality of the built environment.

As a member of the UIA (International Union of Architects) – Architecture and Children Work Program, we undertake this mission to raise awareness about built environment education (BEE). In 2020 we launched a new series of interviews with the members of the Work Program, to better understand how our international colleagues implement BEE activities, what is their vision and approach in their specific set of circumstances and what we can learn from it. Our first article in the series was an interview with Dr. Barbara Feller, our colleague from Austria, and can be found here, the second interview was with Suzanne de Laval, our colleague from Sweden, see here, whilst the third one in the series was an interview with Magdalina Rajeva, our Bulgarian colleague – interview here.

We continue the series with Junko Taguchi, our colleague from Japan. Junko finished her Ph.D. at the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo in 2015. Her dissertation dealt with the effectiveness of dialogue in Toyo Ito’s Architecture School for Children in Tokyo, where she engaged in the school curriculum development between 2011-2017. After post-doctoral studies, Junko is now working as an assistant professor at Meijo University. She is also the Japan member and proxy-director (Asia) of UIA Architecture and Children Work Program. Recently she has launched her own initiative BOKUCRA (We craft!) as a transdisciplinary project, developing an online, project-based learning via built environment with the world-famous computer game, Minecraft.

⌂ Why do you think it’s beneficial for architects to work with children?

First of all, I think it is beneficial to be able to be involved in children’s learning and their growth opportunities as adults. I want a diverse range of adults with certain professions, not just architects, to be right next to children’s learning. This is because it gives children not only their future career choices, but also basic knowledge and skills related to the professions, exposure to the serious attitudes of adults, and the possibility that learning will not be closed to school alone.

⌂ Why do you think it is important for children and youth to come in contact with activities related to architecture, built environment, art, science, play? What do they learn and what do they gain from interacting with built environment professionals?

Looking at examples of BEE (Built Environment Education) around the world, I think they can be broadly divided into “(1) practices that convey the joy and comprehensiveness of architecture to children” and “(2) practices that tackle social issues surrounding children through architectural thinking”.

(1) Includes the practice of fostering the architectural literacy of children who will lead the future built environment by having them experience the knowledge and skills of architecture and the comprehensive connection with subjects through workshops and on-site lectures at schools. In some cases, NPOs run architecture schools and have them attend after school or on holidays.

(2) Includes the practice of working with children to solve the social issues surrounding them today in the context of BEE. Social issues include child poverty, school refusal, immigration issues, the destruction of environment and historical heritage, and isolation of children and changes in the learning environment in the Covid-19 situation.

⌂ Please tell us briefly, from your own experience, how did you manage to better implement your projects in connection to this subject (BEE), what are the elements that ensure the desired impact that you’ve set from the beginning? What would your advice be for those people or organizations that walk the same path? 

I prefer (2) practices that tackle social issues surrounding children through architectural thinking (mentioned above), designing BEE as a social problem solving.

Even if the children do not learn architecture directly, they will have the experience of reaching out each other and to adults and gaining confidence through community activities. I believe that such human development of children and the enrichment of the society surrounding them may return to the formation of a good built environment over time.

⌂ How do e-learning and new technologies integrate into the traditional/existing school settings in your opinion?

Children become accustomed to the digital environment at speeds that adults cannot predict, communicate using multiple applications, and multitask. Looking at high school students, they attend meetings on Zoom, run multiple projects on Slack, enjoy private chats and conversations on LINE, and check out a few other social networks. But applications are just tools, so they’re always looking for “something” to get excited, enthusiastic, and to collaborate with their peers (online games meet these desires, and I’m a fan of it). It is important to connect the real issues of society to that.

⌂ Can you tell us a bit about how BOKUCRA (We craft!) inspires and emotionally engages children in architecture derived activities in Japan?

The world-famous computer game “Minecraft” is very popular with more than 100 million users, where you can collect blocks of various materials for adventure and stack blocks to create your favorite shapes in the endless 3D world. It is a game that can be played in a variety of ways, but among them, there are ways to enjoy creating elaborate buildings and cities and introducing them in videos, or inviting other users to play in that 3D world.

In BOKUCRA (We craft!), we asked high school students to make a real building of their neighbourhood in Minecraft. They are sometimes criticized for being so enthusiastic about the game that they neglect other things, but I don’t think so. They were so good at Minecraft that they worked as our teachers and professional project members.

We could say it was a game-driven community development. We found that the more they wanted to make better works and more precise architecture in Minecraft, the more they observed the building itself and the more they were interested in the building, the history of the area and the local community. Through this, we discussed how to apply the elements of the game to other than the game (that is called “gamification”) such as community development.

⌂ Can you tell us how was your experience and what did you learn in your time at the Toyo Ito Architecture School for Children in Tokyo?

In Ito Juku I learned that creative activity requires both internal digging of individuals (with sensitivity, mind) and sharing with others (social skills).

In the first half of the one-year program, children receive a theme such as “a house like a flower”, and explore what kind of images, feelings, and memories they have about flowers. Then, they will challenge whether they can confidently express that they want to express that image in this way without the correct answer.

In the latter half of the year, they will start thinking about the theme of “a park with landscapes” and understand the coexisting between humans and humans, humans and nature, and humans and built environment in the neighborhood. Then, without killing their inner image, make a proposal while thinking about anyone other than oneself.

Over the course of a year, they will learn the process of understanding themselves, understanding others, and building relationships with them.

⌂ Why did you choose to become an architect? How do you think citizens perceive the profession of architect and the role of the architect in society? How do you think young people and children see you as an architect?

I am not an architect, but a researcher in architectural conservation and education. Isn’t the researcher a troublesome existence for the citizens? For example, conservation researchers simply request that the building be preserved because it is valuable. Educational researchers only unilaterally impose that the value of architecture is self-evident and should be learned. I want to be a bottom-up person who dispels such a top-down professional image and emphasizes dialogue with citizens, young people, and children.

In terms of music, the expression and enjoyment of music that is loved over time comes from the inside of each person. If each of them is an orchestra player, I want to be a conductor. I would like to aim for a harmony of conservation and education in which each person of various generations live vividly while enjoying the built environment, and the buildings are loved over time. 

The article can be read in Romanian, here.