Underground Space database

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like most of the world, Japan was once a rural nation. The past is often used as a full setting; alternatively, parts of the past still exist in the present day, or even the future.
farm village

  • rice is the most common crop – still is, due to subsidies. however, it is not suitable for every climate. In colder climates other grains are grown.

  • villages are clusters of a few buildings surrounded by fields.

Farmhouses are built of unpainted wood with thatched roofs. The roofs are high in comparison to the walls.

old city houses – Kyoto

  • like farmhouses, often of wooden construction. Some have masonry party walls between buildings for fire protection.

  • note very low ceiling heights of just over 2 meters, even lower for second story

roof slopes around 30 degrees. windows are translucent screens.

temples - and Todaiji Daibutsu-den and Kofuku-ji Pagoda, Nara

  • also uses wooden post and beam construction, but on much bigger scale.

  • large projecting roof protects walls from rain.

Japanese variation of pagoda form features exceptionally wide roof overhangs

castle – Osaka Castle

  • built both to showcase wealth and power, but also having military functions, castles feature compact shapes with fewer windows.

  • surrounding the castle are other fortifications and a moat.

note how castle is sited on high ground


  • these approximately 2 x 1 meter woven mats are the typical traditional flooring material, and are used as a seating surface in the day, and a sleeping surface at night. They are springy but firm, and contain air pockets that provide insulation.

  • to keep the mats clean, Japanese people remove shoes before entering the house.

  • dividing the modular tatami rooms are sliding screens, made of paper and wood.

  • while western style interiors are becoming increasingly popular, tatami rooms remain common in Japan.


during the prewar period of modernization, Japan copied both Western technology and culture. In the case of the built environment, this included both modern construction methods and classical European architecture.

office block- building in Marunouchi

  • brick buildings ornamented with columns and roof details.

  • associated with “old money” corporations with many decades or centuries of history and banks.

  • ceiling heights are generous to allow sunlight into the back of the building. Center of building contains a courtyard for a similar purpose.

train station – Tokyo Station

  • the Tokyo train station is an example of the national style of Japan during the early 20th century – red brick with white stone details, topped by copper domes and roofs.

  • most buildings of this style are in the 1 to 5 story range.

  • floor heights are in the 4 meter range, twice that of traditional wooden houses.

  • Many of the old train stations still in use have much larger modern concrete and steel additions behind them to accommodate increased passenger traffic.

observation tower- Ryounkaku

-ryounkaku (also known as asakusa 12 stories) was Japan’s first highrise building

-designed by a western engineer
-built 1890, collapsed 1923 in earthquake
-more than just a symbol, building was also an exhibition hall of modern technological products.
-note western style windows with glass panes and arched tops

university – University of Tokyo, Yasuda Auditorium

  • founded a few years after Cal in the late 19th century, the University of Tokyo is Japan’s leading university. It is a public school.

  • the basic layout of clock tower with symmetric wings design has been copied endlessly in Japanese school design.

  • note “collegiate gothic” gate, and general resemblance to moses and stephens hall.

late 20th century

for both its technological image, as well as its ease of mass production, the Modern style was dominant in the period of rapid economic growth from the 1950s to the 1980s.

  • note similarity in massing to university building

  • central tower contains clock and stairs

  • wings feature rows of classrooms with exterior hallways

  • roof is flat, and is used for hanging out, smoking, and ditching class

school grounds are walled and gated


  • layout is always a hierarchical grid

  • class sizes are larger than their American equivalents

  • sometimes the front of the room, where the teacher stands, is on a raised platform, to symbolize respect and authority.

apartment block

  • buildings contain a row of apartments, with a staircase at each end. Taller buildings have elevator shafts in the middle.

  • balconies are standard features for all apartments, and are one of the main distinguishing factors between apartments and office buildings.

balconies are used for hanging laundry and mounting air conditioners, among other things.

neighborhood – niigata

  • this cluster of apartments is built right up to a densely filled in cemetery.

  • Taller buildings have sloped upper floors to permit light to reach neighboring buildings. These slopes generally are on the northern side of the building.

  • Note how housing, shopping, factories, and civic buildings are all located in close proximity. This makes for a walkable neighborhood that does not require much driving or parking space.

railroad tracks

  • while California grows around freeways, Japan grows around railroad tracks. As such, most tracks are at ground level, since they were there first, and development takes place around them.

  • bullet trains or lines in city centers frequently are elevated, to avoid crossings.

  • except in rural areas, most lines are electrified. This is nicer than living next to a freeway, as he trains are quieter, and don’t pollute.

  • apartment complex in foreground is of the older, walkup type.

- almost always elevated, and with sound walls on the sides. Frequently double or triple decked.

due to lack of space, freeways are often built above streams or just off the coast.

alley houses

  • walls provide a small but private yard

  • houses grow various exterior modifications over time

  • name of resident is on vertical sign on wall of house, often near entrance

  • the road is driveable – Japan designed cars to fit their cities, not the other way around.

main street, japan

  • first floor contains shops. Many stores are simply open in the front with just a roll-down door, and use sidewalk as display space. People will walk in the street. Cars deal with it.

  • many businesses have signs with English (sometimes Engrish) names for cosmetic purposes.

  • second floor contains office space.

note extensive use of signs by every business

downtown entertainment district – Shinjuku

  • similar to normal commercial street, except the buildings are taller and the signs are louder.

  • elevator penthouse turned into four-sided neon sign

  • in extremely popular areas, retail and restaurants extend up past the first floor, to fill entire ten-story buildings.

streets are for people, not for cars

skyscrapers – Shinjuku office buildings and hotels

  • highrise construction began in the late 1960s

  • until recently, Tokyo skyline was limited to Shinjuku, where several towers were built on the site of an old water treatment plant.

  • tall buildings are usually located in close proximity to train stations

-shinjuku highrises are built on top of retail podiums similar to Japantown in San Francisco.
- wide elevated roads run through the area.
- buildings are around 50 floors high, similar in shape and size to Bank of America bldg in San Francisco.
- overall feel of the area is like Walnut Creek extruded upwards.

present day

recession of 1990s ended speculative high-speed overdevelopment. While rate of economic growth is slower, Japan remains prosperous, and architecture has flourished… for the most part.
media center – Sendai Mediatheque

  • a multiuse building with library, computer, and cultural facilties

  • features innovative structural system to create open floors within.

  • walls are glass with screens where needed.

train station – Kyoto station

- land around train stations is the most valuable due to high traffic, and are prime retail locations.

- building has big atrium to reduce sense of enclosure.

- mixed uses feature retail, entertainment, hotel, and public space.

exhibition hall – Expo 2000 Japan Pavilion

  • made entirely of paper- structure is cardboard tube

  • high tech reinterpretation of traditional materials

  • designed with environmental sustainability, flexibility, and earthquake resistance in mind

custom house – 4 x 4 house

- house rises four floors to maximize small site and also to obtain views of coast

- lower levels have fewer windows for privacy

- building made of very well crafted concrete


  • houses are developer built in large subdivisions

  • designs cheaply imitate classical western mansions or traditional Japanese houses.

  • most feature a garage or carport, however, two car garages are very rare

  • like in the bay area, suburban living is limited to the rich and those willing to commute many hours each day

future visions

High population density and industrialization prompted architects and planners to start thinking about better ways to pack people in as early as the 1950s. Later on, with the development of space exploration first in the U.S. and later in Japan, interest in space colonization has grown.
metabolist megastructure – early 1960s
- new land is created in the sky, or on water, by construction of megastructures containing transportation and infrastructure. Individual pods are added on and change over time.

capsule building – self contained rooms “plugged in” to elevator core.

vertical city – Sky City 1000

  • conceptual design developed by major construction and real estate company

  • creates stacked plaza-floors, each of which forms a neighborhood

view of entire project, approximately 1 km tall. Building would be located above a train station and contain offices, shopping, housing, schools, the works.

urban planning – Tokyo, late 1990s

  • Tokyo has a very low amount of park space for its population, making popular tower in the park designs which would not work elsewhere.

  • in practice, due to difficulty of land acquisition, huge projects are rare, with highrises being built individually instead.

underground buildings – alice city

  • another conceptual design, this was one of the inspirations for the “Geofront” (Geological Frontier) in Evangelion.

  • legislation has been passed to limit land ownership to a certain depth below ground, in preparation for underground development.

  • currently underground development consists mostly of infrastructure and shopping malls.

space stationcylindrical design from Gundam

  • space station copied from NASA drawings in the 1970s.

  • big tube several kilometers long.

  • tube spins to create artificial gravity

  • fins reflect sunlight into the tube. At “night”, fins are turned slightly.

  • rockets land at the non-rotating center of the tube end cap.

  • In Gundam, the landscape and architecture on the inside resembles 20th century Japan.

exterior surface features the standard sci-fi pattern of windows on plate metal.

planetary colonization –extraterrestrial cities from Cowboy Bebop

  • green, white, and blue are dominant colors

  • transportation networks are exaggerated

borrowing heavily from western fairy tale aesthetics, these elaborate styles blend in influences from traditional Japanese architecture and science fiction.

supernatural city – from Spirited Away
lights are in the red/orange/yellow palette, to evoke old oil lamps and a feeling of warmth.

an actual bathhouse and the elaboratified one in the anime

medieval fantasy – from Final Fantasy XI

- western style castles with changes in the ornamentation to create unique style

focus on nature, with architecture integrated into trees or land formations

mix of medieval and the modern – academy from Utena

  • the forms are classical or gothic, however, the scale and colors are modern, creating a dynamic contrast.

  • structural elements such as flying buttresses and steel trusses are emphasized

physics need not apply in fantasy or science fiction

High tech fantasy – Crystal Tokyo from Sailor Moon

  • note similarity to Tokyo city planning model

  • heavy use of green, blue, and white palette- the colors of an environmentally friendly future.

dramatic lighting is used at night


Late 20th Century

World City Photos

Present Day
Japan Architects

Future Visions
Underground Space database

High Frontier – Space Stations

Sky City 1000

FFX-2 Last Mission screens with translation


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