Research at AIIT

Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 4th InstallmentReading the Wind that Has Blown a Thousand Years …

Tetsuo Fukuda,
Head of Master Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering

 When the time comes, the first gale of spring will blow each year. The strong southerly wind, which sometimes causes damage, will blow a second time, and a third time, and with each blow it tells us of the arrival of spring.

 The new skyscrapers that have appeared with the redevelopment of our surroundings are all efficient rectangular solid shapes with smooth, shiny surfaces. The cold rays of the sun have lit up not only on the southern side of my house, but reflected from the skyscrapers' surfaces, have now suddenly lit up the northern side of my house. And the strong wind that sometimes blows through the gap between two buildings, building-wind, blows like a storm making it impossible to walk. But then, looking at the vegetation around, I notice that not a single small wispy leaf has been blown away by the strong wind.

 So, I hypothesized that, “the contours of skyscrapers should be zigzagged with undulations, rather than simple straight lines, to make for a better place to live.” The idea generated from this observation has been put into a sketch, fermented in a drawer, and is on the look-out for an opportunity for application.

 This hypothesis has now attained conclusive evidence, through that experience of building-wind, and from the later sketch drawn up on my visit to a five-story pagoda that has resisted winds for the past one thousand years.

 I once had the opportunity to visit and see Kyoo Gokokuji in Kujo, Kyoto. The temple is known as Toji, whose buildings are national treasures, famous for the three-dimensional mandala inside its assembly hall (Kodo), and its five-story pagoda, which can be seen from the left side of the Osaka bound bullet train as you pass Kyoto.

 In the still cold early morning, as I linger in the forecourt waiting for the premises to open, I take out my B5 note book of unruled paper that I usually carry around. I'm not in the habit of carrying a camera, or rather, it doesn’t suit me, so I normally use the notebook as a memo pad or sketch book. When I am on a trip, it is my journal, and by the time I am on my way home, quite often, its thickness has doubled.

 I use my favorite regular writing utensil, a S520 sign pen, to sketch the five-story pagoda from the top, going clockwise, at a dash, without applying pressure to the pen.

 From the sacred gem and the water plume, towards the nine rings, beneath their foundation, each single roof tile proudly forms a beautiful curve. At the edge where the roof tiles overlap, eaves tiles are laid, and underneath the roof, an elaborate assembly of woodwork has supported the weight of the roof tiles securely for more than a thousand years. Angle rafters, ancons, edge rafters, balustrade edges, and then down on to the roof of the next lower layer, I repeat this for the five layers, and complete my close observation sketch in about a minute.

 In this small span of time, I realize there are no elegant flowing lines, but the contour of the pagoda is a repetition of undulations, like folds.

 As I was adding the pine trees in the background, my fingertips felt the force in the lines, or more like a feeling of impediment which was just like that when I drew the pagoda. Like each and every leaf withstanding the storm without falling from the branches or stems, the five-story pagoda has withstood storms for over a thousand years, which was easy to understand when you focus on the vortex of the air at the boundary layer. I came to conclude that the secret of the pagoda withstanding earthquakes is not the traditional theory which is based on its structure, but is in its zigzag of undulating lines.

 I feel as if I have made a great discovery. In the flow of modern design, where it is difficult to become aware of things by drawing detailed sketches, and where many operations have been simplified, drawing five layered triangles cannot portray the essence of a five-story pagoda. Then how can I come to understand the real technology and the context of how it has withstood the weather for such a long time.

 Come to think of it, the same can probably be said about the Eifel Tower. It is said that the total weight of the structure is incredibly light. Unlike a stone arch, the shape of a reverse warped curve of uncovered steel soaring up to a height of 300 meters into the air was difficult to be understood, even by the intellectuals of that time, and was considered to be an eyesore and very unpopular. But the concept of using wrought iron created a light weight skeletal structure that had the effect of attenuating the wind as it passed through its lace patterned structure. As you can see today, it still attracts people from all over the world by its beautiful shape, and is the result of fluid dynamics that surpasses structural dynamics.

 I have been involved in designing high speed trains. Streamlining, the theme of wind in design, had only been discussed as the “beauty of speed,” but I have been proposing the possibility of it being the “beauty of comfort” all along.

 In the design of the passenger compartment of a bullet train, by proposing an air conditioner outlet underneath the storage rack with a wing shaped cross section, a comfortable environment and energy conservation has been made possible. The shape of the nose on the lead car, developed using this new concept, suppresses noise and vibration, and has succeeded in making the train's movement comfortable. They are both proposals of comfort design based on the combination of engineering and styling with wind as their theme, and are aimed at increasing the value of sensuality in Monozukuri (products).

 The inspiration of a designer, a function that combines all aspects, may sometimes reach the answer faster than a computer analysis.

 The intelligence of tens of thousands of years of the trees and the craftsmanship of the thousand years of the five-story pagoda, and the skill of a hundred years of a steel tower, each have been polished by the wind of nature, and speak to us in their beautiful forms.

 Read the invisible “wind that has blown a thousand years” that sticks to us like syrup, and you may find a seed that creates the future quite close by.

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