70 Hiroshi Naito(Architect)

Hiroshi Naito(Architect)

While teaching at the graduate school of the University of Tokyo from 2001 to 2011, architect Hiroshi Naito designed numerous buildings such as the Sea-Folk Museum and Makino Memorial Museum. In this interview we learnt something unexpected about the fabled record shop Roppongi Wave. Naito helped to organize the "DOBOKU Civil Engineering" exhibition being held at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT and we started the interview by asking about the exhibition.

update_2016.8.3 / photo_tsukao / text_kentaro inoue

The good people in civil engineering

"DOBOKU: Civil Engineering" Exhibition
An exhibition that looks at the design aspect of civil engineering. Items on display include drawings of dismantled interiors of stations, images of civil engineering projects accompanied by actual sounds recorded at construction sites, as well as plastic replicas of curry and rice dishes shaped like dams. The exhibition will be held until Sept. 25 (Sun) at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT.

When I started teaching civil engineering at university, I was surprised to discover that the civil engineering industry is filled with good people. I might be told off for saying this, but we architects are concerned mostly about ourselves. We are interested in who won which award or which competition, but in the world of civil engineering, hardly anyone talks about such things.

The civil engineering people are constantly thinking about how they can protect people from natural disasters like the 3/11 earthquake, and how they can use engineering technology to improve the lives of people. In their minds, the public comes first, and matters of the individual come last. It's such a marvelous mentality. They know everything about the positive and negative aspects of nature; they have a pure love for nature and they are so interested in it. For example, the civil engineering people doing work on rivers are always thinking about how they can restore the waters to their natural state. Professor Masahiko Isobe, who is an expert on coastal engineering, boasts that he has gone swimming on all the shores of Japan. (laughs)

Working in the field of architecture, I've always felt somewhat uncertain about the importance placed on the sensibilities and works of individual architects. So I was spiritually saved when I encountered the values held in the world of civil engineering, Nonetheless, I still have to work as an architect, so there is a contradiction there.

Widely-held misconceptions about civil engineering

There is a well-known joke at the University of Tokyo where I used to teach. A graduate of the University of Tokyo with a degree in civil engineering is considered to be a super-elite. When he joins a construction company, he undergoes training and goes to the construction sites of subway stations and roads. When he pops his head up through a manhole, a young mother passing by tells her child, "If you don't study hard, you will end up like that man." (laughs)

The joke reflects misconceptions held about civil engineering. It also reflects the notion that a person with good grades and a university degree is of higher rank, which is an outdated idea. I think Hiroshi Nishimura-san, the exhibition director of the "DOBOKU Civil Engineering" exhibition, wanted to protest against such widely-held misconceptions.

Japan's failure to change after 3/11

I didn't realize this when I was working solely in the field of architecture, but civil engineering - from railroads to roads, rivers, ports and airports - is the true driving force of this country. I'm currently involved in a redevelopment project in Nagoya which consists of building a maglev line for the "shinkansen" bullet trains; apart from the driving-related technology such as motors and vehicles, almost all the technology being used is related to civil engineering such as building railroads and digging tunnels.

In the future, it will take only 40 minutes to get from Shinagawa to Nagoya. If you went drinking with a friend and parted at Shinagawa, your friend would arrive home at Nagoya while you are still drunk and making a full circle on the Yamanote Line. That will happen in ten years' time which is not far off at all.

I've talked about the good aspects of civil engineering, but there are also some things that we were unable to change for the better, and I feel bitter about that. When the 3/11 disaster occurred, I personally thought it would prompt change in Japan. But it didn't. The administrative system for reconstruction started moving in the way it has always moved. Only the familiar-looking tools on the table were used to deal with the problems. My efforts to stop it were in vain.