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Robots, reality and fantasy architecture. / 1 September 2014


Every year the Aoyama Gakuin University (AGU) holds an open 2 day event for young people - starting from three to seven year olds and introducing them to creative fun, games and technology. It's maybe the second best such event in Japan so I'm off to check it out.
At the station it's easy to figure out which way to go, there is a steady stream of children and young people heading down the road; I follow.

AGU was founded by American Methodists in 1949 and there is a statue of John Wesley at the main entrance opposite the United Nations University in Shibuya.
It's not immediately clear where the level access is, but a steward leads me to a way in without steps. There is an elevator and loads of small children with parents or carers and quite a few young teens too. There are lots of young people stewarding the event.
In the first room there is a colourful, giant model rocket created by a 3D doodle pen; there are tiny shapes too, in display cases and a quiet table where slightly older children are making their own 3D models; it might be the only quiet area in the place.
There are so many things to explore: robots to programme, computers to build, iPads to get creative with, quirky little games to build and play.
I was offered lots of literature, all in Japanese and on explaining that I don't read the language was smiled at sweetly and told,'but you can like us on Facebook'
There are hundreds of happy, well behaved children. The university canteen is open for lunches and I share a table with a bright and confident, wheelborne little girl.

AGU is very close to Omotesando and after lunch I roll around and explore. There are some very creative pieces of architecture in Omotesando: 'there is hardly a world famous architect who hasn't built something here' to quote pingmag.jp. The Japanese Nursing Association (Kisho Kurokawa Architects) and Hugo Boss (Japanese architect Norihiko Dan) buildings pause me in my tracks. Omotesando Hills, designed by Tadeo Ando is creative blend of new recycled, rebuilt and impressive structures.
And at tea time there is a new cupcake shop to check out. On the way I pass two of the famous, very slow moving, Japanese queues; the first, snaking down the street, is for access to a tiny shop (up two short flights of steps), selling popcorn; the second is for the current it-food, Hawaiian-style hamburgers.
There are a lot of posters for the Tokyo Vogue Big Night Out - here on September 6th, as if anyone needed more encouragement for shopping.
I keep an eye open for the little modern atmospheric cafe where I previously enjoyed twig tea, but it has gone. In its place a pub-style bar selling Guinness has expanded into the space next door.



Is it just my state of mind, or is
architecture being influenced
by a cartoonish style of thinking?
Becoming a parody of its
former self, when not stamped out by rote.
In the race to be noticed, famous
for fifteen, is it really fit for
purpose? Or just too far from truth?
Doodle pen designs for big boys toys;
a threeD version of virtual
reality; Omotesando
becomes a collection of wardrobes;
virtual doors to a parallel
treadmill where shopping becomes as much
of an obligation as work for
the conscientious citizen.
Or am I merely projecting my
own escape from the reality
into the accessible and non
judgemental haven that is my own
personal view of Tokyo