Practice English Speaking&Listening with: JESSE'S OFFICE (Ep #13) "Designing the Future" with HITOSHI ABE

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Hi, I'm Jesse Dylan, and this is my cohost Priscilla.

Today we're talking with Hitoshi Abe professor at the UCLA School of

Architecture and Design.

We talk about the changing nature of cities, buildings,

and just what people mean when they say design thinking. But first,

please subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch this and more episodes or

subscribe to Jesse's Office wherever you stream your podcasts.

Feel free to leave comments and reviews and Jesse or someone here will try to

respond whenever we can. Thanks for watching.

Thanks

for coming over. This is where I should? Yeah,

if you want to check it out.

How are you? I'm good. How have you been? Back and forth

between Japan, and US and,

and trying to survive,

but also the funny thing is I started to be completely kind of man with no

location. Right. I mean it's, it's, I don't go, you know,

so many places,

now it's happening between US and Japan.

But the thing is, like I lost my father, and. I'm. Oh, I'm sorry.

And I was kind of, kind of,

we never shared the same culture, but. Right. You know,

as you get older you start to feel more connections an so on.

And then I was like, kind of go like this. I started to feel like, oh,

where am I? But isn't that good for an architect?

Does it give you a new perspective? Yes. To be creative, yes,

but the problem is also architects are heavily tied to their location.

Right.

I still remember that about 20 something years ago that my mentor architect,

ah,

Wolf Prix who is the head of the COOP HIMMELB(L)AU,

in Vienna. But he told me, you know, look at the Frank Gehry,

you know how he is tied to LA,

an architect has to be somehow,

have a presence in the one location.

Otherwise, you know, you will lose some kind of a,

I don't know, the, the ground that you can stand on and uh,

maybe there was then and now you know,

maybe we can try something different, but it's really,

really difficult and kind of interesting. How often do you go back and forth?

Once a month.

I'm just going to make a quick adjustment before we. Yeah.

You go back and forth once a month? Lately, I

mean the past one year. Like I, it's almost like. Oh did I destroy something?

No. So I

yeah, you know once a month it's ,

sometime actually I was there like three times a month. Wow.

Which is kinda strange. Stupid actually almost.

Does, does it feel like, cause you go to Tokyo, yeah? So,

does it feel like the same city,

cause you've been going back and forth a long time now.

Actually yeah. In uh, yeah it, or it changes in a both way.

One is because Tokyo is changing and also because I'm changing,

so the perspective that I or the,

I guess I get more,

I started to be more connected with LA, obviously.

And LA is also changing in a very interesting way. In what way?

How do you think? LA used to be un-city. It wasn't city,

there was no life in between.

It was just the aggregation of the building, in a way. The spot,

the aggregation of the right, the, the,

the interior spaces and then you just connected by the car.

But now because of this little cute trains. The train, yeah.

As well as also the Uber people started to kind of enjoy moving around the city

and enjoy actually sort of a spaces in between.

So you see more people in the street, in downtown area. And.

Is that a, um, uh, one thing that uh, uh,

an architect can be as a good urban planner?

Some architect can be the good, yes. But some could be horrible one too.

And we've had a lot of those here. Right. So. Why, why?

Are they just thinking about the thing in isolation? Like what you just said,

you're looking in between now and you're seeing how things move.

I, I think just the interest ah,

varies among the architect, right?

Some architects are really good at crafting beautiful spaces,

but not so much interested in, uh, context outside.

Some are really good at creating strategy.

That's why actually there's a lot of sort of a education model.

Design thinking. Yes. Is coming out because of that. Right.

Right. Well, how would you define design thinking? We, we talk a lot about it.

There's a whole group of people here that we have to introduce you to that

actually are working on design thinking, but from you, how.

Although there's a lot of definitions, you know. But I want to hear. What is,

how did, what, how do you define it?

Hm. Uh, I don't know that if I can define it with a simple word,

but I think that design thinking is the way to create something through

communication.

Hmm. You know, for, for you what's a good building?

Like what do you look at and say this is a good building?

There are interesting thing is that now the even definition of architecture

varies.

I think now we are in a era that we have so many different,

so definition of architecture, starting from architecture in a movie,

building building,

to more likely the architecture in a computer program to also maybe the urban

planning and so on, right? So there are so many different kind of,

a way to describe.

One is the good building has this kind of a divine moment.

You don't need the reason that to understand it.

I was at the, uh, British Art Gallery by Louis Kahn in New Haven.

And that's actually one of my favorite building.

And that's quite a small building, yeah? Right. But, but. You know it's the,

it's inset in the grounds and it's quite beautiful. Yeah?

Yeah. The light is incredible.

And also the balance between sort of a highly regulated space and the,

some kind of a freedom that you've experienced there.

Do, do you ever walk into a building that's and, I mean, this is,

you're talking about one the most famous architects of the 20th century, right?

Do you ever just walk into?

Like you're walking down the street from the subway and there's like, oh my,

there's this incredible building here that's unheralded that nobody ever talked

about. Did you ever have that experience?

Um, no, that's the good question.

You know how, how old were you when you first came to Los Angeles?

I was 26 and as you were landing in the airplane and you looked out the window,

after coming from Tokyo. Right.

Were you in abject horror at the architecture you saw below? You as you,

as the plane came in for a landing?

I thought, oh my God, I realized that the,

the city doesn't really exist.

It just spread apart and then reconnected by the freeway and there's vast land

in between. And back then also downtown was really rough.

So I walked around downtown wondering like,

what am I going to supposed to do here?

Do you think about earthquakes and do you think about earthquakes in Tokyo

obviously too, right? When, or in design? No,

I'm originally from area called Sendai and uh,

that was the largest city at and the nearest to the epicenter of the gigantic

earthquake and tsunami, took place on 2011.

So I mean, that time I wasn't there, but I also,

I experienced the one before.

So the earthquake is always there and uh,

I mean whenever I look at the structure here,

I am always impressed or get scared by that, the thickness. Right.

What do you think of this

building? If like we're. Oh, we've been earthquaked-proofed. All right, well,

no, I want to get an expert architect. I mean,

I don't know if it's going to help if we have a direct earthquake. Any,

any sense of, are we in the right room? Yeah. I.

Just remember she's going to get totally paranoid if you tell her we're not.

Yeah. You know, the size of the column in Japan is much thicker. Yeah.

So it's different from,

But, but honestly, but when you're thinking about design, do you include,

you know, everything about the environment, it's not in a vacuum.

We talked about design thinking and design thinking is about the creation

through communication and this communication capability is necessary for

architects so that you bring in different experts to deal with this complex

phenomena around the building.

And then you're the one that who kind of tie them together,

integrated at the end. You have to create the one thing, right?

Which is one building.

So society's changing, like Los Angeles,

especially I see a lot of these characteristics in Los Angeles where it's really

a city that's, we're out here on the edge of the water, you know,

sort of in a lot of ways a forgotten city in, in America, you know, you know,

and um, but we,

we're starting to see the very fabric of society change in lots of different

ways. And we, we've seen this introduction of the, um,

of a sharing economy. Exactly. And,

and what does that mean for the future of architecture? How do we,

how do we start to, you know, if I don't own my home, does a, you know,

but people are going to be in my home. I don't own my car. I don't own my,

you know, a lot of things I don't own. It seems like it's a fundamental change.

And how do you view that and how do you think about architecture for the future?

It's a really, really interesting time right now. You know,

the,

back in probably the early 20th century that the,

we separated the domestic environment and the work environment to kind of

establish the urban plan and also the architecture as we know.

So the whole city that we are living in based on this concept of separating

these two environment.

You remember that back then there's a Captain Jetson? Yeah. Sure.

And then in the Jetson you are not really working,

the robot is doing all the work. Right. Right?

And I'm hoping that comes soon, you know what I mean.

But now what happens is, instead of separating work and uh,

also your household, it is more like a, you are merging it,

you kind of work at your home.

And then also you do your private stuff while you're working.

That means that we are reintegrating this domestic environment with a work

environment. That's a huge paradigm shift already.

Right? You know, you see it in the work environment too.

When you see people don't have offices as much, right. So even upstairs we have,

there's offices up there,

but then most of the team is out there moving around. They're not. Right.

They're not sitting in an office. The um,

the space requirements are very different than they ever were. Totally. Totally.

You know the, what happens is so that the,

because the domestic environment and the work environment merge together and

then that means everybody has a different time zone and a,

it's really getting hard to trying to tie people under the one environment under

the one company doing exactly same thing. Yeah. Right.

Because it's also productive and you can be so innovative in the,

under this kind of a environment. So it's more dispersed.

It's more dynamic.

But do we lose our humanity that way and how do we, how do we keep that,

you know, center of mind?

So that's actually the question that I don't have answer yet.

I want to ask you a question cause you were talking about when you first got

here, you were walking downtown, it was scary and you know, you sort of.

And now I mean we,

we have all this emerging growth but we also have tent cities.

Do we think about,

do you think about that it's going into more of the urban planning,

but from an architecture perspective, can we,

do we have an obligation to think about housing for people that don't have

access? Like how do we?

Uh,

all these things happens because the community that we have is weakened.

At the same time we need to think about the new way to create the affordable

housing. And I know that the recently,

the LA changed the kind of a, uh,

code so that they will allow many people to do the little house in the backyard.

Yeah. Right. Or the actually even the, you know,

the rise of this new housing model, called Living Space,

could be the way also to actually address this problem in Japan.

After the tsunami 2011,

what happened was that the many people started to evacuate from northern part of

Japan because there's no,

there's no way for them to stay there.

But the elderly and the who is a,

people who is kind of financially weak, how to stay.

And one of the biggest problem was, uh,

basically the loss of the community and the,

because everybody is basically running away,

it was so hard to maintain the community.

And then when they put them into the social housing and the issue is that the,

all these people who used to kind of leap together started to be isolated and

then a solitary death started to become the big issue.

So we are asked to design the housing to kind of create the moments so that you

have to expose yourself somehow and accidentally encountered to your neighbors

so that there's a kind of opportunity to say hello.

Interesting. Right. I mean this is, this is a huge problem everywhere now,

which is loneliness. Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I know. How would you, so,

but from an architectural

standpoint, like how would you impose,

how do you force someone to bump into somebody? Like, so where is it?

Like how does that manifest?

So it is actually about how to create the space that has more sort of a exposure

to each other. So for instance,

you know if you look at the usual apartment,

you have an elevator and stairs and corridor on one side and a door.

Then you, on the other side you have a,

maybe the balcony kind of facing to the nice view, right?

But in this organization,

basically you walk there and once you get into the door you will see nobody.

And then usually to the side of the corridor, there's no much window.

So that creates a silo situation. So,

instead we started to do this different sort of different approach to the

building called living access,

so that we actually let people come to the,

each unit from the other side.

So there's a terrace as a buffer zone,

but you walk in front of everybody's terraces,

so you have a chance to kind of peak into, or the,

you can actually expose your, ah,

life by setting up your table on the terrace.

So then you could see people walking by and then say hello. That's nice, yeah.

So we just flipped the whole building.

Now when you do that,

do you work with the community to kind of come up with these ideas and what is

the process like?

Actually more and more in Japan and also under this kind of circumstances,

we do lots of workshop during design process.

Yeah, it's design thinking. Right?

And a more important thing is not only actually to absorb some ideas from

resident,

but also to kind of work with them to find out how to live in a design being

proposed so they can learn how to enjoy the space given.

Otherwise they might actually drag their old way of living without understanding

what this new space is really about. Right. So it's kinda interesting.

Now, you know, if, if at the turn of the century, if I said, what do you need?

You say a faster horse, you know, you'd never have the vision of cars. Right.

So is it, is there a,

do you have to have a sense of vision to pull them to this future?

Cause they may not be able to imagine it? Yeah, I mean without forcing. Right.

But what's interesting thing is that the, when we have a workshop,

they tend to say, I want this. I want this.

It's going to be about actually asking. But once you,

there's a design and then start to talk, or how can we use this?

Then it's going to be like, oh, maybe I can do this. I can do that.

All the sudden it start to become more about giving.

Do you fall. Participating. In as, in a situation like this, how long is,

I mean, are you studying it over time to see, is the community opening up?

Like what, what's changing in the community? Are people trying to make friends?

Is some of that isolation, loneliness going away?

We can't really stay there forever because we had no pay for it. Ha, right.

However, we usually collaborate within university. Right.

And, uh, in this particular case,

the group of students who is a researcher,

starting this kind of things, for lab.

So they're there working with a community and also kind of analyzing data and

see how things are going.

Very early on. We, we did some work for, um, the, uh,

what'd you call it in New York? The um, oh, The High Line, The High Line. Yes.

You know, which everybody,

during the time they were making a thought would be a total epic failure.

Remember, yeah, everyone hated the idea. It's like an incredible, you know,

shocking success and,

and quite beautiful to walk through the city on it without traffic and not have

to worry about getting hit by car. You know. No it's great, yeah. The things,

but how do you feel like that changes a city, you know, those kinds of projects?

Actually LA is interesting place because there's so much room around,

I mean physically, but also maybe in the, within a system,

like in place like a Tokyo,

everything is designed too well and everything is tightly squeezing into each

other. So there's no more room for new system to get into. Right.

But LA, you know,

the Uber and you know this and you of course the train system and as well as

Lime and bars and all this kind of, uh,

last mile transit system and so on.

So there's a lots of sort of interesting sort of a room for new kind of, uh,

a system can be implemented and try.

I think the whole idea is that there's so much different kind of a mobility

rising in between things, kind of Hyperloop and all these things. Yeah. Sure.

And then kind of creating the big paradigm shift the way we also,

you know, think about how to move in the city.

And uh, I know my friend Greg Lynn producing, uh,

also the kind of robotic, kind of uh,

I don't know how to call it. It's a kind of a robot.

Like I'll, I'll R2D2 that follows you and carry your stuff. Yeah. Right.

And that kind of frees you from actually carrying heavy stuff so that you can

work more or you can bike more. Right.

Rather than taking your car in a city.

Does you think that your students now, because I mean, we feel this imminent,

you know, some people believe that climate change is upon us. Not everyone.

Some people do. But I mean, are we thinking, are the students thinking about it,

are we studying that, you know,

in how to design and the importance of all of this,

sort of the full cycle of sustainability, all of it.

Like is it more of an integrated practice?

Whereas maybe before architecture was a kind of in isolation,

now we have to think about.

Well, the kids who come into you now are they, are they environmentalist,

is that an important part of the practice in a way that it didn't use to be?

Wow. I mean it's uh, also the interesting point.

Like how can we not only design the construction but also the disassembly of the

building and then to see that entire building as a big flow of the resources.

Yeah. And it's possible,

but still the demolition is not so sophisticated.

So it's hard to actually sort out the different materials.

But the ones that you emerge in,

the every piece is tagged and then sort of followed,

then it's possible actually to actually disassemble the building and put it

together back in a different way. Interesting. Yes. And uh,

they are highly interested in environmental issue,

shared economy issue.

And also somehow Instagram. Instagram? Yeah.

Now why Instagram? Instagram mentality.

Right? Because, because, because it's the showcase of the thing.

Like what is it, do you think?

You know this is something that, um, hard for me to say,

but, uh,

they see that the Instagram aesthetic is really different from the traditional

aesthetic. It's more sort of, uh,

one moment.

Like a, like a? I mean, isn't, isn't that, um,

although I don't have an Instagram, isn't that as, as it should be? They're,

they're thinking about the world in a new and different way than,

than we are in a way that maybe we can't anticipate or do you think it's a?

I think the student told me that, you know,

Instagram is interesting because they can curate their own life.

Yeah. To the public. Yeah. Which might not be the exactly the same. Yeah.

However, that is very important for them.

And then I need to think about what the implication of such a mentality to the

design of the environment. Right.

And a seemingly the idea of design might be different from our generation.

And uh, that's why I, I'm just curious, right?

The shared economy, environment issue,

and the Instagram mentality. Yeah. All these three combined,

what kind of design will arise?

And uh,

that's something that I really wants to know from our,

you know, students from, uh, you know, younger generation. Yeah.

And also again, I said now it's a time that

there's a big paradigm shift because the of this,

the reunification of the domestic and the work environment and then now there's

a rise of so many different kind of a new building type. Right. And uh,

I was talking with somebody who is starting up the new childcare system,

which is really interesting, I thought.

And then the rise of this new coworking space,

uh, with the childcare course. What do you mean about the childcare? Is it,

is it to bring kids into the environment? There's a child, childcare?

And then there's also the place for mothers and. For nursing.

The people can kind of work. Yeah.

So in a way you can bring your kids there and then you can work there.

And so it's a hybrid. It's more productivity though, right? In the sense,

we don't know. Right. But also the community. Yeah.

Cause you can actually meet with people that who are in a very similar

situation. Yeah. Have you seen anything recently,

it could be with school or anywhere that has really knocked you out,

like a building or a, anything, a restaurant? Like you went, wow.

There's a one coworking space in Japan.

Actually, uh,

started by this eyewear company called Jins.

And uh, it was designed to maximize your concentration.

Right.

So there's a lots of green and they put things in a particular way and they

also, they make eyewear kind of senses

much concentrations are in, I don't know exactly how they do it.

I was kind of blown away by the,

this idea of space can really control the way you concentrate?

And then I'm not really sure it's a fun place to be, to be honest.

And also productivity.

I don't think it doesn't mean about the concentration. Sure. Right.

Most of the time you get the good idea when you are totally relaxed or you are

doing something. Yeah, yeah. Strange. Yeah.

However, that's a really new,

and another one that I'm also impressed with is that, uh,

that some company created the uh,

some kind of incubation to help the young startups and that space is just the

usual boring warehouse space,

but they installed lots of devices.

So it helps people to move more freely and rearrange the space.

And that may made me also think actually it is more important maybe to sort of

ah,

creates flexibility in the space rather than setting sort of a beautiful

probably that you can carry a space how to make the space more flexible so that

the space can catch up with a creative actually dynamism of the,

such a um, new environment and new work space. And I,

I mean, I don't know how to do that. So the living, the building will follow.

The building can follow. For instance now,

the museums supposed to be only museum, so it's, it's,

it's designed to last and stay for what, 10 years,

for 50 years,

but then you won't really change things like maybe 10 years or whatever,

but maybe the, in the future,

that museum has to be in the gym within the duration of the hours.

Right. Yeah. And then the gym has to go back to the museum.

Or it could be the sort of place for party or could it be coworking space so

that the,

the space has to be more flexible to accept the change

and the people's activity. I think it correspond with your first question,

can we bear such changes so that the place constantly changes and you have to,

that's something that I'm very curious too.

Are you confident of the future, you know, that, that the architects who come,

you know, that are going to design? Do you have, do you see that?

That's a good question.

I'm not sure if architect will play the important role as now.

Maybe, you know, the, the, the role of architect started to be diversified,

diversified. Yeah. And, uh,

I don't know if we can have another Frank Gehry. Right. Yeah. It's also,

you see architect is a conceptual thing now I think is what we were talking

about today. I think so. Truly more conceptual.

I just hope there's enough out there that are working on the social problems

cause you know,

we're going to have as we grow we have to be flexible to bring populations with

us. That's uh, I mean we really have to put our attention on that. That I.

I think.

I think the kind of a funny connection the WeWork is expanding.

Right. And then they are actually trying to cover so much different area. Sure.

Right, school, gym and then uh,

the house and so on. And uh,

they talk about the community, right. Community building and so on. Sure.

The question is, let's say you are part of all of this. Yeah. So you,

your kids go to the school under WeWork, you,

you live there and then you work there. What,

what is it? Is it the new type of gated community?

The, the worry is just that, um, people end up just being warehoused.

And you know, there are actually things I've seen in, in Japan actually,

I've seen ah,

stories about people who just work in these warehouses all day long and they're

online the entire day in a dark room and there's a bathroom at the end of the

hall and you know, that's what they're, you know, it's like that's not a,

that's not a future, you know, so it's,

Right. And that's the dark future. But the,

actually that's interesting because the question is if the issue of the senior

housing is very important, I'm a little bit involved with this.

And then the conversation of course goes to co-living so that they can actually

support each other and so on.

And it's getting close to what WeWork is talking about.

I'm sure they're going to get into also the senior housing business at some

point. Yeah.

What's interesting things about aging is that people doesn't age in the same

way. So there's a 80-years-old who can still work,

bright and healthy,

while actually 60-years-old who has sort of physical problem.

And it's like, you know, also that mental problem.

So how you actually utilize and give opportunity to those who can still work.

Yeah. And,

and it creates the room to support these who actually really need,

really needs the help.

You know, it's funny I saw a um, I'm there was, think it was in Texas.

There's a homeless community where, cause you know, you always hear,

we've worked on homelessness here in Los Angeles,

all over the country many times. Yeah.

But I just happened to see this story of this group in Texas that had built

these little buildings and the buildings aren't remarkable buildings,

but what they had done was thought about the social interactions.

And so everybody in the community couldn't necessarily work and get paid,

but everybody in the community could do something. Right. And, and uh,

I'm sure it's not perfect, but it struck me as the, um, social dynamics.

You know, cause I, where I'm always hearing about homelessness as just like,

well, it's just, you know, it's get them buildings and they'll all be fine,

but it's actually the same thing as the elderly populations. Exactly. You know,

there's, as people are marginalized, they feel less, less human. So it's like,

I think that this is the challenge of our time.

The Japanese case is interesting. You know, you've seen the population diagram.

Yes.

That you have a age here and then the number of the people and a male and a

female. Sure. US is still like that.

Meaning that you have a much younger population,

you know more than the elderly population. But the Japanese are like that.

It's getting like really scary. Yeah. It's getting smaller. Yeah.

I mean that's actually skinnier and then much heavier on top. Yeah.

So I think that's happening all over the world.

And I think what it really is talking about is that, um, you know,

as a social problem is depopulation. Yes. Where a lot of these areas. I mean,

you know, we, we did some work in Detroit and you know, in Detroit you really,

you, I mean it, it's everybody moved away, but you,

you see the land returning to a meadow, they're filling in the basements,

because they just don't have anybody to live there. Right. And ah,

I think that probably long after we're all gone, you know,

world health organization says it's in about 40 years,

that population starts to decline worldwide.

But like maybe 60 years from now, you know, um. It's a real problem. Yeah.

Right. So maybe, yeah, maybe everybody need to get together and live together?

Yeah, yeah. I like that idea, I'm going into a commune. Well you do see that in,

in Kibera in Kenya, you know,

you see a million people living in a place the size of, um, of,

um, you know, you know,

a big park in New York and they don't think they're living in a slum.

So if you go and you say, well, what's the slum like?

They think that this is how life is. And they,

we look at it in a pejorative sense, but the point is,

is they live in it and,

and the point is that is a future of cities and how can we, how can we.

Actually, maybe the person that you should interview, you know,

the PodShare is a new coworking space. Actually they have five,

five location in LA.

PodShare is combination of the coworking space with a kind of a youth hostel

almost like, so you actually rent the. Oh that's cool. Yeah. PodShare. And

then,

then there's a TV and outlet and you are not allowed to close it down with a

code or anything. So you have to keep it open. Oh way.

That's really interesting. And uh, PodShare

was started by this lady and the reason she started it,

is because she didn't want to live alone. Right.

And once you become the member,

you can live in this bunk bed and then you can use the five different locations

in LA. And that's the kind of lifestyle that you were kind of scared off, so.

Yeah. Well, I don't know if I'm scared of it. I'm just observing it, you know,

it's like, you know. I'm scared actually to be, to live like that. Well,

I'm definitely not gonna live like that. Jesse is a hermit,

he's not going to be podsharing any time soon. Yeah. But you know. Yeah. Well.

There's a website, PodShare,

and that's the most radical that I so far,

we studied, so thank you.

Yeah. Thank you so much for coming in. Thank you very much. Okay.

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Click here for the next episode

And uh,

come back to Jesse's Office cause you never know who you're going to meet when

you got here. Thanks.

The Description of JESSE'S OFFICE (Ep #13) "Designing the Future" with HITOSHI ABE