The Sixteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2014
Berkeley Prize 2014

Clarence Lee Jun Yi - Proposal

Exploring The Mind And Body Connection Of The Traditional Japanese Aesthetic

Cities in the twenty-first century have already become home to over 50% of the world’s inhabitants. By the year 2050, the UN estimates that this number will increase to an astounding 70%. In Asia alone, cities have to cater to a daily urban population growth of 120,000 people a day.

Given such a situation, it worries me that the more prevalent developmental trends tend to over-emphasise economic functionality, short-changing societies of their long term existential health.

What the cities of tomorrow need are environments that can truly captivate and cultivate people. These are environments that also stir society emotionally and intellectually. To arrive at this ideal, I would like to explore architecture as an elaborate art of crafting the human experience.

If such an approach can play a role in the way cities are built, the city then becomes a highly desirable and inclusive contemporary urban sanctuary that empowers its inhabitants. Let us not forget that the drivers of the human civilisation are essentially people, who are in turn driven by the experiences that empower them; and this empowering experience is something that I believe architecture can provide.

While a few design principles were mentioned in the previous essay to elucidate this idea of experiential enrichment, I am eager to understand how this exploration can find a place in the urban development solutions of the future.

To further develop this idea, I would like to travel to Kyoto to study the mind and body connection of the traditional Japanese aesthetic. This will be done so with the intention to build upon my current findings on experiential enrichment – findings that I hope will be of universal relevance and will work well with the demands of economic efficacy.

I have chosen Kyoto because it is home to a timeless and well-preserved cultural heritage that has throughout the years inspired many notable architects and artists. In my mind, Kyoto also exudes an otherworldly charm that resonates with my ideals of a contemporary urban sanctuary. It is here that I wish to unveil the mechanisms of wonder and timelessness; and to also have my understanding on such matters challenged.

The trip will largely be planned around visits to the traditional gardens of Kyoto, and research into the tea ceremony. To facilitate this study, I will be visiting the same programs multiple times. This approach will only be applied to the gardens.

The first visit would be for the purposes of experiencing the program from a phenomenological approach – as defined by the French Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

In this context, it will be a direct description of my experiences in the gardens, and the tea ceremonies, without taking into account its psychological origin, the casual explanations of any guide or any preconceived knowledge that I possess on the experiences.

I will then document the rawness of this experience.

For the second visit, it will be with a well-versed private guide so that more contextual knowledge can be gained.

For the third visit, I will approach the program with a heightened awareness of how it achieves certain experiential effects. Subsequent visits will then become an exercise in contemplation – where I shall contemplate upon the beauty of the experience and the findings gained from the second visit.

Once this exercise is done, I shall juxtapose my findings with what I have researched on the traditional Japanese aesthetic, and analyse the comparison to see if certain techniques and qualities can be transposed to everyday urban environments.

The entire process will be documented with sketches, pictures, explanations and my own musings.

As I understand that my proposal is more of a series of guided tours and visits, I shall go into greater detail on what precisely I am looking for from this research trip.

Chiefly from the gardens that I have chosen, I want to understand how techniques such as the physicality of the landscape, the sequencing of views, the use of cosmic references, spatial compositions, and the relational philosophy between architecture and the garden elements, affect my experience of the place. I also want to experience for myself how traditional Japanese aesthetic concepts such as kyo (emptiness) and yugen (subtle profundity) are applied.

Most importantly, I believe that these gardens can offer insights on circulation strategies that can be of applicability to the way we design spaces and ultimately our cities.

From the Tea Ceremony, I want to understand how beauty can be found in the simplest of actions and how carefully selected furnishings can strengthen the character of a place. I also want to feel for myself how different chashitsu (tearooms) can affect the intimate encounters one subsequently has with the host and the contents of the tearoom.

Common across these programs is their ability to immerse the end-user in an experience that is at once tranquil and spiritually arresting. By freeing the end-user’s mind from the demands and tribulations of everyday life, the mind is calmed and open to insight – insights that might help the end-user lead a better life.

The following are some questions that I will be asking myself after each encounter: How is this achieved? What are some methods used? Can these methods find a contemporary expression? Will these methods be inclusive? Can the strength of these methods be enhanced?

I believe it is only by experiencing these encounters with my own body will I be able to better understand how architecture can enrich the human experience. I would also like to make it known that my interest in experiential enrichment is not just confined to the Japanese aesthetic. There are many other aesthetics in this world that I would love to understand.


1st to 2nd July - Arrive at Osaka. Travel to Kyoto via bus. Check into guesthouse. 3rd to 15th July – Research at the following list of programs. 16th to 20th July – Explore the rest of Kyoto before departing for Auckland.

Priority Programs:

Shishigatani Area – Hakusason-so Villa, Jodo-ji Temple, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Philosopher’s Path, Honen-in Temple, Anraku-ji Temple Ryoan-ji Temple Kinkaku-ji Temple Shugaku-in Imperial Villa Kyoto Imperial Palace Katsura Imperial Villa

Tea Ceremony Museum – Konnichi-an Library Tea Ceremony at a local home by WAK JAPAN

Optional Programs (if time permits):

Kennin-Ji Temple Nanzen-Ji Area – Eiken-do Temple gardens, Nanzen-ji sub-temples and gardens Shinsen-en Garden Tofuku-ji Area – Sennyu-ji Temple, Tofuku-ji Temple Tenryu-ji Temple Kodai-Ji Nunnery – Kobori Enshu gardens and tea houses Gion Area – Hanami Koji Dori, Ichi-riki Ochaya Daitoku-ji Temple Complex Toji-in Temple


Round trip ticket for Auckland, Osaka – USD $1200 Osaka to Kyoto Bus Fare – USD $24 Guest House Stay – USD $800 (USD $40 per night, 20 days) Entrance Fees – Due to the nature of this research, I would like to pay for my own entrance fees so that I can visit the sites according to the progress of my research. Tea Ceremony Experience – USD $170 Guided Tours – USD $830 Getting Around (walking, cycling) – USD $40 (USD $5 per day, 20 days) Food – USD $180 (USD $10 per day, 20 days)

Total – USD $3244


WAK JAPAN - Guided tours by Mark Hovane:

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