The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2019
Berkeley Prize 2019

Philipp Goertz Proposal

Exploring traditional earth constructions and digitalization in Japan

„What is it that we really require from the scientist and technologist? We should answer: We need methods and equipment which are – cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually everyone – suitable for small scale application; and – compatible with man’s need for creativity. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.” – E.F. Schumacher

E.F. Schumacher’s view on the desirable scope of science and technology epitomises the central theme of our proposal for this year’s essay on climate change and climate resilience. Comparing a historical half-timbered house with earth in fill and a modern one in Germany in our essay, my partner and I learned that the astonishing resilience and sustainability of lightweight clay-straw constructions do not only derive from its pure physical status – its materiality, but also comes from the way these houses are constructed in terms of process and construction methodology. The obvious limitation of lightweight adobe constructions and its simplicity seem to perfectly answer to Schumacher’s demands to science and technology. The possibility for inhabitants to participate in the construction process and the resulting identification with the house that is built in local materials seem to heavily influence a building’s resilience and sustainability.

Yet, the construction techniques in earth and straw recover slowly from their connotation of backwardness. Luckily popularity and research into prefabrication advances continuously since the 1980s. I believe, however, that the topic could benefit from modern digitalization and computation.

My desire to conduct further research into combining the low-tech and understandable construction in clay and straw with modern forms of digitalization, computation and prefabrication has led me to select Japan for my ideal destination to visit for the travel fellowship. Sticking to the two notions addressed in the essay – the materiality and the process of construction, I would like to separate the research trip into two parts. The first part would be occupied with learning on how to apply Schumacher’s ideas on accessibility, small scale application and how to answer to man’s need for creativity in a visiting school on low-tech resilient systems. The second part would consist of a research into the forms of construction and materiality of adobe, clay and straw by visiting traditional Japanese buildings.

This year’s AA Visiting School in Tokyo “Ring of Fire “will explore innovative new ways of designing shelters to respond to natural disasters in a 40,000 km area of the Pacific Ocean, known as the Ring of Fire.”(1) The course is conducted by Felipe Sepulveda and Barbara Barreda from BASE – a design-research platform that based on a systemic-thinking approach tries to combine the potentials of digital design tools and low-tech analogue processes. Together with highly motivated students, I would have the chance to apply this methodology of combination which I think is a perfect execution of Schumacher’s demands on technology. During the course we will try to address the challenges of scarce technology, materials, tools and resources with simple fabrication methods. I am particularly interested in the methods used during the course on how to ensure technology’s accessibility to everyone and on how to ensure scalability according to varying needs. The construction of a 1:1 scale multi-use prototype would for me be the concretization of Schumacher’s theoretical concept into the physical world.

Rationing the remainder of my fellowship, I would be glad to use my trip to Japan to learn more about adobe and clay-construction techniques in traditional Japanese buildings. A local supplier of adobe and earth construction materials in my region in Germany is selling exactly fifteen different traditional Japanese tools to professionally apply clay plaster to walls. In summer 2019, I have the possibility to participate in a seminar of my university on earth constructions and clay plasters. The Japanese master artisan Tasuya Tokura will introduce us to the art of applying clay according to Japanese traditional techniques (including the different kinds of layers that traditionally are applied onto the wall: ara-nuri, nakanuri and uwanuri or shiagenuri). Equipped with the knowledge learned from the course, I could gain a first-hand understanding of how clay plasters and earth constructions can be part of an aesthetic experiment on my visit to Kyoto. I plan to visit the Sumiya, the Katsura Imperial Villa, Uji Shrine, the Kiyomizu Temple and various other sites. To find more buildings that are notable in terms of their plastering, I am in contact with Emily Reynolds from the Japanese Plaster Exchange Network.

Through writing the essay on climate change and climate resilience, I started to believe that resilience and sustainability excessively depends on the inhabitants understanding of the construction, their willingness for on-going research and maintenance and their affection to the dwelling (only this determination can explain why the half-timbered house we analysed in the essay counts almost 500 years in age). The benefits of the research completed on this trip to my architectural education would be immense. The visiting school would give me invaluable new insights on how to combine low-tech and simple construction techniques and modern forms of digitalization and computation. My learnings from the hand-on-experience in the AA visiting school and the experiencing of traditional Japanese construction in earth and clay plaster would help me in finding answers on the questions on how to make sustainable adobe and clay/straw construction a more mass-compatible innovative building techniques and in how far computation and digitalization could be helpful to this aim.

The Berkeley travel fellowship would be the unique starting point for my planned visits to France in the future. I plan to participate in a course on adobe and clay construction by the French research platform on terre allégée “amaco” and visit various sites in France like the "village-terre" de l'Isle d'Abeau to get a more profound understanding of the status-quo of construction in earth in Europe.

Itinerary: 26th July 2019 – Fly Dusseldorf to Tokyo – Check-In Hostel and Visiting miscellaneous sites in Tokyo 29th July – Begin AA Visiting School “Ring of Fire” 07th August – Complete AA Visiting School “Ring of Fire” 08th August – Train from Tokyo to Kyoto – Visit of buildings with regard to traditional clay plaster constructions in Kyoto 13th August – Train from Kyoto to Tokyo 14th August – Fly from Tokyo to Dusseldorf

Budget: Round trip ticket for Dusseldorf, Tokyo: USD $ 950 – Fees AA Visiting School: USD $ 1000 – Accommodation Tokyo and Kyoto $ 35/day: 700 $ - Living Expenses in Tokyo and Kyoto $ 25/day: 500 $ - Round trip train ticket for Tokyo, Kyoto: $ 190 – Public Transportation in Tokyo and Kyoto $ 5/day: $ 100 Total expenditure: $ 3440 Self-Financed Pocket Money (miscellaneous and entry fees): $ 300

References: https://www.aaschool.ac.uk/STUDY/VISITING/Ringoffire (for information on the AA visiting school) https://thejepe.org/ (for information on the Japanese Plaster Exchange Network) contact: Bárbara Barreda: visitingschool@aaschool.ac.uk Felipe Sepulveda: visitingschool@aaschool.ac.uk


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