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Learning from Japan. entangling spaces for sustainable reconversion



Studio Structural Contingencies

Tutor(s) Hera Van Sande, Wim Goes & Caroline Voet
Campus (BXL/Ghent) Campus Ghent
Language (EN/NL) EN
Studio or individual Studio and individual
Max number of students 22
Engagement Craftmanship


Photo left: Katsura Villa, interior.
Photo right: Ishigami, Home for the Elderly, Tochoku, Japan (photo: Caroline Voet)


Description of the studio:

1) WHY

The studio LEARNING FROM JAPAN operates in the Structural Contingencies Research Group, which re-introduces architectural culture and its historical layers as a creative generative power in reconversion projects. It proposes a re-reading of built structures and spaces, materials, details and craftmanship through a design attitude that embraces their vulnerability and an attitude of care. Where space is relational and responsive, the human condition is one of connectedness (Gilligan), opening up to the possibility of connecting ethics to aesthetics.

The Structural Contingencies Studios have a mission:

Since the time of men every act of building is transformation: from a circular manipulation of raw materials to intelligent reconversions of the built fabric. Through the emphasis on the technological and material side of sustainability, we are losing the cultural dimension within the design of these processes. Buildings are wrapped and sealed off from their environment, where the only contact with sunlight is through glass and screens, while air is controlled through mechanical ventilation systems. The building industry is more and more removed from any possible dialogue with ones’ surroundings; nor with daylight, water or wind, nor through a respectful and cyclical contact with the earth’s resources. Through experiment and creativity in design, we aim to re-think these notions and create a resilient attitude for the future.

2) HOW

To trace the possibilities for a new aesthetic of sustainability in architecture the studio ‘24-‘25 focusses on LEARNING FROM JAPAN.

  • We will dissect the emblematic Katsura Villa and the notion of the space/time concept MA, using its many interpretations through conceptual words. Through dissecting these historical examples, we scan possible design approaches towards new material ontologies and a rethinking of human space towards a Third Ecology. The aim is to understand architecture in a homogenous relationship to nature, to its climatic conditions, to scarcity, to frugality as a common sense. Traditional Japanese architecture is a modular system of columns and beams on a distinct grid / off-grid to create fluid spaces in harmony with its natural surroundings. Through iterative drawings and models, the studio researches the systematics in the powerful interconnection of places, inbetween spaces and ambiguity in boundaries.
  • The Japanse concept of space revolves around spatial layering and the dynamic of movement space. We will introduce a different use of perspective, with its multiple vanishing point to induce the idea of movement. This reproduces a spatial condition through the fragmentation of the image into smaller elements and how they correspond to a plane of the image.

During this Master dissertation, we will wander off to Japan in every possible manner, in order to

find tools to create a new space in the city of Ghent. Part of our wanderings will take us to a place in a European country, where Japan, as our mental space, will offer tools to rethink the relation between landscape and the city by engaging with history/memory/spatial thinking in a creative way.

Parallel we will investigate the work of a new generation of architects working in Japan today. As we interpret traditional Japanese spatial concepts, so do they reinterpret their own past. Japan today faces many urgent problems, such as rapid population decline and emptying provinces, the proliferation of vacant houses all across the nation, a largely stagnant economy and the global climate crisis. The current wave of young practices are developing a range of critical, ecological and social practices that creatively make do with limited resources, with found materials, with existing spaces, within an engaging attitude. Turning for inspiration to systems and structures traditionally cultivated in Japan, ancient wisdoms and craftsmanship are being reevaluated and reclaimed.

Increasingly, architecture in Japan is one of transformation and reprogramming, rather than of new construction.[1] The new generation could be called the “renovation generation”.


From the research of 1-2-3, every student will define his/her own design approach, tools and methodologies, by testing them in a design proposal for a reconversion project in Ghent. We study and work in Ghent. Working in the city of Ghent offers the opportunity to get to the site really well, by being able to go there over and over again. Ghent is home to many young people, amongst them many students. In 2024 Ghent was the European Youth Capital and many reflections were made. Young people long for ‘A free haven’, where they can feel at home, they long for ‘Community’, where they can meet and be together, they long for ‘playfulness’, spaces where they can watch and be watched, they long for ‘a cocoon’, spaces where they can come to themselves, where they can find some peace.

You, young people yourself, upcoming architects, can help to find answers to these questions.

We will also organize guest lectures, own lectures, to open up the scope of thinking, on all aspects mentioned above.


How can we understand our research in the past as a new layer for future developments? How do

we rewrite its architectonic language in order to address the challenges society poses today?

What are your co-ordinates as a designing architect? A ruin, a city and a landscape.

The studio outcome will be an architectural strategy and a worked-out proposal for a building

that acts as a catalyst resuming its role as a public space in the city of Ghent.

The research of rethinking architectural space through a new way of thinking will be crucial in this process.

Expected output:

The required output is twofold:

– The Japan trajectory (SEM 1)
A visual output of your research of spatial concepts resulting from the analysis of the Katsura Villa and the spatial-time concept of ma, extrapolated to contemporary Japanese architecture. A3 book with material and photographs, own drawings and text. Delivered by March 2025. Group work.

– The project trajectory (SEM 2)
Concrete reconversion project in Ghent

  • Selection of site SEM 1 (group work).
  • Building proposal: A3 book explaining a conceptual narrative + a concrete design proposal, plans/sections/3D, models from 1:1000 to 1:10 details. February – June 2025. Individual work.

Study trip (+ timing):

to be decided, early November

The studio trip will take place in W7 of semester I (possibly also weekend before).

[1] New directions in Japanese architecture, p. 24