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In the midst of COVID19 pandemic, let Creativity lead, evolve and prevail.

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

The design studio “Reimagining the Old Hokuriku Bank Building” kicked-off on February 13 (Spring 2020 semester) at Rhode Island School of Design, with 9 talented Interior Architecture students led by Professor Wolfgang Rudorf. This 14-week class originally includes intensive design research and ideation work done at the campus in US, as well as 9 days travel to Inami for site survey and cultural immersion activities.

Excerpt from the class syllabus written by Professor Wolfgang Rudorf:

“All studio participants will have the opportunity to explore strategies and potential program ideas on an individual basis. While we need to understand and consider the vision of the stakeholders, the project’s economic framework and the host structure's

context, the studio will be conducted within the framework of academic freedom, promoting innovation, originality, and creativity. Preservation will play a role, to the degree considered relevant, within a particular proposal.

Focus of the studio will be the development of a series of comprehensive adaptive reuse projects grounded in the researched data and the visions expressed by the stakeholders, directed by the creativity and explorative spirit of the studio participants, and guided by the mission: to create paradigmatic adaptive reuse strategies suitable to other Japanese municipalities of similar size and constellation, to revitalize Yokkamachi Street, and to increase the historic-, as well as the use-value of the neoclassical bank building, thus defusing the threat of demolition due to financial pressures.”

During planning stage, we received exceptional support from many local sectors including Nanto City Government, Inami Town Development Association, Inami Tourist Association, Inami Art Association, Inami Wood-carving Cooperation, Nanto City Town Revitalization Division as well as many local residents.

When corona virus outbreak started in January, we closely monitored the situation from Japan. When we can no longer ensure health safety of travelers, we called off all travel plans. We have to find alternative solution to continue the course with RISD and provide all research material to the US group from Japan. Thanks to Mr. Kazuhiko Nakajima of Toyko-Inami Association, who relentlessly provides tremendous research support and manages all on-the-ground communications between Taketombo and the Inami community.

On March 12, a few days after New York declared State of Emergency, I met with Professor Rudorf and the students at RISD campus for an interim critique, and had a chance to review all the interesting design ideas. Most of the students have never been to Japan before. Many of the project idea were based on their passion and curiosity in Japan culture, historic architecture, as well as research work in Japan history and Inami local culture. As one can imagine, with limited literary resources in English language and the missing physical cultural immersion in Inami, this is not an easy task.

In just one week after my visit at RISD, the COVID19 pandemic has escalated to a critical situation in the East coast, where all universities in the region announced immediate closure to protect the health safety of students and faculty. It was challenging for students to have to move out of the campus immediately, and many international students were scrambling to find places to stay or flights to return to their home country. On March 30, RISD quickly transitioned all classes to online teaching.

Our next meeting with Professor Rudorf and the 9 students happened on Zoom. Design university is unique where group interaction and studio work are a critical part of the learning experience. Nonetheless, the “Reimagining the Old Hokuriku Bank Building” studio is now taking place on digital platform stretching multiple time zones including US, Switzerland, South Korea, China. The design students have adapted a new way of working, thanks to technology, and we all managed to have very productive conversations and work sessions.

Despite the disruption by COVID19 pandemic, the Spring semester in US will end in late May. And with much regret, the project has to change its course where the important cultural immersion experience could not take place. However, the commitment from the young talents is strong and fearless, proving that creativity, agility and perseverance prevails in times of chaos and uncertainty.

I am looking forward to share with the Inami community the final works from the design students in the coming months. As we continue to fight the pandemic and find our way into recovery, the conversation in finding sustainable way of living, rural revitalization and cultural preservation must go on. I believe our in this project will become fruitful in bringing new energy and new idea for the community, while establishing strong international network for rural towns in Japan. Stay tuned as we will post updates on the final design works!

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