2024 Dulux Study Tour – day 2, Tokyo: Cultural nuances, socialists and always working with dogs and kids

By Mike Sneyd

After an evening of “trying to fix the world problems” over a “quiet one”, I awoke to a strange message in Japanese… bleep-bleep-bleep earthquake warning. Well, that was a change of pace from my usual barking dog and crying children waking my slumber. A truly uniquely Japanese message to wake up to, and one that drives home the challenges each locality places on the structures we consider.

Japan’s earthquake alert.

Earthquakes aside, I braced myself for the busy day ahead visiting architectural practice. I had little idea what to expect apart from another rainy, soggy, dash-to-shelter weather experience. While the weather hasn’t blessed us, I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with good company and amazing experiences thus far. I muttered to myself: if all this causes me anxiety, at least I’ll have fun with the crew.

We reflected on last night’s chats on the brisk windy and erratic taxi ride to the first site. We established one common factor between those participating in last night’s activities: some kind of socialist penchant, for better or worse. Perhaps the desire to create architecture makes us want to improve the world around us, or maybe we just see the world through the eyes of naive youth (given we are part of the EmAGN cohort). Regardless, I knew I was in good company.

As I piled out of the taxi, naturally forgetting my umbrella (that I had recently purchased), I was greeted with a modest driveway in suburban Tokyo, a place I never thought architecture would lead me to, particularly given my unique position in the remote Kimberley region.

Chestnut Tree Library by Atelier Bow Wow. Photo by Mike Sneyd.

This house, clad in Mini Orb, warmly greeted us in an almost familiar sense, perhaps it was the corrugated steel? A quintessential building product, in the Australian architecture repertoire.

I soon realised it was not the building giving me a sense of serenity, but the people who both created and occupied the space. A sense of homesickness washed over me as I saw the children watering their garden, the dog being pestered by us for pats, and the mother kindly showing us her considered plantings and fruit trees. This is the chaos that makes life worth living and turns buildings into homes.

Chestnut Tree Library by Atelier Bow Wow. Photo by Mike Sneyd.


Onwards through the streets of Tokyo via the park for a whimsical picnic lunch, where I most certainly made a fool of myself on some out-of-context panda play equipment. However, those who knew me would well know this was inevitable.

Arriving at the door of SANAA’s office, we were greeted by a familiar smell: cutting model foam. It’s a scent that architects will remember somewhat fondly from their student days. SANAA’s approach to model-making was truly something to behold and an approach that has become somewhat of a rarity (for better or worse) in Australia.

Prior to the trip, I was on a mission to find how low-cost builds are achieved elsewhere around the world. Studio TAB caught my eye with their Super Low-cost Big House (SLBH) series.

Running the risk of a misaligned agenda, I pushed this meeting hard and I am so glad I did (and shout out to those amazing people for making it happen). Every now and then, despite distance and language barriers, you find your kindred spirits and Kawai Keigo was mine. The architect-builder-carpenter had a fun and hands-on approach. Given the opportunity one day, he would be the architect I would choose to design my home, which is frankly no higher honour you can give another architect.

Rounding out the day with TeamLab is a truly immersive experience, one that I struggle to put into words – a must-visit for those with a penchant for travel and a light show that makes you feel giddy.

My take from the day: architecture is not about the buildings, it’s about the people. This is what makes them alive and loved.

– Mike Sneyd is principal and director of EKD Architects.

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