A city proposed from a unique purr-spective
Takram collaborated with Kengo Kuma on "A Plan for Tokyo, 2020: Five Purr-fect Points for Feline Architecture," a research project that reinterprets the urban environment from a cat's perspective, for Kuma's exhibition "Kuma Kengo: Five Purr-fect Points for a New Public Space".
Inspired by Kuma's notion of "If we were to propose anything about cities today, we shouldn't look top-down at them like we did during the High-Growth-Era during the 1960s to 1980s, but from the bottom-up", we conducted field research in Kagurazaka, Tokyo and interviewed cat-only veterinarians, trying to understand how cats experience cities.
For example, by analysing cats' movements through GPS, we can see how they are unbound by the rules and definitions established by humans, such as roads and land ownership, yet have their own way of experiencing the world. Our extensive research unveiled five unique patterns in which cats interpret and experience the world, from which we defined "The Five Purr-fect Points for Feline Architecture".
Around 100 years ago, a biologist named Jakob von Uexküll coined the term "Umwelt," describing the worlds different species experience. Every being possess a different body and set of senses, and though we seemingly share the same world, we each live in a different "Umwelt".
Butterflies use ultraviolet rays to see, and bats use ultrasonic sound to sense their surrounding. Even between us humans, we all have different bodies and senses - therefore, each of us experiences a different world compared to another.
Historically, urban design was all about drawing a massive masterplan, gazing at cities from above - in other words, the perspective of gods.
This work studies the Umwelt of cats and imagining an urban environment from it, which naturally brings our perspective back to the ground.
In the beginning, there were plans to approach the project through humans' eyes, but through various discussions with Kengo Kuma, we decided to focus on the perspective of cats.
Through the project, we have noticed how much our cities are optimised for the mobility of human beings, but how humans themselves are restricted to those designs.
As our main target was a cat, we experimented with unique research and final presentation techniques.
While we observed and followed the cats in person for our research, we also tracked them with sensors to collect large data logs, and interviewed the people who engaged with them. The data showed when and where the cats roamed about, unveiling the secret lives of cats that we never could imagine.
We also interviewed Dr Soshin Yamamoto, a veterinarian specialised in cats, and learned how the current concrete-occupied landscape of Tokyo is a cat-unfriendly environment from an academic standpoint.
After thoroughly examining different options such as AR, VR and other immersive tools, we chose to show 3D computer graphics with multiple screens for our final presentation. The format allowed us to compare the subjective cat-view side-by-side with perspectives of other subjects in the scene, constructing a multifaceted urban experience.
We also challenged ourselves to express the cat's Umwelt beyond simple visuals, such as depicting non-visual senses such as scent with fog or projection mapping their movement on the replicated physical environment.
The observation and representation of the cat's Umwelt make one aware of just how human-centric our ways of thinking and living are. As humans, our primary Umwelt is naturally the Umwelt of oneself, but we humans are gifted with enough imagination to envisage an alternative Umwelt - the world of other beings.
Cities have always been designed in contrast with nature, creating a human-friendly environment by controlling everything else but us. In the age of the Anthropocene, many people and organisations are striving to rethink the human-oriented world we've created. Thus, we inevitably have to ask ourselves how we might redefine these archaic human-centric living environments that we've built.
We hope that this work provides an opportunity for its visitors to experience and imagine the Umwelt of another being, expanding their perspectives of the city even a tiny bit.
KENGO KUMA & ASSOCIATES, INC.,
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
KENGO KUMA & ASSOCIATES,
Ton, Sun, and Sanae Iwasaki (mugimaru2)
Masanobu Yamamoto (Tokyo Cat Specialists),
Hajime Ishikawa (Keio University)