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CANALIZE meets Makoto Tanijiri  INTERVIEW

A self-proclaimed architect,
pushing the limits of industry

CANALIZE meets Makoto Tanijiri

谷尻誠/Makoto Tanijiri
Born in Hiroshima, 1974. After graduating from the Anabuki Design College and working for Motokane Architects and then HAL Architects, he established SUPPOSE DESIGN OFFICE in 2000. Between himself and his co-representative Ai Yoshida, they've overseen work on easily over 100 residential developments, and created significant buzz in 2010 with projects such as their “Luceste: TOSHIBA LED LIGHTING” installations in Milano Salone and their interior design work on the Kiddy Shonan C/X Nursery School. Their repertoire spans a vast array of industries, from residential, to business spaces, venue configurations, landscaping, product, and art installations.
With two bases of operation, one in Tokyo and the other in Hiroshima, business is booming from within the country and without as they tackle projects ranging the spectrum from interior design, to residential areas, and to complexes. Mr. Tanijiri is also an associate professor of both the Anabuki Design College and Osaka University of Arts.

His Inner Branding

comes from revitalizing the community



――You’re currently living something of a double life with how much you commute between Hiroshima and Tokyo. What would you say are the pros and cons of distancing yourself from the Tokyo hustle?


“Honestly, I feel like Tokyo’s a canvas with no white left on it. Living there, it’s easy to find yourself being sucked into the busy pace of city life, rushing from one thing to another… Don’t get me wrong, it’s an exciting and entertaining lifestyle, if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’m not much of a slave to time. I think I might be better suited for the country lifestyle, myself. Then again, that would probably make me lazy… I’m not saying things aren’t as busy in Hiroshima as in Tokyo, of course, but time seems to flow more smoothly there.”



――I don’t know, the developments in Onomichi, Hiroshima seem pretty exciting, even from a Tokyoite’s perspective…


“In my experience, entertainment value has a strong effect on getting people to go somewhere, much more so than the ease of travel itself. For instance, Tokyo always seems to have some event or other going on, so you feel like you can go any time you want and shelve the idea for later. A lot of the time, later never comes and you’ve missed out before you know it. There’s so much going on at one time! (Laughs.) But when people see you putting on a really good show, you plant this seed in the back of their minds. ‘This looks fun,’ they think, and they’ll see the value in coming to visit themselves. At that point, their feet will do the rest of the work for you.”




――How do you communicate with the locals? For instance, do you set up avenues for them to communicate with you?


“Well, ‘Discovery Link Setouchi,’ the urban development firm, spearheaded the project in Onomichi. We piggybacked onto it, brainstorming ideas with them and mapping out the design. That said, we took the local characteristics of the area very seriously from start to finish.


――So you designed the place where the community itself was grown.


“Right. When you consider sightseeing, you typically consider the out of towners and the people who come from outside the country to visit, but I feel it’s important to establish whether or not it’s something the locals would enjoy before that. After all, if I don’t have pride in my home town, I’m not about to tell other people to come visit either. It’s like branding, in that when you look at something as broadcast on TV or in a commercial, people aren’t just analyzing the surface; they look at the company and if they see the employees are energetic about their work, people will say to themselves, now that’s a good company to be involved with… So by establishing an inner branding that projects that kind of image, your branding to the public naturally develops on it own. Sightseeing is the exact same way. It’s about looking from the outside in, but thinking about the inner workings of it as well. In other words, if you concentrate on making the locals happy, other people will come of their own accord.



――It’s very rare to see a person so grounded, who starts the design process by considering how it will impact other peoples’ lives.


“Wow. I’m flattered that you say that! Truth be told, it makes me glad to see people using the things I’ve made, and I get pure enjoyment out of that. Even if an architect’s proud of himself for creating a technical masterpiece, if the locals don’t use it and the people meant to use it aren’t happy with it, he might as well have done nothing at all. These “empty box” constructions we’ve become familiar with only existed in the first place because there was such a disconnect between the people who constructed them and the people they were supposedly made for. Even this project in Onomichi is eponymous to the Hiroshima name.

That being said, I think the whole idea of “public” is transforming. Rather than letting some noble dictate everything by some pedestal, I believe public projects are destined by the zeitgeist of our time to change into something like we’ve done in Onomichi. It’s our duty to seize hold of and enjoy the things that are right in front of us.



――How do you feel about continuing to work in the public sector, Mr. Tanijiri?


“I don’t know! (Laughs.) I just woke up one day, and here I was. Putting something big into motion is, realistically speaking, very difficult. Like in the project I mentioned before, at first everyone was on edge, thinking, “Is this going to be okay?” and “Is this working?” That’s why almost for almost the entirety of the project, from the initial concept to its production, and then the after-care work, we we on board for our consul as much as anything else.. Consultation-type work is important, of course, but from our perspective it was less ‘Okay, here’s what we suggest you do,’ and more, ‘Well, here’s our advice, take it or leave it.’ It’s like we were the town’s personal doctor. (Laughs.) Like that person who knows how every single person in town is doing… It puts more on your plate, that’s for sure. You always have to keep the “nice person” act, for starters. As the saying goes, fake it until you make it, right? Like I always say, I’m not a good person, but I’ll pretend to be! (Laughs.)



――Aren’t you afraid the bad parts will slip out? (Laughs.)


“Oh, I’m rotten to the core! (Laughs.) I’ve got a warped mind and a foul mouth. I can’t say it doesn’t come in handy sometimes, though. Even if other people won’t speak up, you can count on me to be the one to say, ‘Quit it, loser.’ I mean, I’m usually a pretty terrible person, but maybe if I play my cards right, I could turn into that guy who gives it to you straight when you need it most. I mean, complainers and people who wait until the last minute to do something are the worst, but they become someone with value the moment they help society, so I’ve made it my mission to embrace the worst parts of my personality. Thus, I set everyone’s expectations for my by telling telling them I have a bad personality and I’m verbally abusive. That way when I act normally around them, they end up saying, “Wait a minute, he said he was bad, but he’s more normal than I thought!”



――Now, thankfully you’re considerate of the other person’s perspective so you don’t do this, but do you ever get the urge to let your artistic-slash-creative side take the reigns for a while?


“Oh, I absolutely do. I just don’t push it onto other people, that’s all. After all, I’m part of a team. Granted, the ‘artist’ part of me could say, ‘This is what I want to do, and that’s final,’ and shut out everyone else’s opinion, but in practical terms it’s so important to pass my ideas through a filter. That way I can present an idea democratically and pass it along that way. That’s how people become my accomplices. That way if something good comes out of it, they can say, ‘Thanks to you, this turned out well.’ I just have to keep my fangs hidden, and I can go straight for the jugular the moment they stop paying attention. But it’s best to listen to other people’s ideas if you want yours to be heard as well. I’m flexible in my work. I really want to be able to voice my own opinions, but by asking ‘What do you think?’ instead, I can get a similar response with so much less trouble. It’s a very simple approach.


――One gets the sense that the area’s sprung to life from your work. Have you been looking to similar developments in other areas as well?


“I’m always looking, absolutely, but not only at locales. My main thing is, as I’ve always said, ‘buy my brain, get my thoughts and ideas!’ Ultimately, what to do with the area, what buildings to construct, that comes down to the quality of the ideas behind the person making the decisions. Japan’s culture is one that doesn’t support paying money for shapeless concepts, so I hope to help it grow into one that values creations.




――Could you tell us the story on how “THINK” was started?


“When we moved to the Hiroshima office, it was a little too big for us, so we used the lower floors as our office space, and left the upper floor empty as a kind of testing ground. We started an experiment called ‘Create without creating.’ For instance, if an singer comes and performs in an open room, it’s instantly turned into a concert hall. If you use it to eat with other people, it turns into a restaurant, and if you display projects it turns into a gallery. Those are the sorts of things we did with it. Normally if someone asked us to create a restaurant for them, we’d create something restaurant-esque, right? But if all it took was putting a bunch of people into room and setting a plate of food in front of them, anyone could make a restaurant. The question then becomes, why are you making one? Sure we could say we HAVE to make it because that’s what we were asked to do, but unless you have an intellectual understanding of that, the significance of making it, well, loses some of its significance. So after thinking about “Creating with things that cannot be created,” that’s when I began “Think.” With business and corporations, only the higher ups get to go to different places, meet different people, and get inspired by them. Then they come back and tell their team members, ‘Wow, that was amazing!’ but their team members don’t have the time or energy to care about that. It just brings them down. There’s no value there. So what I thought was, if I can meet interesting people, I can bring them to my staff and inspire the whole company, while I’m at it. That’s when I started inviting people over to put on events on the floor above the office. Call it our own form of inner branding. Granted, I usually only invite the ones I get along with, so I can’t say much there. (Laughs.)



――Tell us what kind of projects you’d like to do in the future.


“Well, I’ve thought about making a guest house in Hiroshima, my home town, but it would have to have an office inside, too. The first floor would be for serving meals, the second for the office, and everything above that could be for people staying over. I’d have people from all around the world come to stay, and turn it into a cultural melting pot of sorts, with music and art and everything in-between. I’d love to work at a place like that.”


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Text_Aya Fujiwara