Pyrotechnic City: On the Repeated Failure to Build an Unburnable Tokyo

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, as well as one of the most frequently destroyed. The city has been almost completely razed by fire on three occasions, during the Great Fire of Meiriki of 1657, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air-raid of 1945. The risk of fire has therefore shaped the city, but in unusual and often counter-intuitive ways. Its earliest forms of fire-safety legislation actively prohibited the use of fire-proof construction techniques, and much of its contemporary population are still housed in what is referred to as the ‘cheap wooden apartment belt’. As a result Tokyo remains - according to the global re-insurance agency SwissRe - the city most exposed to pyro-seismic risk. This lecture explores Tokyo’s peculiar ‘fire-regime’ historically, theoretically and by-design. It offers a genealogy of the city’s fire-safety legislation, tracing a consistent governmental rationale from feudal Edo to contemporary Tokyo; it engages with the work of Ulrich Beck and Jacque Derrida in order to theorises this rationale in terms of an undeclared ‘Hospitality’ to risk; and it draws out the ways in which this rationale is inscribed in the cities contemporary built fabric, noting some of its intended and unintended spatial consequences. In so doing it offers a reflection on the agency of the built, as a vehicle for governmental ambitions, but also as a site in which those ambitions are usurped, and redirected
Period23 Feb 2017
Event titleM.Arch Architectural Theory Lecture
Event typeOther
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map