“I really feel the more I do architecture, I don’t like architecture,” he says. “Although I believe in the power of architecture, I don’t like the direction it’s headed – the move towards creating big urban cities that aren’t designed with people at the forefront.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has made us wary of public spaces and the great outdoors in general, it’s also shone a light on overcrowding in cities globally. According to the latest UN data, Australia has a population density of 3.22 people per square kilometre. This puts us at 228th in the world in terms of population density, but our cities are growing. Between 2006 and 2016, Melbourne has added close to one million people. Sydney added 800,000 and Brisbane and Perth both grew by almost half a million.
“People are being crammed into narrower and narrower spaces and you’re getting constantly closer to the urban sprawl,” says Takada.
“In some way this idea has monopolised the architectural desire that then transformed into the form. Everywhere you go, you feel this force of desire or the economic commercialisation ideal that we need to privatise the whole world. Now with this COVID situation, I think it’s a great opportunity to pause and rethink and not just adapt, but shift the paradigm from industrial to natural.”
When Takada speaks of the death of architecture and traditional architects, he’s referencing both the emphasis of quantity over quality in our cities – poorly designed buildings that seek to squeeze in the maximum number of occupants above all else – and the reluctance of architects to incorporate the natural world in their designs.
He says it’s an expression he picked up in his youth, studying under the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
“He was promoting the idea of landscape for the 21st century. I remember him talking about the [unrealised] Jussieu Library in Paris, which I thought was one of the most amazing pieces of modern architecture, transforming the landscape form into the vertical form and the continuation of street. In other words [it was] the continuation of public domain in a vertical form into the private sector,” says Takada. “In some way Koolhaas was ahead of us all.”
Takada has been “naturalising cities” since he founded his eponymous practice 12 years ago – designing “pedestrian-friendly, people-friendly, climate-friendly” projects that connect private buildings with public spaces.
It is something at which Australia used to excel, he says.
“I lived in New York, London, Tokyo… so many different cities, and I could not bear them. Now I’m settled here in Sydney because I see that the fine balance between the city and nature is working. Or at least it used to work.
“For years, we’ve been trying to educate clients on the ways of creating a relationship with nature inside and out. We were slowly seeing a shift. Now with everything that has happened, we feel our time has come. And not just my practice, but everyone is now more interested in creating a new relationship with nature in architecture.”