Advanced Design Studio: Bald

Otaku’s Revenge:The National Center for Media Arts


Design and Visualization




Area:approx. 8500sm
Site: Odaiba, Tokyo


In 2009, approximately US$120 Million dollars was stipulated in Japan’s annual budget for a new national museum, The National Center for Media Arts. This new institution, with its expansive title, seemed like an obvious addition to Japan’s network of national museums. Since the end of the 2nd World War, Japan has developed an unparalleled international reputation as an innovator of media and technology in its consumer and cultural spheres. Unfortunately, the museum project became a political football, criticized by an opposition Democratic Party empowered by the possibility of wresting control from the Liberal Democratic Party after decades of being in the minority. Taro Aso, the Prime Minister and head of the LDP, had long been known as a classic Otaku, or geek, with a passion for manga and anime, and the project was derisively dubbed a "state run manga café" by the Democratic Party. However, many supporters embraced this mantel as it recognized the global proliferation of anime culture, especially in contrast to the country’s waning economic influence. The Democratic Party soon took power, and the project was shelved.


This semester, we will resuscitate the project and enthusiastically assume its characterization as a National Manga Museum. Historically, manga continues a rich artistic legacy linked to scroll painting and Ukiyo-e prints in its narrative structure, formal flatness, and engagement with popular culture. Manga has also served as a parable for the national psyche. A rich catalog of post-atomic anime cinema tracked Japan’s rise from the war’s rubble. Recent alliterations of the Otaku (the withdrawn nerd) and the Soushoku Danshi (the ‘grass-eating’ men who shun material wealth, sex, and prefer long walks in the woods) have been said to reflect a national anxiety about Japan’s economic prowess and engagement with the world, at odds with the rise of the rest of Asia. Finally, manga has spawned a rich array of spatial types for consuming this cultural project manifest in Tokyo’s urban landscape from Manga Rooms, Maid Cafés, and Cos-Play events.

We will work with the program developed by Japan’s national government, and will not deviate from the projected scope for an 8500sm national museum. However, we will use the richness of anime’s social and cultural history, and the dynamism of Tokyo’s urban manga landscape to reconsider what a national museum could be and how this complex form of cultural production might be consumed.


The National Center for Media Arts will be sited on an 8000sm plot on Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay originally built in the 1850’s for defense purposes. It saw a huge expansion in the late 20th century and has become populated with malls, museums, and Kenzo Tange’s iconic Fuji TV building, making Odaiba a popular consumer and cultural leisure destination. The government’s proposal for the museum favored Odaiba as a site over central Tokyo to capitalize on the island’s futuristic image. Our specific site is on a narrow strip near where the monorail that is the principal form of public transport touches down after crossing Tokyo Bay. Tokyo Bay was a favored speculative territory for the Metabolist architects of the 1960’s, and that spirit has contributed to its identity.


For travel week, we will go to Japan and spend the entire time in Tokyo and its environs. In addition to the usual site visit and excursions to see significant works of architecture, we will devote time and energy into the exploration of Tokyo’s urban landscape, particularly the area of Akihabara, the electronics district where many unique spaces for the consumption of manga have proliferated. The trip will involve an active period of documentation and analysis that will be essential in developing strategies to connect the formal paradigm of a national museum to the spontaneous creativity that one finds everywhere on the streets of Tokyo.