The Urban Morphology of Kyoto and New Orleans



“Like many of the Creole houses, the facade presented a commonplace and unattractive aspect. The great green doors of the arched entrance were closed; and the green shutters of the balconied windows were half shut, like sleepy eyes lazily gazing upon the busy street below or the cottony patches of light clouds which floated slowly, slowly across the deep blue of the sky above. But beyond the gates lay a little Paradise. The great court, deep and broad, was framed in tropical green; vines embraced the white pillars of the piazza, and creeping plants climbed up the tinted walls to peer into the upper windows with their flower-eyes of flaming scarlet.”

Lafacdio Hearn, “Creole Court, Leaves” From The Diary of an Impressionist, Creole Sketches and Some Chinese Ghost. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York. 1922. 147.

“There is, alas, no lake view nor any charming prospect. Part of the O-Shiroyama, with the castle on its summit, half concealed by a park of pines, may be seen above the coping of the front wall, but only a part; and scarcely a hundred yards behind the house rise densely wooded heights, cutting off not only the horizon, but a large slice of the sky as well. For this immurement, however, there exists fair compensation in the shape of a very pretty garden, or rather a series of garden spaces, which surround the dwelling on three sides. Broad verandas overlook these, and from a certain veranda angle I can enjoy the sight of two gardens at once. Screens of bamboos and woven rushes, with wide gateless openings in their midst, mark the boundaries of the three divisions of the pleasure-grounds.”

Lafacdio Hearn, “Glimpse of Unfamiliar Japan.” Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig. 1910. 249.

The two excerpts describing the role of garden spaces in 19 century residential settings represent a nuanced and complex spatial, historical and cultural juxtaposition. Both were written by the same author in a similar prose some ten years a part in the opposite ends of the world. Lafcaido Hearn, a renowned author and one of the most famous Japanophile, spent 10 years as a journalist in New Orleans prior to moving to Japan at the age of 40 never to return. He dedicates the rest of his life drawing awareness to the beauty and tranquility of pleasing customs and lasting values of his adopted country at odds with the emerging western style materialism. Ignoring the obvious nouns identified with the location and concentrating on the spatial relationships of Hearn’s remarks, the historical and geographical boundary becomes a blur, infinitely difficult to distinguish, transcending time and place.

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The goal of this study abroad studio is to re-contextualize the familiar by dislocating to the unfamiliar. Kyoto is a city steeped in tradition and cultural heritage outside of the typical western society. However it is comparable in many ways to the city of New Orleans. Both cities possess an extremely rich cultural heritage and urban fabric. The striking historical, contextual, environmental and cultural parallels/contrasts between the two will be a potent source for inquiry and knowledge.

The goal of this course is to comparatively study the morphology of the two cities from historical, cultural and environmental (particular focus on the climate) perspective and the influences on the vernacular architectural forms. In order to aid the inquiry, students will develop visual analytical tools, methods and references for rigorous architectural comparison of traditional and modern urban Morphology. The outcome of the course will consist of 2-D, 3D graphic representations and research texts comparing/contrasting urban residential buildings in New Orleans and Kyoto. The research outcomes will be compiled as a booklet, post semester.

This course will spend considerable amount of time in Kyoto to study the traditional and vernacular architecture and urban fabric. However, in order to contextualize the the tradition, we will be immersing ourselves in the contemporary culture of Japan in Tokyo, a city full of sleek, modern architecture.

Ryogen-in Zen Temple (Kyoto)                                 ©Tsubaki

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* This course is made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Japan Foundation Japan-America Collegiate Exchange Travel Program