Christmas in Japan comes early for postgraduate architecture student

Master of Architecture (Professional) student Jade Shum travels to Japan to research her 'family'.

Jade Shum, Master of Architecture (Professional) student
Jade Shum, Master of Architecture student (Professional). Photographer: Kate Sumner

Master of Architecture (Professional) student Jade Shum is on her way to Japan this week to take part in an all-expenses-paid field research trip in Tokyo. 

Jade was encouraged by Professor Andrew Barrie to apply for the trip which is organised by the North Asia Centre for Asia–Pacific Excellence. The programme presents a unique opportunity to observe and participate in Tokyo life, interact with peers in Japanese universities, and gain a first-hand understanding of the challenges and opportunities of people living in today's Japanese cities.

It all came down to Jade reading the right book at the right time. Having worked with Andrew last year researching and producing an architectural guide map for Taranaki as part of a summer scholarship, Andrew noticed Jade reading Japanese architect Akihisa Hirata's Discovering New. Shortly after, she received an email from Andrew, inviting her to apply for the Understanding Urban Japan programme.

The scholarship is both a great honour and a great opportunity for Jade, as it allows her to make connections that are both personal and on the cutting edge of the international architecture scene.

Professor Andrew Barrie School of Architecture and Planning

Jade will use the trip to pursue research into her personal academic lineage, as the city prepares to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2020. In Japan, academic and professional lineages - X who was taught by Y, who was taught by Z - is key to how people understand their position in architectural culture. As Jade has both worked with and been taught by Andrew, she becomes connected to the world of Japanese architecture. 

"In this family tree sense, having been taught by Andrew means he is my 'father'. Since Andrew worked alongside Akihisa Hirata under Toyo Ito, they are my 'uncle' and 'grandfather' - a Pritzker Prize-winning global star and one of Japan's leading younger architects respectively."

Jade's primary research topic is the architecture of Akihisa Hirata, with a particular interest in his design methods. 

"A pattern I noticed across his designs is that the geometries are always very complex, which is a result of his theory of 'tangling' between architecture, nature, and humans. It's also often a struggle figuring out how construction will work or whether your design is feasible, especially the more complex the geometry of your design, so I'm also particularly interested in how Hirata bridges the gap between concept and real-life construction." 

Jade will visit several of both Hirata's and Toyo Ito's buildings in Tokyo, as well as interviewing Hirata in his architecture office.

I think over the past year I've had a lot of great opportunities, and I have to say, it's all thanks to Andrew. I have a theory that if I just follow him around, I'll always be able to find fun and interesting things to do.

Jade Shum

"During high school, I had one foot in everything: I was taking accounting, physics, and art/graphic design. No one could tell where I was heading, and neither could I. Upon graduating high school, I was still split between going into either accounting, architecture or engineering. I guess I thought of myself as too artsy for engineering, but too logical for architecture. I'm glad I stuck with (architecture) though because I've had so many amazing opportunities and experiences in the past year.

"I've always enjoyed drawing and art, but for the longest time I didn't know what kind of career I wanted. I'm at the point in my life where I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do. I enjoy helping other people, and I want to do something useful, so I will definitely be registering as an architect."

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Kate Sumner | Content Writer and Coordinator
Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries