Canal City Hakata

Canal City Hakata in Fukuoka, Japan by The Jerde Partnership

Located adjacent to Fukuoka's entertainment district, and between the commercial business district and retail core, The Jerde Partnership's Canal City Hakata is the largest private development in the history of Japan ($1.4 billion for 234,460 m² (2.5-million sq. ft.)). Aside from these facts Canal City is fascinating for its approach to design at an urban scale and the relationship between commerce and the city. The basic design, commercial and other tenants overlooking the main canal artery, breaks down the scale of the development, creating unique districts within the whole, expressing commerce as a social generator.

Jon Jerde started the Jerde Partnership as a firm that emphasizes ideas over style and places over objects. This commendable mission has lead to urban planning developments that utilize shopping as a regenerative element in cities (Fremont Street in Las Vegas the most well known). And while the seeming contradiction between capitalism and style (brand recognizability created by logos and repetitive designs) would hinder Jerde's approach, he is able to find eclectic solutions that hold their own with the attention-getting signage and interiors of chain stores and the like. Canal City extends his ideas in an Asian context with successful, though slightly unsettling results. One must ask: If there is an appropriate form for places shopping, now a necessary part of existence for people and cities over most of the world, is this it?

The picture at left illustrates Jerde's idea of "a series of special districts", with the winding canal and concave and convex structures pushing and pulling one's gaze and attention. And it is this picture that I find the most intriguing, and disturbing. The basic parti of the American indoor mall, a double-loaded corridor, is taken outside, warped and filled with water. The canal limits one's movement through the development and, therefore, manipulates one's experience to a greater degree than a mall. Since Canal City is a private development the "rules" of the street fade away. The freedom of movement of the street is replaced by precise circulation patterns and staged spectacles; the antithesis of the city. The eclectic architecture attempts to replace what is taken away: instead of the discovery of the unexpected that the city offers, Canal City offers the manipulated detour towards the usual.

Another question arises: what will be that shape of the city in the years to come, when shopping's influence over the built environment is greater than the present? Is Jerde's design foreshadowing the evolution of urban commercial areas? Of course only time will answer these questions, though Jerde's approach must be commended for seeing shopping, in its many connotations, as an integral part of the city and as an element that can shape their fabric. Which is what Jerde has accomplished. So now other architects must take notice of the importance of shopping and develop ways of thinking that will enable them to deal with what has become the center of social interaction in cities.