Spectres of Edo Castle: fire safety and ‘enforced cosmopolitanism’ in Tokyo


  • 1pm

  • Adam House, Adam House Lecture Theatre
    3 Chambers Street
    Edinburgh
    EH1 1HT

Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, as well as one of the most frequently destroyed. The city has been almost completely razed by fire on three occasions, during the Great Fire of Meireki of 1657, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945.

The risk of fire has therefore shaped the city, but in unusual and often counter-intuitive ways. Its earliest forms of fire safety legislation actively prohibited the use of fire-proof construction techniques, and much of its contemporary population are still housed in what is referred to as the "cheap wooden apartment belt". As a result Tokyo remains - according to the Global Reinsurance Agency Swiss Re - the city most exposed to pyro-seismic risk.

This lecture explores a genealogy of the city's fire-safety legislation, tracing a consistent governmental rationale from the "castle-town" mentality of feudal Edo to the contemporary planning codes; it engages with the work of Ulrich Beck and Jacques Derrida to consider fire safety as an agent of 'enforced cosmopolitanism' within the city; and it draws out the ways in which this cosmopolitanism is reflexively shaped by the spatial and material characteristics of the city. In so doing it offers a reflection on the agency of the built, as a vehicle for governmental ambitions, but also as a site in which those ambitions are usurped, and redirected.

Speaker: Liam Ross

Liam is an architect, a lecturer in Architectural Design and a doctoral candidate in Architecture by Design. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, and at the Architectural Association, London, before going on to practice in Edinburgh, London and New York.  He has experience working on projects in the UK, USA, Russia and UAE, and prior to becoming a lecturer, spent 5 years with Malcolm Fraser Architects, leading and assisting on projects at all stages of the design process. He has received a number of awards for his academic and professional design work, including commendations from ArchiPrix, the Urban Studies and Architecture Institute New York, and the Edinburgh Architecture Association.  In 2012 he was selected to exhibit in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Part of the 2017/2018 ESALA Research Seminar Series. Free and open to all.