Visualising What Nobody Has Yet Seen

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Architect, Hand Drawing, Sketch

Visualising What Nobody Has Yet Seen

Tomoyuki Tanaka


Through the ballpoint and his X ray style, Tomoyuki Tanaka challenges our understanding of interior and exterior, bustle and atmosphere, part and whole unravelling the extremely complex network of Tokyo’s transportation hubs. From a research period which varies from 1 or two weeks the drawing process then starts with a delicate pencil sketch of these underground labyrinths, upon which the Japanese architect then builds with the ballpoint visualising ‘what nobody has yet seen’.


Tokyo Station

Tomoyuki Tanaka_shibuya station

Shibuya Station


Who influences you graphically?

There are numerous things and artists that have I been influenced by.

When I was a child, I was influenced by the transparency of airplanes and rockets seen in illustration books, and when I was boy, I was shocked by the drawings of Otomo Katsuhiro. I admired the ‘reality’ with which Tokyo was depicted in the movie “Harmagedon (1983)” and I was excited about the depiction of the decadent future city of Neo Tokyo in the manga “AKIRA (1982-1990)”. When I was younger I was also inspired by the traditional Japanese folding screen picture “Rakuchu Rakugai Zu ” which was compatible with a multi-viewpoint and a dynamic wholeness.

Akira - Katsuhiro Otomo 2

Akira – Katsuhiro Otomo

What defined the almost X Ray style of your drawings?

Defining the X-ray style is difficult.

Firstly, it is achieved by drawing with a blue ballpoint pen.

Secondly it allows for one to understand the relationship of the partial parts to then understand the whole composition.

Thirdly, in addition to allow for an understanding of the interior, it also allows for a possible understanding of the exterior outline, balancing internal and external.

Finally, by adding people’s movements and crowds with hand-drawn soft lines, I am able to express the whole atmosphere which I believe is very important.

With the above, one can enjoy part and whole, interior and exterior, bustle and atmosphere through this X-ray style drawings.


What is your work process in terms of drafting an image? How much time goes into research – do you start with the basic outline and then dwell into the details or vice versa?

I will investigate the site first. I will walk all over the place and gather necessary information such as the floor plans and landscape. I will try and comprehend each aspect, and will do the work to grasp the overall picture. This process of research takes about 1 to 2 weeks. Subsequently, I will start drawing.

First of all, I draw a draft of the basic layout and structures by pencil. I then draw the details and people with a ballpoint pen. For example, in “Dismantling of Shinjuku Station”, at the beginning I drew large square planes and put the same squares on the map. After, I sketched roads and the city’s divisions according to these squares, then I drew the buildings and spaces. Incidentally, I started drawing from STUDIO ALTA, a famous building next to the east entrance of Shinjuku station, and I continued as if I was “going round in the city” in a counter-clockwise movement.


Shinjuku Station

What drew you to focus on exploring and unveiling these extremely intricate infrastructure systems? Are you interested in exploring other systems worldwide?

I am interested in visualizing what nobody has seen before. Since the huge terminal in Tokyo is dealt by various organizations and companies, different levels of information are withheld on behalf of singular entitities and it is thus difficult to have an overall picture of the complex.  I am interested in drawing and unravelling these clearly through one singular image.  If there is something complicated and esoteric as the huge station in Tokyo, I will want to unravel it and draw it and there are many other huge terminals in Japan other than Tokyo as, for example, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka and so on that I am interested in ‘drawing’. In addition to these, I am also attracted to the underground city space of the world such as Cappadocia.

In the era of computer aided software, how important is the hand drawing/sketch for the architect?

Though computer technology is evolving, I think there is still a gap between the sensitivities of the creators’ and their output. I think that hand sketches and drawings are better for outputting vagrant ideas and images in the head. While there is a gap there, I think that hand-drawn sketches by architects will continue to hold a certain level of importance. Through sketches and drawings, it is also possible to create expressions “inversely” from the intention of “wanting to look like this”.  In general, computer rendering results as a result of the program, but such tricks will not be easy for him.


Tomoyuki Tanaka graduated from the Department of Architecture and Architectural Engineering, Waseda University in 1994. During his Master’s and Doctor’s course he studied architectural design and drawing through the various projects. In 2014, Tanaka took a doctor’s degree with architectural design for the first time in Japan.
He is now teaching at the Graduate School, Kumamoto University, presides over the TASS Associated Architects, and works extensively with architectural design, urban planning and drawing.


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