The Kanda Mountain

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Section, Students

The Kanda Mountain

Boyuan Jiang @ Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP)


“Japan’s graying crisis is thought to outweigh all other nations as it has the highest elderly population proportion in the world. In 2015, in response to the foreseeing elderly nursing pressure of Tokyo City, the Japanese government proposed to move 1 million elderly citizens from Tokyo to multiple suburban areas. However, this plan is criticized for its feasibility and for being inconsiderate to the aged population who are striving to be a part of the city’s dazzling modern urban culture. Designed to provide a sarcastic alternative, the Kanda Mountain is a 7-mile long mega-structure in the center of Tokyo to accommodate the city’s elderly population, connecting the past with the contemporary, and introducing possibilities for nurturing new cross-generation cultures.

06_Design process of the eleven mountains

01_Aerial view of the Kanda Mountain

The project is composed of 11 mountain-like buildings extruded along the historical trace of the Kanda River, a half-abandoned, historically important waterway whose own history metaphorically resonates with the elderlys’ contemporary “hidden” condition in Tokyo. Relocating the aged population to such a site will not only utilize existing infrastructure built along the river but also redefine the public vision against both the elderly’s aspirations and the city’s own past. Despite the obvious sarcasm and playfulness of the design, the project is based on serious site and social research and provides a possible solution for Tokyo’s growing aging population. The programmatic and spatial arrangements are designed to provoke refreshing mixed lifestyles where the value of the elderly traditions could be revealed and respected. Mountain and water are the two most symbolic natural elements in traditional Eastern culture. The symbiosis of them in Kanda Mountain is in line with all the ancient artificial attempts to summon spirits through physical forms: A great wall is erected in Tokyo to resuscitate the fading ghost of the past.”

05_Conceptual collage



Who influences you graphically?

The Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico and the Chinese artist Xu Lei have influenced me a lot with their graphic qualities as well as the spatial implications in their paintings. I am also fascinated by the classical nuances in Pier Vittorio Aureli’s collages.


Xu Lei

What defined the use of the section as the main method to represent the various mountains as individuals and as a system?

The dominant role of the section was firstly a requirement of the studio’s syllabus as the focus was on Mega-structures, a typology represented heavily through the means of section in history: from Boullée’s Cenotaph for Newton to Archigram’s Plug-in City and the Japanese Metabolists’ proposals. Within these the section was a powerful tool to diagrammatically illustrate the scale and mechanism of a sophisticated system. As for the Kanda Mountain project, the section was a pretty natural choice since the buildings’ footprint is so narrow compared to the height. Moreover, if we think of how mountains were historically represented in traditional Asian calligraphies, paintings or even sculptures, we will find that the emphasis was always on the elevational surface, thus section became the most appropriate method to document the interior structures of the mountains.

04_Relation between the Mountain and River in the project

05_Sections of the eleven mountains drawn as a Byobu

What role did the model play?

The 3d print model was a study tool to quickly test the formal potential of the mountains as well as the urban relation between the project and the city. As a supplement to the drawings, the model also helped to demonstrate the project’s physicality and vast impact on its context.

What were the main objectives when constructing the individual views? 

The views were created to both capture some potential moments of the elderlies’ new lifestyles influenced by the Kanda Mountain and express the project’s more utopian and sarcastic side through the images’ collective narrative. Although the design originated as a criticism of Tokyo’s aged-population expulsion plan, providing concentrated accommodations with the mountains wouldn’t necessarily resolve the social isolation problem. These drawings were constructed with a subtle weirdness to them so that each image was a combination of a seemingly happy new life for the elderly and a tint of loneliness.

17_View of the Holy Mountain from the Health Strata. Historical Tokyo city is enclosed in between.

What dictated the square format for the views?

Both the square and the rectangle were adopted to format the individual views. As a general rule, the square format frames images which  focus on human activities, while the rectangle emphasises forms and spaces. This combination was at first simply an attempt to create visual rhythm for the presentation narrative, but as a result, the contrast between the square format’s proportional austerity and the content’s pop-style Instagram quality did resonate with the project’s statement.

12_The multi-faith Main Hall of the Holy Mountain features a giant 360 degree LED screen surrounding a central waterfall created from the Kanda River water source.

10_The Knowledge Hills

How important was Japanese culture when choosing how to draw the project?

Japanese culture was key to both the design and the representation of this project. In East Asian tradition, mountain and water (in the form of ocean, lake, river, etc.) are considered to be the most important natural symbols of eternity. In the Kanda Mountain project, the mountain-like buildings were erected along the historical Kanda River waterway, creating a sarcastic metaphor when taking into account the elderlies’ social condition. The main section drawing was thus constructed with two contrasted precedents from Japanese graphic culture: the Manga-inspired comic mountain sections and the gorgeous Byōbu style background. The fusion and dialogue between the two styles also tackled the project’s initial goal of bringing Tokyo’s elderly population back into society and foster a new lifestyle together with the younger generations.


Boyuan Jiang is an architect and painter currently based in New York. His interest in spatial design is deeply rooted in his cultural background. He was born and raised in Beijing where he received traditional Chinese painting and Calligraphy training at a young age, an experience later deeply influenced his architectural design. His projects always demonstrate strong intentions to integrate and balance various contrasting relations into a holistic system. Boyuan holds a  B.S.Sc in Architecture from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a Master of Architecture degree from the Columbia University. He is currently a designer at SHoP Architects.


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