Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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A quest for creating a better world after every disaster can be traced through history evident in the aftermath of several catastrophes like the Plague of the middle ages, to the Great Lisbon Earthquake, or the Great Chicago Fire. At the end of the trend that started with the Plague, we eliminated the disorganized things and reached the “logical” “hygienic” 20th century model of city that is filled with strong large boxes.

The ultimate large box is the skyscraper office building. Being stuffed into these boxes is the most efficient way to work and simulteneously a testament to being part of the elite class. The elite people are stuffed into metal boxes (trains or cars) at the same time in the morning and evening when they go to work and return home. However, in retrospect, I do not think that this “large box” model was actually efficient at all.

The use of contemporary IT technology makes it more than possible to efficiently work and communicate with one another without being closed into large boxes or even in cities. Rather, if we were not closed into large boxes, the current level of stress and inefficiency would not have been created. The heat and carbon dioxide discharged by large boxes has had immense adverse impact on the environment and harmed the planet. However, when we created the model for offices, large factories and large cities at the beginning of the 20th century, we became attached to this model and were not able to turn from it. We therefore continued to build more and more large boxes, expanding cities with an ever-increasing number of large boxes.

Before we knew what was happening, these large boxes infected various areas apart from offices. For example, in the realm of education, we were cramming children into large boxes without realizing we were doing this. Children were forced to read uniform textbooks in “uniform equal” large boxes and compete on tests. Competition was repeated in offices inside large boxes as an extension of this, and the people that lost were kicked out of the large boxes.

The default form of residences was the large boxes containing condominiums, and the layout and interior finishes were nearly the same throughout Japan. The reason for this is that living in those large boxes was a testament to being part of the elite class. We pretended to be totally unaware of the stress caused by these large boxes and their unnaturalness. The size and bulk of these large boxes helped create this attitude and behavior.

The question to ask now is “How do we escape from these large boxes”. During this crisis, I have learned that it is fine to walk alone and have put it into practice. You can’t just pick up a sledgehammer and immediately start to destroy the large boxes. However, if you begin to walk by yourself, you are set free from the large box. If you walk by yourself, you can freely select the distance between yourself and other people. If you want a lot of distance between yourself and others, you can move as far away as you want, and when you want to hug another person, you can hug that person tight. Naturally, this is after the corona crises is over.

If the number of people that want to walk outside of the boxes increases in this manner, the large boxes will eventually disappear. The physical life of contemporary buildings that are made from concrete is shorter than you may think. From a certain perspective, I see the large boxes that fill cities around the world which have evolved since the Plague as temporary structures. When this view is taken, I feel that the response to this tragedy may and should be different from the tendency to continue to push for stronger and larger in the manner that was done in response to tragedies in the past.

This is a turning point. It is a time to reverse a major trend and start heading in the opposite direction. The coronavirus pandemic has made us realize that large strong boxes have made people unhappy. In retrospect, various people realized that the trend needed to be reversed. It is possible that all of us had already unconsciously realized that we no longer liked large boxes, and actually disliked them.

However, as I mentioned earlier, cities and architecture are very bulky. In other words, the government, systems and economy all operate on the premise of maintaining and expanding the large boxes, making them extremely bulky. It is not just simply the fact that concrete is heavy and hard. Therefore, even if people have realized that there is a problem, it was not possible to change direction. However, we have now finally come to a turning point.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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