It seems these days that one of the most radical acts one can take is to create spaces and situations which foster communion and cooperation. That’s because there’s a felt sense of fracture between people, particularly because of how our social spaces are currently designed. This fracture can become exacerbated, too, when our lifestyles are designed in such a way that results in isolation from one another. What can it look like, then, to approach architectural design and social situations with a spacial justice lens? How can designing for spacial justice foster authentic opportunities for mutually supportive and cooperative living situations? With a critical eye we can begin to question whether our natural and constructed spaces align with our ideals and values.
Junichi Satoh, visiting faculty fellow in Design for Spatial Justice at University of Oregon in Eugene, is interested in the question “How do we live together, beautifully?” That is, if we are to cohabitate on a planet facing increasing environmental and social distress, how can we do so in a manner which honors the needs of all, while simultaneously flourishing together in mutual reciprocity?
In a recent lecture at U of O, Satoh shared his story of moving to the United States from Japan as a teen, to working his way up as a designer for multiple well-known businesses, individuals, and universities within the states and abroad. Early in his journey, Satoh found himself meandering between academic institutions, private clients, and social practice endeavors, discovering what it means to design spaces and situations for audiences across a spectrum of needs and lifestyles. At a midpoint in his career, Satoh had the opportunity to apprentice at an apple orchard, which is when he was introduced to notions of food justice and related issues of environmental, social, and cultural degradation. Farming came as a necessary rupture for Satoh, revealing a mode of connection to land and community he had yet to experience in his other creative endeavors. As an audience member with a strikingly familiar rupture in my own path elicited by farming, I found this to be the moment in the lecture in which my resonance with Satoh’s own path became evident.
When I took up farming toward the beginning of the pandemic, I did so because the rupture in certainty that COVID elicited became something of a springboard for me to (with much privilege) pour my energy into an undertaking so unlike what I had been doing up until that point. Up until that point I was busy grinding away in the city as a teacher and struggling artist, overloading my time with task after task, opportunity after opportunity. The moment I harvested my first chicken egg from a coop in September 2020, I was smitten; smitten with the soil, the animals, the plants, and working with other passionate farmers. This was a mode of connectivity to people and planet that I had yet to consider as a potential life path. Farming has beneficially shaped my practice and life in a way that I can only articulate in the form of intimate poetry, and farm fresh meals prepared for friends and family. With farming I became connected to my food sources, and the natural spaces which I had only written about. Like Satoh, the farming lifestyle demonstrated to me how social spaces and lifestyle can be structured and designed in a manner that creates a sense of beauty.
After Satoh spent some time apprenticing on a farm, he transitioned into more socially cooperative creative work. He collaborated with others to start a farmers market in South Carolina, in which he learned a necessary lesson in community collaboration. Satoh eventually started Utility Works in Japan, an intimate community space for art, design, collaboration, installation work, performance, and even food-share. Community members found in Utility Works a space to try new mediums (including a Kindergarten teacher who tried performance for the first time), practice small business entrepreneurship, and gather for community movie nights.
Satoh has since handed over Utility Works, and most recently worked in collaboration at AjA in San Diego to provide STEAM learning kits to underserved youth during the pandemic. Junichi Satoh’s combined experience in education, design, and social practice has fostered his interest in designing empathetic spaces and conditions for the betterment of human ecology and for social interaction. Concluding his lecture, Satoh encourages the audience to use community-building interventions and designed spaces as instances to bridge divides, and to investigate new ways of thinking and living in relation to one another. For Junichi Satoh, spatial design is more than a combination of buildings and natural elements, it is learning to live together, beautifully.