A kiln in Okinawa that angles up the hill that it is build on

Biophilic Design in Japan

Biophilia translate to “love of life” and signifies humans’ innate biological and emotional need to connect to nature. Biophilic elements have been shown to reduce stress, improve cognitive performance and support positive emotions and moods. In contemporary architecture it is considered a fairly new concept.

Michael and Jane recently visited Okinawa, Japan and found ancient and contemporary examples of biophilic design. The atrium shown above is the Hotel Moon Beach which was completed in 1975, in 2002 it was awarded the Japan Institute of Architects’ 25 year award.

The Architect Yukifusa Kokuba said of his project “The Moon Beach concept is an architectural realization of the shade of the banyan tree I once saw. The semi-outdoor space softens the strong Okinawan sunlight and creates an airy space.”

Fukushuen Garden located in the Kume neighborhood of Naha which was once the center of Chinese culture during the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). The Chinese Garden uses natural materials throughout. The sculpture on the left are eroded natural stones from the edge of the sea and carefully located in the garden.

The paving is made of individual stones in a concentric pattern.

The new folk dwelling in Nakijin won the JIA Sustainable Architecture Award in 2019. The architect was ISSHO Architects.

This small contemporary house is based on the traditional Okinawa typhoon-proof houses. The structure and natural ventilation are well thought out.

A kiln in Okinawa that angles up the hill that it is build on

The Yomitan HIll Kiln was completed in 1980 and won the JIA 25 Year Award in 2011. The architect was Asao Sugama.

The architectural expression of the Yomitan Hill Kiln can be said to be determined by the waste materials. The kiln is made of prewar roof tiles and used telegraph poles which are then combined with field stones.

The form of the building harmonizes with the landscape as it climbs up the hill.

New York Boat Tour


New York is always fun to visit and this year we took an architectural boat tour around Manhattan. AIA New York has teamed up with the Classic Harbor Line to offer daily boat tours leaving from Chelsea Piers. The tours are led by a local architects who’s knowledge of the areas architecture is invaluable.

The almost three hour tour first takes you to a up close view of the Statue of Liberty. Then the boat goes up the East River, through the Harlem River and down the Hudson River where you get to view the New Jersey Palisades.

Another highlight of the tour is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park on the tip of Roosevelt Island. The park was one of the last projects designed by the renowned architect Louis I. Kahn in 1972. It was finally built in 2010-2012.

Go here to book your tour.


We just returned from a fascinating people to people visit to Cuba with the American Institute of Architects and the Copperbridge Foundation. We spent a week meeting architects, touring buildings, and being entertained by local musician and dancers. The phrase that our guide repeatedly used was “It’s complicated.” Everything seemed to be complicated from acquiring buildings to renovating them. We were told that there were no private architectural firms but we met some architects who had firms… but they couldn’t call themselves architects – it’s complicated. 

“Havana is an archive of every interesting style of Western architecture, especially those between 1860 and 1960,” says Cuban-American architect Hermes Mallea.  The colonial and neo-classical architecture is beautifully executed. It feels like a cross between New Orleans and Charleston with the loggias, balconies, interior courtyards, and exquisite iron work. Once dubbed Paris of the Caribbean, old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was established in 1519. The Cuban state has recently invested in the restoration of the central city through the Office of the Historian of the City. While some buildings are being restored, the vast majority are desperately in need of repair. We were told that throughout Havana 2 ½ buildings collapse every day from deterioration.

We stayed at the Hotel Nacional that was designed in 1930 by the New York firm McKim, Mead, and White. The hotel’s loggias and gardens overlook the Havana Harbor and beg you to sit down and enjoy a mojito and the view. There we were treated to a performance by musicians formerly of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Paladars are private restaurants located in homes. One of my favorites was La Guarida where the movie Strawberry & Chocolate was filmed. The building is being renovated from the top down with a new roof top terrace with great views of Havana. The decaying first two floors make you question if this is in fact a restaurant. After negotiating broken treads and a wobbly handrail on the marble staircase you enter a hauntingly beautiful gallery space. The food was also very good.

Outside of Old Havana there is a treasure trove of Art Deco and Mid-century Modern buildings built between the early twenties and 1959. One gem was the 1938 house of graphic artist Enrique Garcia Cabrera designed by the Cuban architect Maximiliano Borges. Sculptural panels by the artist grace the front façade of the house.

 Another highlight was the house designed by the California architect, Richard Neutra for the Swiss banker Alfred de Schulthess. The family only lived in the house from 1956-1960 when Castro nationalized private residences. It is now the residence of the Swiss ambassador, Anna- Pascale Kraver Muller. The gardens are by the Brazilian landscape architect Burle Marx who is described as a painter working in landscape.

The most recent buildings we saw were built in the early years after the revolution with a post revolution Cuban aesthetic. The Instituto Superior de Arte was designed by Richardo Porro and is a series of domed buildings. The campus was never finished and was recently highlighted in the award winning film Unfinished Spaces.

To see Cuba before it is modernized, now is the time to go. There are many groups offering tours, including the Copperbridge Foundation, National Geographic and Roads Tours.

Lebanese Details

There were all sorts of interesting details to discover in Lebanon. From macrame sunscreens to ancient paving in the souk. Here are some of my favorites.

 This macrame sun screen was at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the sea.
This macrame sun screen was at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the sea.

 Reed Sunscreen in the Byblos Souk
Reed Sunscreen in the Byblos Souk