Aqua Scape 09.03.08

One of the speakers at last week’s Design Indaba was professor Shinichi Takemura, a media designer and cultural anthropologist at Kyoto University of Art and Design. Throughout his talk at the conference – which is held in Cape Town every February – the audience was listening to the sound of a suikin-kutsu – an earthenware jar sometimes called a water harp – in the Shokoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. At first, this was merely soothing, until we were told that we were connected live to Tokyo via the internet.

This is a small taste of Takemura’s work, which revolves around enhancing global connectivity in ways that are distinct from the conventional media. “The nature of mass media is to share what is extraordinary, but what we need to do is to share the ordinary realities of global lifestyle – the context around the news,” he says. An advocate of what he calls “earth literacy”, Takemura believes that if we encouraged understanding at the local, human level – for instance, with the ability to listen to the sounds of people in the street anywhere in the world – we would be less likely to launch into wars.

“One of the most important areas for design in this century is social design,” says Takemura. “To archive people’s memories and local knowledge, or how you’re connected to the global environment – where your food and water comes from and these kinds of things.”

Much more ambitious than this Kyoto link-up is his Tangible Earth project, a 10,000,000-to-1 scale virtual digital globe that shows climatic phenomena such as cloud movement and global warming in real time.

There’ll be more on the work of Professor Takemura in the May issue of icon. In the meantime, you can listen to the water harp, or indeed the sound of traffic in Mumbai, live at or monitor seismic activity at


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