Supporter's Column: Takero Shimazaki

The act of running, as a test of endurance, patience and training, has a string of parallels to the practice of architecture, as well as providing a necessary outlet from the increasing challenges in the profession.

About Running

Given the column’s intention to respond to issues currently facing practitioners, it is our engagement with existing buildings, context and our grappling with material resource and the application of materials which drives much of our current thinking. We discuss ‘doing less’ both in practice and in architecture. Using less materials, resources, and labour, but also less in our own workload - meetings, emails, travel.  We discuss the challenge of balancing this intention with both the clients’ aspirations and our own.

There are however, a number of excellent writings and publications related to this topic, so I have chosen instead to write about something more personal which impacts my practice and work directly.

I am not sure what triggered it - perhaps a thought of self-preservation – but about 5 years ago I began to run in the mornings. As I don’t drive I often travel on foot, but this was more about finding another form of exercise to compliment my regular Pilates routine.

When thinking about ‘doing-less’, it is perhaps more useful to think ‘what would be enough’. Running is a form of practice where one moderates pace, distance, speed, as well as deciding how often to run. Going too fast is unsustainable and too far can cause pain in my knees. Do I run every day? Or have days off in between? It is a discipline which requires adjustment everyday depending on my condition.  

In 2020, the brief for our Unit 8 PG students at London Metropolitan University was Enough Already. Together, we discussed what might be enough to make a significa nt architectural and urban contribution in the current climate. We began our research with the premise that we already have enough of many things, including buildings. We argued for a fairer, more even and effective distribution of our resources. There were some incredibly resourceful and imaginative projects produced that year for Bricklane sites and for House of Annetta (link below), but also for ideas for the future of the built environment on how to work with what we find by re-using reclaimed materials and doing just enough.

While running, I can sometimes think about things afresh and other times no thoughts can occupy my mind at all. It is a way of forgetting about things, being in the void and emptying my head space. Sometimes, I focus on my breathing. Other times, thought might be on the running form, posture and whether my feet are landing on the ground effectively to cause less strain on other parts of the body. Considering running a simple form of exercise, I hadn’t appreciated how complex it can be. I have taken up nasal breathing, alternating bare-foot and cushioned shoes, knee exercises, experimenting with intensity and using my regular Pilates sessions to train and maintain my core. Another thing I began earlier this year is Low Heart Rate running. I run slowly at a certain Heart Rate about 80% of the time. This seems to build more efficiency and works on aerobic fitness. Although other runners pass me often, it suits me well. I learn to be patient and consistent, doing bit by bit each day to keep going.

I must maintain focus on my breathing, pace, rhythm, posture, and things like cadence. It is not about competition with other runners but lasting my own distance while maintaining my own rhythm without injury.

Running together is wonderful too, of course, both during and when reflecting on the experience. We participate in Hayes Davidson Motor Neurone Disease  charity running each year as a practice. It is a foundation that late Alan Davidson, a friend of our practice set up.

Running has become part of my routine – so much so that when I travel, I run wherever I am, often choosing a direction at random and running until I am truly lost. I make turns on instinct, perhaps led by the streetscape, or architectural interest. Early Sunday morning runs on empty Broadway New York, the streets of hilly Porto and along quiet intimate rivers in Ghent have been wonderful highlights in the last year, always proving a stimulating way of engaging with new surroundings, appreciating the moment.

Architecture happens very slowly in this seemingly very fast world. To practice architecture one must be patient, adaptable and have endurance. I have found running contributes to self-discipline, most notably, regarding sleeping hours, waking early as routine and maintaining calm. It keeps me relaxed when starting work and has made my ‘architects back pain’ more manageable. Ultimately, running provides me with clues to better understand ideas of consistency and ‘what is enough’ mentally and physically.


This article was written by Takero Shimazaki, director of Takero Shimazaki Architects