The term environmental consciousness spontaneously conjures up a lot of mental images from our daily life and work. We have all separated our garbage for years. We take public transportation or bicycles. We buy organic groceries or produce our own electricity ourselves... In our role as architects, we have to think daily about how sustainable our products or building will be. There is no lack of discussions and publications on these matters. But there is one common and unifying thread here: the recognition that something has to change for the better.

In Japan, this core concept forms the basis of the holistic life and work philosophy known as kaizen, which in western industrial nations has often just been associated with the introduction of a quality management system designed on its principles. In this narrow sense, the focus is improving product quality. As it is practiced in Japan, however, kaizen is the philosophy of never-ending ‘eternal change’. This sometimes leads to unusual and scurrilous but also meaningful inventions and revelations.

And so it’s not surprising that precisely in the land of the rising sun, a farmer several years ago questioned the status quo of a normally grown watermelon in order to reflect on what could be changed to better adapt the fruit to our modern needs. He was particularly interested in improving transportation and storage (while also keeping ecological principles in mind). In short order, the dimensions of the fruit were altered to fit a standard Japanese refrigerator. This was done simply by growing the watermelon in a cubic box. No artificial additives were used. This scurrilous idea became an extravagant sales success and found imitators around the world.

The photo of the cubic watermelon has floated around our office on various computers for several years and, as we have searched for handy images, it has time and again been the source of entertaining and stimulating discussions.

Problems are opportunities to improve!