I love how this mature garden is growing in soup pots on the sidewalk in Shibaura.
I love how this mature garden is growing in soup pots on the sidewalk in Shibaura.
Thanks to Mr Bas Valckx, who works in culture and design affairs at the Netherlands embassy, last month I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Ito Masaru, who has created Shibaura House as the headquarters of his advertising agency, Kohkokuseihan, and a new community space between Rainbow Bridge and Tamachi station in Minato-ku.
The building, designed by prominent Japanese architect Sejima Kazuyo of SANAA and completed in the summer of 2011, is as stunning as one could imagine: floor to ceiling glass walls, each floor plate unique, a form that combines transparency, simplicity, and elegance. There’s a sizable roof and three outdoor areas, a rectangular balcony and two curvy, double height voids.
But I was even more impressed by Mr Ito’s vision for work, community, and art. He kindly gave Bas and me a tour, which included rental areas, his company’s office, meeting spaces, and a ground floor cafe open to the public. Mr Ito is extremely knowledgable about urban planning, art history, and even permaculture.
His reason for creating Shibaura House and his plans for its future are inspiring and unconventional. He told me that his motivation for creating Shibaura House was to create the very opposite of the advertising business that he runs. And while he is pleased with how the building turned out, he is eager now to make it more alive, with more soil, people, and activity.
Too often, even in Silicon Valley, I have seen companies seek to wall themselves off from neighbors and outsiders. Global icons like Facebook, Google and Apple locate their employees in office parks, making their facilities off limits to non-employees and promoting secrecy over collaboration. I think Mr Ito’s bold vision suggests new ways to use real estate, to operate a company, and to become a vital part of local neighborhoods.
The neighborhood context is very diverse and layered: close to canals and the Tokyo Bay, near a main water processing facility, and neighbors with a variety of architectural styles from post-war, 70s residential, to more recent projects. As Bas reminded me, the area is reclaimed land from Tokyo Bay from the Edo period.
I’d love to see more plants, wildlife, and agriculture at Shibaura House. Things like bee hives, chicken coops, urban satoyama plants. It would also be great to see Shibaura House engage its neighbors with with local food, plants, and wildlife habitat connecting buildings and waterways with green walls, roofs, and sidewalks. I am eager to see how Shibaura House grows and takes shape in the coming years.
I often tell people that Tokyo’s urban life is wonderful in spite of city planning. On the one hand, this view valorizes the activities of everyday people in making public spaces alive with plants, care, and community. On the other hand, it also expresses a resignation that city leaders cannot or will not improve city life.
Recently I attended TEDxSeeds at Yokohama’s restored port. In addition to wonderful historic buildings that are preserved and reused, the entire port area has a revitalized public park and waterfront promenade. One of the most spectacular public places is the undulating rooftop park above the International Ferry Terminal, designed by London’s Foreign Office Architects; in Japanese it’s called Osanbashi.
This is a bold example of creating a new open space that combines commerce (the business of loading and unloading passenger ships) with a place for residents and visitors to stroll and relax on the waterfront. I heard one Yokohama resident refer to the building as “the whale” building because of its curvy surface.
If Tokyo city leaders thought big, what kind of new public spaces could be created here? How could some of its past be made visible and accessible today? What natural resources could be reclaimed with great architecture and some vision? It seems in terms of city planning that Japan’s other cities are more dynamic and more forward-looking than its capital.
“Tokyo seems to be changing into a city that is meant for people,” concludes the introduction to the Tokyo Metabolizing exhibit at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. The exhibit combines models and ideas from three architecture firms, Atelier Bow-Wow, Nishizawa Ryue, and Kitayama Koh, and formed part of the 2010 Venice Biennale.
Tokyo Metabolizing provides context for the rapid development of the world’s largest mega-city, and suggests new ways of living well in the city. I like how the architects respond with new dwelling types, including a blending of home and office, residences that share common spaces, and apartments where connectedness with others is valued more than privacy.
The architects are responding to new realities of who we live with and how we want to live. In Tokyo the average household is less than 2 people, and these smaller households seek new connections with neighbors, colleagues, and friends. I think the most radical suggestion is that an awareness of other people living around you might be considered a positive feature rather than something to be concealed or suppressed.
The metabolizing title harks back to a radical modernism from 1960s Tokyo, and foregrounds the city as a living organism: with a life, history, and progression. Carolyn Steel, in her book Hungry City, uses the concept of the city as an organism to focus attention on urban food delivery, prep and consumption. The urban built environment is also reflection of social life– from tax policy to demographics– and human aspirations.
I liked that Atelier Bow-Wow focuses on the untapped value of Tokyo’s void spaces: in-between, often wasted space between structures, which have potential for re-use and for gardens, community, and nature in the city.
The exhibit has great scale models, and is at Opera City until October 2. Also worth seeing is a special exhibit of recent works by young artist Ishii Toru (石井亨). Ishii creates psychedelic contemporary fantasies– full of convenience stores and fast food logos– using a traditional yuzen method of dyeing fabric.
Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.
Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.
I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.
Some questions I have include:
The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:
1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen
2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).
3. Oimachi retail building near station.
4. Daimon office building.
Recently I have been spending more time on this Shimokitazawa shoutengai, or commercial strip full of very small businesses. This one is northwest of the station, and somewhat hard to find. What’s great is its combination of shops run by old timers alongside imported hipster clothes, one of Tokyo’s best coffee shops called Bear Pond that roasts their own beans, a hookah bar, and at least ten hair salons.
There are thousands of these shopping streets in Tokyo, near transit stations and along routes that connect homes, workplaces, schools, and leisure areas. It’s strange that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is still so focused on cars and their movement across the city at the expense of walking and biking and other forms of common space usage. There is little government recognition or support for the idea that these relics of past decades are in fact some of Tokyo’s most forward-looking urban public spaces.
Lively pedestrian zones are common in Europe, and becoming more so in many cities in the United States. By not segregating cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, the street pace slows down to pedestrian speed while still allowing passage for delivery trucks and cars. The way the street is painted makes it appear even more narrow, providing further social cues about speed and usage.
Many of Tokyo’s shoutengai are suffering as consumers shift towards shopping at big box stores and driving as a primary form of transportation. The city government is truly looking backwards when it promotes automobile usage and fails to recognize the value of these vernacular public spaces that support human interaction and the environment.
Tokyo University of Agriculture Professor Suzuki is planning a firefly habitat at a junior high school. Each year, teachers and students from the Tokyo school visit Gunma to study fireflies. This year I was also invited.
Fireflies need clean water and darkness. According to Professor Suzuki, creating habitat in the city also requires a “social design.” The temple, cemetary, and senior center near the school are also invited to participate.
When we arrived at Kawaba-mura, the school girls weeded a rice field and played with frogs and crabs in the creek. Even though they are city kids, the students are very brave.
At night, we saw Genji fireflies and Heiki fireflies. There are a lot of fireflies on the edge between the forest and the rice field.
We stayed at a hotel called “Nakano Village” which on the inside is Japanese modern style, and on the outside the building looks like part of the hillside. It was designed by the famous Sakakura Associates.
Kawaba mura has many apple orchards, and recently they are also growing blueberries.
The trip made me think of the following:
What a clever idea! This simple metal structure places four flowerpots on a traffic cone. It’s very space efficient because all four are in a single line, with a slight variation in height.
Palgrave Macmillan‘s new City Branding book includes my chapter on city branding with new green spaces. Amazon’s says it’s in stock, but I am still waiting for the publisher to send me a copy. There are many chapters I am looking forward to reading, including Roland Kelts’ chapter on Tokyo (@rolandkelts). Many thanks to Keith Dinnie for editing this volume.
PART I: THEORY
Introduction to the Theory of City Branding; K.Dinnie
Branding the City as an Attractive Place to Live; A.Insch
City Branding and Inward Investment; A.C.Middleton
City Branding and the Tourist Gaze; G.Hospers
City Branding Partnerships; S.van Gelder
City Branding and Stakeholder Management; A.Stevens
Paradoxes of City Branding and Societal Changes; C.Ooi
City Branding through Food Culture – Insights from the Regional Branding Level; R.Tellstrom
City Branding and Sustainable Urbanism; J.Braiterman
Online City Branding; M.Florek
PART II: CASES
Introduction to the Practice of City Branding; K.Dinnie
The City Branding of Accra; A.Ebow Spio
The City Branding of Ahmedabad; S.Nair
Athens City Branding and the 2004 Olympic Games; M.Fola
The City Branding of Barcelona: A Success Story; J.C.Belloso
Chongqing’s City Branding – The Role of Graphic Design; F.Lau& A.Leung
Edinburgh City Branding; K.Wardrop
The Hague, International City of Peace and Justice; B.Hulleman& R.Govers
Kuala Lumpur City Branding; G.Musa& T.C.Melewar
Lisbon City Branding; J.Freire
The City Branding of Montevideo; P.Hartmann
New York City Branding; P.Bendel
Paris City Branding; J.Kapferer
Seoul City Branding; K.Y.Kyung
The City Branding of Hong Kong; T.Loo
Strategic Planning Director for China at Mediaedge:cia
Sydney City Branding; G.Parmenter
Tokyo’s City Brand; R.Kelts
Wollongong City Branding; G.Kerr
小さなポップアップ・ガーデンは都市を美しくする。短い間だけ、公道に庭を作る。東京にもポップアップ・ガーデンを作ろう！@5by50 さん、 ありがとうございます。
Pop-up gardens beautify cities, and temporarily bring gardens to the public. Let’s bring this idea to Tokyo! Thanks @5by50‘s Nicole Fall for pointing this out.
Lima, Peru, New York, and Paris each recently hosted pop-up gardens in the city center. With sponsors including a local government, a city botanic garden and the Dutch Flower Council, these temporary installations create beautiful gardens in crowded urban spaces. Although temporary, maybe these designs will inspire people to expect more from their everyday city environments. Thanks to Trend Central for grouping these three recent projects together, and to 5 by 50‘s Nicole Fall for sending me the link.
The incredibly prolific, creative, and productive Chris Berthelsen has launched a new public project, called ここの話, Koko no hanashi: Talking about Here. It’s an amazing, low tech and also analog project that creates community dialogue about public, publicly visible, and abandoned urban spaces. He’s prototyped it this week in western Tokyo, and you can read about it online and follow its progress through Twitter and a mailing list.
Talking about Here relies on a simple framework: placing a laminated sign and a simple question, like “Why can’t we use this park at night,” to invite neighbors to discuss very local spaces that are shared, visible, or under-utilized. People can respond using the QR code, or by simply writing in the notebook that is attached to the sign with a pen. Responses will be collated on a stripped down blog specific to each location.
The five initial locations are an interesting mix: a bleak park in front of a factory (run-down, official), a friendly neighborhood park which has been declared a ‘night no-go zone’ (well-kept, official), a park under an elevated freeway (run-down, secluded, official), an abandoned car in an apartment complex parking lot (illegal use), and a deserted house on a school route (run-down, private property).
The prototype just went up this week, and there are many questions: Will the signs be taken down? Will officials contact Chris to question his actions? Will neighbors use the QR code or notebooks to record their feeling and memories? Will neighbors be interested to read what other neighbors record?
I am always amazed at Chris’ imagination and ability to make things happen, with low fidelity tools and a bit of daring. We have worked together in creating the Tokyo DIY Gardening project, including the blog and collaborative mapping workshop last August at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. I believe he’s now got four projects launched in his spare time, all of which are shared freely online.
I have asked Chris if I can participate in Phase 2 of this project. I already have a few places in mind: a beautiful abandoned wood house with a garden that is minimally maintained by a neighbor, a pedestrian path that is heavily used and sitting above an old creek, my neighbors’ fruit trees. It might be interesting to ask property owners if they would like to have a sign that seeks comments about their public gardens. I wonder what the reaction will be?
Via Twitter, I’ve come across some fantastic new urban ecology projects in San Francisco:
Nature in the City, an NPO focused on conservation, restoration and stewardship. Currently creating habitat corridors for the the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), a small butterfly present in only three places in the city.
Urban Gleaning Program, a project of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works that encourages city residents to collect fruit from city trees and community gardens and distribute them to the homeless and hungry.
Urban Hedgerow, a new global cities project that creates space and allow more of our wild world into the city. The project joins urban naturalists and artists to increase insect, animal, and plant life, with projects starting in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, the UK.
Frequently I hear from urban planners, professors, students, and green city people from around the world who want to share their projects or meet people in my network. I encourage them to create a guest blog post. Below is a French student project that turns urban or rural nature discovery into a video game. It sounds creative and fun! The makers will be at Tokyo’s Miraikan this week to talk about it. And, if you would like to share your project, please send in a guest blog post! [Editor]
Can nature be the playground of a video game? Interested in this idea, five students in digital design and production from Gobelins, l’école de l’image, Paris, worked for nine months on a common graduation project named úti (Icelandic for “outdoor”). By addressing the discovery of nature using a game, the team, composed of three graphic designers and two developers, wishes to approach a young audience.
The concept is simple: put in the shoes of a explorer, the player starts exploring the nature that surrounds him, be it a green space downtown, or a forest in the countryside.
The game is composed of a mobile application, which uses GPS to record the walking path and provide the player with contextual activities: discover nearby points of interest, identify tree species, take part in collaborative timelapse animations by taking photos…
Back home, the player can visualize the territory he explored and the species he identified, by connecting to his base camp on úti website.
úti will be showcased at the Digital Content Expo, in the Miraikan, from tomorrow to Sunday. You will be able to test the mobile application and meet the team at the “Futur en Seine” stand (1F).
They are looking for partners and investors, so if you are interested in supporting the project, please contact the team at email@example.com
More info on the Digital Content Expo website: http://www.dcexpo.jp/en/programs/futurenseine/
Visit úti website for video demos: http://www.projet-uti.com
In a special biodiversity issue, The Kyoto Journal published my short essay called “Inviting Totoro to Tokyo.” The article celebrates Miyazaki Hayao’s (宮崎 駿) wonderful illustrated book “The Place Where Totoro Lives.” In illustrations, words and photos, Miyazaki portrays Tokyo residential districts village-like atmosphere and potential for wildness and mystery. Miyazaki imagines a city that can welcome Totoro by showing rare wood houses, the stories of their occupants, contemporary streetscapes, and how they can be transformed by creating an urban forest.
The Nezu Museum and its gorgeous Japanese garden are a just short walk from the Nishi Azabu Juban wildness, the Kakuremino bar, and lush sidewalk garden. Many people come to the newly rebuilt Nezu Museum for its exquisite collection of pre-modern art, or the new building designed by Kuma Kengo. I am a huge fan of its garden that combines tea houses and paths in a setting that seems ancient, slightly overgrown, bigger than its footprint, and entirely removed from city life.
When I visited recently, just before closing time towards the end of a long, hot summer, I was enchanted by how the light struck this worn boat, the plants growing in its bow, and the illusion of minimal human habitation in an endless jungle. I was also surprised to see Japanese maple leaves already turning red, despite the temperature being above 32 celcius (90 fahrenheit) for many weeks.
Taken together, these four posts about Nishi Azabu Juban speak to the wide range of nature in the city: professional and amateur gardens, single plants and total environments, built and wild, public and gated, destinations and everyday experiences. Plants grow wild even in the densest cities, but how we choose to nurture them provides endlessly varied results. I am inspired by the full range of possibilities.