Month: November 2010

Creating a beautiful place for the least appreciated wildlife

芸術は小さな自然を美しい形で招き寄せます。この虫の家が欲しいです。

Art provides a beautiful way to invite the smallest and least cute wildlife into our lives. I want this bug home!

This beautiful “habitat sculpture” was created by Kevin Smith, with inspiration from Lisa Lee Benjamin of Urban Hedgerow, and featured at San Francisco’s Flora Grubb Garden. It is made from salvaged and natural materials, and promises to attract a variety of insects. The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a story about creating “bug hotels.”

Art is a valuable way to help us invite nature into our lives. And insects, often ignored by city dwellers, are bottom-of-the-food-chain and critical for supporting a variety of wildlife and plant life. I like how Lisa talks about the importance of expanding our “tolerance” for wildlife that may not immediately appeal to us.

My favorite Japanese garden flower in fall

秋に咲くツワブキは伝統的な日本庭園の花です。栽培しやすくて、とてもきれいです。

Tsuwabuki is a traditional Japanese garden flower in fall. Easy to cultivate and very pretty.

I love this Japanese garden flower, called “leopard plant” (farfugium japonicum) in English, or ツワブキ. It has bright yellow flowers in October and November, shiny green leaves, grows and spreads easily in shade, and is a traditional Japanese garden flower. This photo was taken at my friend Takada-san’s stunning garden.

Bright red berries on late autumn bonsai composition

友達が作った素敵な景色盆栽は秋を表現しています。それぞれの要素は色々な違う場所から来ています。

My friend’s stylish bonsai composition expresses autumn with elements from distant geographies.

My friend Matthew Puntigam created this bonsai composition last week. It’s a wonderful expression of late autumn: the red berries, sparse leaves, and asymmetry of the plant, and the intriguing composition that creates a fantasy landscape with elements from distant geographies.

The plant is, possibly, called ピラカンサス (pirakansasu) in Japanese, or Pyracanthas in Latin. I like how Matt, a bonsai apprentice, has paired the plant with a stone from Sadoshima (佐渡島), an island in Japan or Korean Sea, depending on your perspective, that served as a penal colony and place of forced exile since the eighth century. The diminutive turtle is of unknown provenance, but the slate is an old roof tile from Matt’s Maryland hometown.

Thank you for the gorgeous image!

Irresistible Nakameguro balcony mushrooms contribute to landscape

だれも都会のキノコの誘惑に勝てない。

Who can resist urban mushrooms?

My architect friend James Lambiasi sent me this photo of Nakameguro mushrooms on a second floor balcony. Do these mushrooms apply to landscape, he wondered? Of course, nature is no less splendid when touched by humans. This lovely, jumbled cityscape- of power lines, bicycles, laundry, exhaust pipe, paper lantern, and fall foliage- is a perfect frame for a double mushroom table and chair set. Thanks, James!

Marui’s new Nakano store offers generous sidewalk

新しい中野のマルイ(0101)は歩道をきれいします。公共の造園がマルイの新しいブランド・アイデンティティになります。

Marui’s new Nakano store offers a generous sidewalk, blurring public and commercial spaces. I love how Marui is making public landscaping its brand identity.

I am super pleased that the new Marui department store in Nakano is building a great entrance. Rather than build up to the edge of the property, Marui has a two-story atrium by setting back its entrance, with four mature trees and hopefully some planter beds. By blurring the line between public and commercial space, Marui will create an engaging sidewalk with plants.

For a short stretch of this narrow sidewalk on the south side of the JR station, there will be plants on both sides.

This store design seems related to the new Shinjuku store landscape, which I blogged last year. That store also has two very popular ground floor food shops (an Italian gelato and French bakery) that are very open to the sidewalk and attractive, new green spaces.

I like to see how smart retailers realize that improving the sidewalk and pedestrian experience will increase business and goodwill. There is no contradiction between generosity and profits. I hope that this public green space becomes a recognizable part of Marui’s brand identity. I’ll definitely check out Marui Nakano when it opens soon.

Barren space between sidewalk and Roppongi Hills

どうして六本木ヒルズの入り口は死んでいるのだろう?

Why is the entrance to Roppongi Hills so ugly and uninviting?

Every time I walk from the subway into Roppongi Hills I am shocked at the extremely ugly first view of this mega-complex. In addition to the elevated freeway, pedestrians are greeted by this horrendous, wide, astroturf-covered dead space in front of Roppongi Hills North Tower.

How could this make people want to enter Banana Republic? And what does this say about Mori Building’s vision for integrating their properties into their neighborhoods and communities? I feel that this forgotten and dirty space implies that the real landscape only begins at the podium level and that the North Tower is not of equal status to the rest of the complex, despite being in the front. It’s as if they imagine that their important customers enter the complex only by car.

This lack of respect for pedestrians, neighbors, and context is completely unnecessary. The smallest gesture would improve this space and make it more inviting and alive. If Mori Building reads this post, I hope they will consider improving this entryway to their otherwise well landscaped property. If anything, improving the entrance might also provide an opportunity to consider how to extend their landscape ideas further out into the neighborhood, creating connections with other shops and residents, and building a larger and healthier eco-system that would benefit Mori and their neighborhood.

Last night I attended the last Pecha Kucha Tokyo of the zeros decade, one block west of Roppongi Hills, and remembered that I had taken this photo weeks ago. Each time I am shocked as if for the first time. Outside of the expensive office towers and glittering malls, I wonder how such an ugly neighborhood can be attractive to multinational companies and foreign ex-pats.

Magical fall foliage in Tokyo’s gardens

新宿御苑の紅葉はとてもきれいです。

Visiting Shinjuku Gyoen in the fall is magical.

I love seeing the maple leaves take on such vivid colors, often starting on the outside of the tree and then moving towards the trunk. The leaves still on the trees contrast with those that have already fallen. Shinjuku Gyoen has many ponds and reflecting pools that intensify the views. Because of the garden’s immense quantity of species, there is always something new to see week after week.

I am also hoping to see two special evening “light up” fall foliage events this season, at Rikugien Garden (六義園) in Bunkyo-ku and Otagura Garden (大田黒公園) in Ogikubo.

 

Home-grown eggplants in the middle of November

自家栽培のナスは美味しかった。十一月にナスが取れるなんて驚いた。

Home-grown eggplants are delicious! I am surprised they can be harvested so late in the year.

Just the other day, another foreigner was complaining that Japanese brag too much that they have four seasons. As if other countries don’t have that. While I agree that four seasons are not unique to Japan, I am amazed at how long spring and fall last here in Tokyo. Just a few days ago, I harvested my last three eggplants from the balcony garden. They were small and delicious in a spaghetti sauce I shared with a friend.

Rivers in western Tokyo

西東京の三川における、江戸時代にさかのぼる歴史や街と街をつなげる緑や洪水対策の仕組みが観察できます。

Along three western Tokyo rivers you can see Edo history, green corridors, and flood control.

On Linus Yng’s @ArchitourTokyo Western Tokyo bike exploration, we passed three contrasting rivers. The first is a view of the Kanda (神田川) from Yamate Dori (山手道り), with Nishi Shinjuku in the background. Many people have explained to me that the deep channeling is designed to prevent flooding. But it seems nonsensical to me that the entire river, include its bed, must be hard surface with no plant life. Closer to the skyscrapers, I regularly bike along the Kanda at night on the way to my favorite sento, and often hear ducks and other birds. It’s amazing how resilient urban wildlife is, despite our worst actions.

The second image is one of the few remaining, visible portions of the Tamagawa josui (玉川上水). Both the Kanda and the Tamagawa josui were human constructed canals built during the early Edo period to direct fresh water to the castle in the center of Tokyo. This was a massive project with 50 kilometers of canal dug through woodlands, at some points up to 18 meters below ground. This project supplied freshwater to the city, and turned the outer woodlands into productive farm land.

The last image is of the Zenpukuji River (善福寺川), which like the Kanda begins at a natural spring, and flows into the city center. This river has been turned into a very attractive park and green corridor running through much of Suginami. I was fascinated that many recreational facilities, including baseball fields and tennis courts, also serve as flood reservoirs. You can see how the water will flow directly into the sunken sports area in the photo at the bottom.

Edge between new road and post-war past

新しい道と古い道が出会う場所。

New town and old cities meet at this intersection.

On Linus Yng’s @ArchitourTokyo Western Tokyo bike exploration, the second stop was a fascinating corner. A wide and modern road (4 lanes, sidewalks)- Inokashira Dori (井の頭道り)- from the skyscraper district of Nishi Shinjuku meets a major ring road (6 lanes, sidewalks)- Kan-nana Dori (環七道り). The modern road dead ends into a narrow one-way street full of old sheds that must have housed many small businesses and residences in the post-war era.

I was fascinated by Linus’ explanation of how planning created these large roadways, and paradoxically preserves old neighborhoods on the edge. Although many maps show the road continuing through this neighborhood, Izumi (和泉名店街), the money and priority must have become exhausted. What you see instead is a neighborhood preserved for decades because no one will invest in improving or replacing buildings that are in a right-of-way of a possible, future major road.

In addition to the lane that runs in the center of the planned new roadway, Linus also pointed out the 10 to 15 story buildings that extend to the edge of where the road might one day be. In much of Tokyo, new buildings along major roads are often granted heights up to 15 stories, whereas the buildings behind them remain low. Tsukamoto Yoshiharu of Atelier Bow-Wow calls this the “cream puff pastry” of Tokyo urban planning, and explains that one function of these modern buildings, built to new standards, along the major roads is to provide a firebreak in this disaster-prone city.

It is amazing that for the width of the proposed road, the neighborhood is a time capsule of a Japan that was rebuilding itself rapidly after the war. I’d like to go back and explore more about who is still living there, what businesses thrived in the post-war period, and what creative re-use may be happening with these provisional buildings that were never intended to last this long.

UPDATE: Linus shared his excellent photos of this intersection with me later.

Small flowerpots at Shiho student ceramic show

私の作った小さい植木鉢が史火陶芸教室の生徒展に出されます。砂の「化粧」をしてます。見に来てください。

Come see my small flowerpots at Shiho ceramic studio’s student exhibition. They are wearing makeup!

This is my third Shiho ceramic studio student art exhibit. This year I created four small flowerpots with saucers, and my friend Matthew Puntigam helped me with planting them. We used mostly succulents, an ornamental cabbage, and pansies to complement the design and signal the season. Matthew did an excellent job with plant composition, placement, and ornamental sand and rocks. He told me that Sinajina‘s Kobyashi sensei refers to the decorative sand and rocks as plant “makeup” (化粧).

The student exhibit is from today through Wednesday (Nov 20 to Nov 24) in Nishi Ogikubo. Please see the last image for a map. It’s three minutes walk south from the train station. If you’re planning on attending, please email or call me since I can’t be there during all the opening hours.

Sweet peas for fall/winter in Tokyo

東京では秋に豆が育てられるのですね。

You can grow peas in Tokyo during the fall!

On Linus Yng’s architectural bike tour, we stopped to see Atelier Tekuto’s futuristic house (see previous post). The houses across both small streets have fantastic curbside gardens. I realized by looking at one of them that Tokyo gardeners grow climbing peas in fall. How cool!

This gardener must really like peas, because there are eight different pots with plants climbing onto this one net. I wonder if they are different types of peas (snap, shell, and other types). When I visited the garden store this week, I bought a simple four-pack of peas to try on my balcony.

Architecture bike tour with Linus Yng: First stop, space cube residence

どうして素敵な建築に都市生物多様性がないのだろう?

Why is cool Tokyo modern architecture devoid of urban biodiversity?

I recently took Linus Yng’s wonderful bike tour of (mostly) Suginami, with a few detours in Setagaya. I highly recommend exploring Tokyo on a bike with this Swedish graduate student in architecture. His tours combine visits to notable contemporary buildings, and a broad understanding of Tokyo’s history, topography, planning, edges, forgotten spaces, and endless complexity.

I’ll be running a series of posts sharing what I learned on this 3 hour ride. There were so many interesting designs, so many traces of country roads and Edo canals, and some surprises along the way. Today’s post looks at a remarkable small residence, designed by Yamashita Yasuhiro of Atelier Tekuto, our first stop.

I am amazed that in Tokyo, people are able and willing to pay for innovative small residences that stand out from the vast majority of large and small buildings that are built rather than designed. I love how futuristic this house is, and wonder what it’s like to live inside.

Yet from a biodiversity and neighborly perspective, I am very skeptical of this project. It seems all the more ironic when I read the Design Boom interview that states the architect “creates his architecture based on the system of society, the environment and the function.” Although the neighboring buildings suffer from a lack of design, I admire how social they are in terms of informal gardens.

I wonder why this designed residence is so void of plants. Perhaps the owner has no interest in plants. Yet, I wonder if the architect could not have specified some low maintenance, high impact plantings that would have brought life to the building. Perhaps architects don’t want organic material interfering with the shapes and lines they create. Given how street gardens are so uniquely Tokyo, I think this architect, like many others, has missed a big opportunity to re-imagine public green space and sociability.

1000 bud chrysanthemums at Shinjuku Gyoen

These giant chrysanthemum displays are a marvel of human manipulation of nature. Called an “ozukuri bed” (大作り花壇), this technique for pinching, pruning and training chrysanthemums (菊) originated in Shinjuku Gyoen in 1884. In the first half of November, it’s a featured display each year.

On a conceptual level, I love the orderly rows that transform nature into a skilled craft. And I know that chrysanthemums are a national symbol of Japan. Yet, however monumental and transitory, I fail to find these flowers beautiful. What do you think?

There’s another style where the chrysanthemums are trained to look like a cascading river of petals. I like how they are in special bamboo huts with blue curtains and red tassels.

Scarecrow mixes tradition and commerce

I already forgot where I saw this scarecrow last week. I find the image haunting and overwhelming.

There’s something very Japanese about this scarecrow and its placement in an ad campaign. The farmer’s clothes evoke the past, the expression is at once cute and creepy, and a figure created to deter birds from the field draws attention to a graphic overload of ads highlighting ready-made foods from the countryside and the “Christmas fair.”

This excess of visual symbols in a small space is a kaleidoscope of opposites: 2D and 3D, paper and cloth, old and new, city and country, national and imported, food and commerce, artisanal and industrial. The patterns, colors, fonts, photos, graphics, and references are dizzying.