Month: December 2010

A house overflowing with flowerpots in Nakano

Somebody clearly loves flowers.

だれか花が大好き見たいだ。

Tokyo is an endless adventure. Walking through the backstreets of Nakano, I was amazed by this flowerpot garden that covers the entire facade of the house, and even camouflages the car parked in front. There must be hundreds or thousands of potted plants, mostly secured by wire.

You can see on the car that the gardener is showing off some winter flowers, like chrysanthemums, pansies, and cyclamens. The car seems very tidy and protected with styrofoam sheets so I am guessing that they really do use their car. I like how they are making car-driving less convenient in order to increase the amount of plants and make their home more beautiful.

Chris at Tokyo DIY Gardening has assembled four other Tokyo examples where plants seem to have greater importance for residents than the ease of using their car. You can see examples of a similar house on Tokyo DIY Gardening, a perhaps abandoned motorcycle and car also on Tokyo DIY Gardening,  Linus Yng’s Tokyo Parallellt, Twitter’s @Remmid’s YFrog stream.

I love the amazing spirit behind this Nakano house where more is really more. Covering your house and parking pad with plants gives you a different relationship with your neighbors. I think it’s interesting to contrast this exuberant urban forest with more cutting edge Tokyo architecture that not only ignores landscaping but creates a hostile interface with neighbors. Two examples come from my fall bike architecture tour with Linus Yng.

First is the fantastic Endo Masaki “Natural Wedge House.” The triangular shape meets sunshine regulations and provides an interesting and translucent shape. The structure is entirely visible, and the house seems to float on top of the base. However, from the street you can’t see the front door, and there is absolutely no plants as part of the design or actual residence. Instead, this house interfaces with the city through its car.

Another example is perhaps unexpected. Ban Shigeru’s Hanegi no mori building is celebrated for preserving the wonderful old forest canopy that surrounds the 10 or so units. Yet, again, this Tokyo architecture seems to draw inspiration from car-dependent cities, with the residences atop a parking lot. From the street, the visitor sees cars first, then the building, then the tree canopy.

I wonder if residential architects even in Tokyo imagine that their clients do most of their trips by car. Is this a class bias or a mistaken assumption. Do those with money neither walk nor take transit? Or is it a matter of wanting to show off the houses’ novel designs unobstructed by plants? Devoting so much scarce resources to car parking and access cuts off the home from the neighborhood and promotes a type of urban life that seems wasteful and unattractive.

Mini pine forest outside Japan Supreme Court

Miniature pine forest outside Japan Supreme Court. In 1970s, traditional garden joined Brutalist architecture. Would love to see traditional garden with urban forest today.

最高裁判所の外にすてきな松の小さな森がある。70年代に日本庭園とブルータリスム建築は一緒になった。将来は日本庭園と都市の森は一緒になれるかな。

Walking in Chiyoda-ku opposite the Imperial Palace, I saw this forest of beautiful stunted pine trees above a stone wall. At eye level, there appear to be hundreds of carefully twisted pines whose canopy is less than one meter from the ground. Behind this gorgeous sea of needles is the Supreme Court of Japan (最高裁判所), a 1974 Brutalist concrete building that won awards for its architect Shinichi Okada.

I love the stone wall and the pine forest. In my dream, the once avant-guarde building could regain its ぷprominence by using the concrete structure to support a dense urban forest on its walls and roof. The wildness of the forest hill would contrast nicely with the austere pine forest serving as a formal moat to this newly enlivened public building. The contrast would be magnificent.

While I love the chaos of DIY gardens and the lushness of urban forests, there is also room for traditional Japanese gardens and techniques in the urban landscape, particularly around important public buildings. The contrast between heavily manipulated and more natural landscapes is a new concept at which Tokyo can excel.

 

Fun skateboarding video of Tokyo guerrilla gardening

ゲリラ・ガーデニングのビデオは楽しいです。

This fun video is from Plants+ Japan, via @hiyokoimai.

Fantasy landscape with fountain, palm, and odd characters

A miniature fantasy landscape freely shared on a Tokyo curbside.

ミニチュアのファンタジー風景が舗道 の縁石を占領している。

This tiny curbside garden is a fantasy landscape in miniature in what was probably dead space previously between the house and the road. There’s moving water, a palm tree, plants, and several odd characters. I found it just across the road from the giant tree on that former country lane that is now barely visible in Suginami, not far from Opera City.

The contents are fun in their whimsical incongruity. Even in this tiny space, there are several overlapping vignettes. A tiny palm tree joined by a sliver bunny and a character that appears to be a cross between European Romanticism and anime; several Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) beneath some mid-height bushes; and the fountain with water plants and a character trio with a helmeted princess, a red Cobra super-hero whose left arm is a semi-automatic weapon, and an over-sized yellow dog. The fountain features plants, a tiny cliff-side, and bathtub ducks.

The garden structure is very DIY: low-cost, anonymously designed, and highly imaginative. I love that the gardener is sharing this creation with the neighbors and passers-by. The garden’s minimal foundation is constructed mostly of  low-lying brick with some wood fencing. I particularly like the tag that shows the flowers that will bloom later.

Thanks again to @ArchitourTokyo for the great bike tour where we discovered this sculpture garden.

Country roads leave traces in modern Tokyo

荷造りひもがこの大きな木を支えているのでしょうか? 東京に旧道の名残りがあります。

Do you think this twine can stabilize such a massive tree? Traces of an old country road in Tokyo.

Parallel to many elevated expressways and train lines are the vestiges of old country roads, some of which date back to Edo times. On last month’s @ArchitourTokyo bike tour of Suginami (and bordering areas), Linus Yng took me on some roads where you can sense the past and how the city has changed. This road is at once very wide and sparsely used. Another indication of the street’s age is the wonderful old tree whose canopy extends to the other side of the street.

I love the two recent additions to this tree: a bench provided by a neighbor, and the plastic twine around the trunk. Do you think this twine can stabilize such a massive tree?

Unexpected December fruit next to major street

I am surprised to see Tokyo fruit in December: cherries (crab apples) and baby persimmons on a major boulevard.

もう12月なのに東京でなっていたフルーツにびっくり。大きい通りにサクランボとベイビー柿がなっていました。

I did not expect to see cherries crab apples and mini-persimmons in Tokyo during December, and particularly not on the major boulevard near my home. In the small strip of land between the sidewalk and the road, someone has created a flower pot garden that includes these winter fruits. I wonder if the gardener is a shop owner, shop employee, or apartment building resident. Thanks to Twitter’s @hizaga for first spotting them, and @JasonDewees for identifying them.

Small green spots in Nihonbashi

Small green spaces in Nihonbashi include the Kabuto shrine and anonymous wall gardens.

日本橋の小さな緑。兜神社と名前の知らない庭です。とてもいいですよ。

In addition to a few historic corporate and government landscapes, Nihonbashi also has small shrines and anonymous micro-gardens. Canada’s Discovery History program filmed me talking about these locations. By accident, I stumbled upon a small Shinto shrine called Kabuto. It stands between a building covered in scaffolding and multiple elevated freeways just east of Edobashi bridge. It’s also across the street from the Bubble-era Tokyo Stock Exchange. Just behind it is the river.

Kabuto means samurai helmet. The shrine lends its name to the surrounding area. At the entrance are simple wood doors with the kanji for “kabuto” etched. The shrine seems very well maintained, and I wonder if those responsible for the shrine are the current business neighbors or descendants of generations of shrine keepers. I wonder, too, if the shrine used to be larger and better connected to the river. Now it seems almost swallowed up by the man-made environment on three side and from above.

It’s interesting that while the Tokyo Station area is full of new towers and multinational corporations, there are also still some small alleys and low buildings that provide a glimpse of the past. I found this curious sidewalk garden outside a five-story building that houses a reflexology clinic, a ramen shop, accountants, and probably a residence on top.

Here’s the list of tenants and the old entrance door. The garden is simple, well-cared for, and a cheerful sight in a densely packed area.

Nihonbashi trees preserved by government & corporations

In Nihonbashi, you can still see a few old trees preserved alongside rare, pre-war government and corporate buildings.

日本橋には、昔から生き残っている木がまだ少しある。そのわきに、戦前に建てられた政府や企業のビルがある。

Recently I spoke with Canada’s Discovery History channel filmmakers about urban planning in Tokyo, and they requested that we film at Nihonbashi. What was once the center of Edo Japan is now buried beneath an elevated freeway. I used this opportunity to explore Nihonbashi’s surroundings, and came across some interesting government and corporate trees. These sites were not included in the filming, but I found them interesting.

The giant pines outside the old Bank of Japan building are very impressive. While the structure is partly covered in blue tarp and seems unused, the elegant landscaping with more than a dozen, perfectly pruned trees looks magnificent.

I was also impressed to see Mitsubishi’s river-side warehouse at the Edobashi crossing. This building, too, seems to have survived the great Kanto earthquake and the United State firebombing during World War II. In Tokyo, buildings are constantly raised and rebuilt, which almost always means destroying the old landscapes. It’s interesting to spot a few examples of building preservation that also protect older trees and landscapes.

Red and yellow punctuate residential alley

つまらない住宅地でも、秋は美しくなる。

Fall trees add temporal beauty to residential Tokyo.

An otherwise drab residential street is lit up with red and yellow fall foliage. The red tree in the foreground grows in the very narrow space between a house and the low wall separating it from the street. The yellow leaves in the background are from a ginko tree, which is part a line of ginkos on both sides of a major boulevard. Like most Tokyo residential streets, traffic moves so rarely and slowly that it’s comfortable to walk or bike in the center of the roadway.

Modular satoyama box in full fall color

ベランダの庭には小さな里山がある。色が毎日変わって楽しみだ。

There’s a small satoyama in my balcony garden. The color changes every day.

The leaves on tis small tree in my balcony’s modular satoyama box are turning dark crimson. I love how this small box from 5bai Midori is full of Japanese native plants. I have kept this satoyama box for just over a year now, and always enjoy watching the change in seasons. It’s just 15 cm by 50 cm!

Pasona’s vertical garden fills out near Nihonbashi

高層オフィスビルの垂直な庭はオフィス街を活気のある場所にする。

One office tower’s vertical garden brings new life to Tokyo’s business district.

Pasona’s headquarter’s vertical garden is filling out and bringing new life to the crowded office streetscape between Nishonbashi and Tokyo Station. The lushly planted wall includes many traditional Japanese garden plants and imports such as blueberry bushes. I like how it contrasts with the surrounding office towers, from the 1980s to recent years, and demonstrates that the potential for office wall gardens to benefit everyone inside and outside the building.

It’s amazing how much the garden has grown since I last visited Pasona in May. I am very excited to see this corporate garden become a landmark in the Yaesu district. It would be great for Mori or Mitsubishi to follow this example and experiment with vertical gardens and wildlife habitats on much taller Tokyo buildings. I also hope that Pasona continues to innovate with its urban landscape. Sidewalk gardens? More fruit trees? Butterfly hatcheries? Honeybees? Falcon’s nests?

Below are some details photos, including leaves that have turned red this fall, and some late-in-the-year pink roses.

Urban pop-up parks in Lima, Paris and New York

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.

Vegetable delivery from Free Farm: from farm to risotto

Free Farmの野菜をリゾットにしました。友達にもすすめます。http://freefarm.co.jp/ @TEDxSeeds で、Twitter の @FREEFARM_taro に会いました。

Free Farm vegetables made into risotto! Check out http://freefarm.co.jp/, which I learned about via @TEDxSeeds.

I learned about Free Farm, a farm-to-city vegetable service, at this year’s TEDxSeeds conference. Recently we received a box of incredibly fresh, organic vegetables that put our normal supermarket food to shame. The carrots tasted sweet, the shiitake were grown on trees and not artificial “medium,” the baby daikon were gorgeous and full of flavor. There was also a small Chinese cabbage and a mild leaf vegetable we had never heard of called okanori (おかのり), which means land seaweed. (Apparently, when dried, it smells or tastes like seaweed).

The vegetables came in a simple box and were wrapped in the Financial Times newspaper. Also included were the names of the vegetables, information about the farm in Tochigi, some ideas for how to eat the vegetables, and a hand-written note from the farmer. The box including the vegetables above cost 2,000 yen, or just over 3,000 yen with the costs of shipping and “furikomi.” I highly recommend this food service, and you will enjoy it even more if you can read Japanese. A similar French service in Tokyo is Le Panier de Piu.

Here’s the risotto we made from the okanori, shiitake, and baby daikon.

 

Upcoming talk: Myths and Habits in the Improvised City

早稲田大学で、二人の若いオランダのデザイナーのプレゼンがあります。『即興都市における神話と習慣」についてです。16日、木曜日18時から。無料です。http://bit.ly/h97QFr

Waseda will be hosting two young Dutch designers talking about the improvised city. Free lecture this Thursday at 6 pm.

Speakers Krijn Christiaansen and Cathelijne Montensways explore “the ways public spaces and landscapes are made by, used by, lived in, transformed and shaped by people.” Their talk is part of Julian Worrall’s LLLABO series at Waseda’s School of Architecture. Please register in advance.

CNN on Tokyo’s green streets and vertical gardens

CNNのインタビューです。みんなが小さな緑をたくさん作って、東京生活を楽しくしています。路地と区役所のイノベーションについて話しました。@KyungLahCNN さん、 ありがとうございます。

CNN broadcast their interview with me about how neighborhood gardens make Tokyo life so enjoyable. Focus on small green streets & local government innovations. Thanks @KyungLahCNN

Continue reading