heat island effect

Aoyama Cemetery

Aoyama Cemetery

Braving the summer heat, I walked through the huge green space of Aoyama Cemetery in Minato. Despite the approach of the obon holiday, there were few people inside the park, including a solitary runner and a few cars passing through. The cicadas were incredibly loud, and large crows perched in the trees.

Aoyama cemetery

Aoyama Cemetery is Tokyo’s largest (26,000 square meters), with hills, valleys, many trees, and a central lane with 200 cherry trees. The 100,000 graves include Hachiko, famous Japanese politicians and artists, as well as a foreigner section (gaijin bochi).

The cemetery is incredibly central, and provides a mix of natural views and tombs juxtaposed with the sights of new skyscrapers on the periphery. There is an odd resonance between the tombs and the tall buildings in the distance.

Aoyama cemetery Aoyama cemetery crow

Suntory Midorie

Suntory Midorie

Recently I visited Suntory Midorie‘s showroom in Aoyama. The entrance vertical green wall with their company name was most impressive in terms of plant diversity and aesthetics. There are also about ten other designs showing the variety of looks they can create with wood frames and internal pump and watering system.

Suntory Midorie system

Suntory Midorie has created these indoor walls for offices, malls, cafes, airport lounges, and hair salons in Tokyo and Osaka. The systems use artificial planting material (half the weight of soil), hydroponic systems automated with pumps and timers, with water collecting at the base. The water drips from top to bottom once a week, and Suntory Midorie provides monthly maintenance to its corporate clients.

Suntory Midorie roof

In addition to these framed walls, Suntory Midorie also makes a horizontal roof top system that’s been used by Mitsui on an office tower near the Imperial Palace to mitigate the heat island effect and lower air conditioning costs. Suntory Midorie has done some exterior green walls, for a cafe, a hotel pool area, and a group of Shibuya vending machines.

Suntory Midorie home

A miniature system of small indoor frames, with no mechanical system, is sold online for residences and marketed as something young girls might enjoy taking care of. Suntory Midorie was founded in March 2008, and became independent of  its beverage manufacturer parent company Suntory in April 2009.

Balcony green curtain

Bitter melon, balcony green curtain

Inspired by the Suginami Ward Office’s giant green curtain, we have started a green curtain for our south-facing balcony using bitter melon and morning glory. Above you can see the first vegetable taking shape. Below a wine-colored morning glory; other colors include white, blue and white, pink and white, and “crystal blue” from Okinawa.

With twine, we have created a simple structure connecting the railing with the laundry support attached to the balcony ceiling. It is amazing how fast the vines grow in the Tokyo heat and humidity.

morning glory, wine color, balcony green curtain

3 projects created by 5bai Midori

Kami Meguro residence B entrance

Recently a director and landscape designer from 5bai Midori took me on a tour of three projects in Meguro, two residences across from each other and an apartment building. The two houses in Kami Meguro are across from eachother, with one residence garden inspiring its neighbor. Above you can see how the plants have thrived after seven years, with vines reaching the third floor roof garden, and an interesting mix of small plants, shrubs and trees framing the entrance. With the plants reaching maturity, you hardly see the boxes that are the foundation of the garden system. Because the plants are all local natives, maintenance is just twice per year.

The “Moegi” apartment building in Kakinokizaka below was designed by an architect who wanted to maximize greenery with 5bai Midori. Plants are placed along the sidewalk, in the main entrance, private courtyard, and side bicycle storage area. Above the street level, there is a ledge running the entire width of the building that is completely covered in 5bai Midori boxes.

Kakinokizaka Moegi apartment building context

The first of the Kami Meguro houses has a wild exterior that contrasts with the typical cinder block wall of the neighboring property.

Kami Meguro residence A context

Its side entrance consists of gently sloping pebble steps also based on 5bai Midori’s box system. The feeling is organic, private and charming.

Kami Meguro residence A side entrance

You can see my previous posts about 5bai Midori and its founder Tase Michio. Below the jump are some additional photos of these three projects.

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“Daylighting” Cheonggyecheon River

Daylighting Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul

A great article in today’s New York Times about “daylighting” the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Daylighting refers to uncovering streams buried under pavement. Three miles of elevated freeway were removed, a plant-rich stream restored, and central urban land was converted from car-centric to people-centric.

Benefits include:

  • summer temperature reduction by 5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • improved storm drainage, which global warming has worsened
  • reduction in small-particle air pollution from 74 to 48 micrograms per cubic meter
  • less auto congestion despite the loss of vehicle lanes
  • bio-diversity gains include 25 versus 4 fish species, 36 versus 6 bird species, and 192 versus 15 insect species
  • 90,000 daily visitors, including walking and picknicing
  • higher real estate values for adjacent buildings
  • political gains for former mayor, now South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (also formerly head of construction at Hyundai Corporation)
  • restoration of the historic center of a 600 year city
Daylighting Cheonngyecheon River in Seoul

Government officials and urban planners from Los Angeles, Singapore, San Antonio, and Yonkers have expressed interest in restoring urban streams. Sadly, the article did not mention anything about Tokyo, where most of its historic canals and rivers are covered by streets and elevated freeways.

Mori Building’s Vertical Garden City

Mori Building's Vertical Garden City

Mori Minoru’s Mori Building is Tokyo’s largest urban real estate developer. His Vertical Garden City idea and Urban New Deal Policy are private enterprise visions for a re-made city that is at once more densely populated, more environmental and green, and more profitable for the largest developers. 

I had the intriguing experience of being invited to witness a presentation by Mori Building company for a US journalist. Asked to remain silent so as not to detract from the journalist’s work, I witness one foreign journalist, a simultaneous translator, a guide from the Tokyo Foreign Correspondent’s Club, two Mori Building Public Relations officer and one urban planner. This is clearly a business where image is created through tremendous resources.

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Crown Prince and Princess attend greening event in Yokohama

Crown Prince and Princess attend greening event in Yokohama

During Earth Day, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess participated in a Yokohama greening event. In his remarks, the Crown Prince cited the benefits of greening for reducing global warming and improving urban life. The event was the 20th Midori no Aigo in the Yokohama Animal Forest Park.

The media quoted two statements from the Crown prince: “I hope everyone involved in various activities throughout the nation will deepen mutual exchanges and renew their feeling of protecting and nurturing greenery.”

And “In order to protect the precious greenery we have … it is crucial for people to understand its importance and participate extensively (in conservation).”

The Prince and Princess also planted memorial cherry trees.

Umi no mori: What if a forest is created and no one knows?

Umi no mori, Sea Forest, wind passage, Tokyo

What if an urban forest is being built in Tokyo and no one knows?

In the past weeks, I have met with a Tokyo Metropolitan planner, the Mori Building press department, a foreign real estate developer, a University of Tokyo environmental scientist, a clean energy entrepreneur, and a visiting artist-in-residence working on urban farming. In the next days, I’ll also be meeting with a Tokyo architect and a senior Hitachi representative.

At this early stage in my project, one thing that has become clear is how little known some of Tokyo’s most innovative projects are among real estate professionals, cultural leaders and ordinary citizens. I have been surprised how few people in Tokyo know about Ando Tadao’s plan to create a forest in the sea, called Umi no mori, with half a million trees built over 88 hectares of landfill in the Tokyo bay.

Initiated in 2007 as part of the ten year plan to re-make the city in part to compete for the 2016 Olympics, this Sea Forest project aims to clean the city’s air, reduce the heat island effect, involve elementary school children, and provide cool breezes throughout the city in summer.

The land is built on top of 12.3 million tons of municipal waste buried from 1973 to 1987, topped with alternating layers of refuse and cover soil, originating at no cost from water purification plants, sewage sludge, city park and street tree compost.

Resoil for Umi no Mori, Sea Forest

There are also ambitious plans to involve elementary school children with growing seedlings and planting them in the new forest.

Umi no mori, Sea Forest, kids planting and growing seedlings

And here’s Tado Ando’s inspiring message about this project’s importance for Tokyo and the world’s connection with the environment:

Umi-no-Mori ( Sea Forest) will become a symbol of our recycling-oriented society through which Japan, a country that has a tradition of living hand-in-hand with nature, can make an appeal to the world about the importance of living in harmony with the environment. In view of the fact that landfills exist in all corners of the world, I perceive this island as a forest that belongs not just to Tokyo, but to the world, and through this project, wish to communicate the message of “living in harmony with nature.”

「海の森」は東京の森ではなく地球の森として、世界へ向けて、「自然とともに生きる」というメッセージを届けることができると考えています。かつて焼け野原になった街・東京は、先人たちの努力によって復興されました。今度は私たちの手で緑豊かな森をつくり、次世代の子供たちに美しい自然を愛でる心を伝えたいと考えています。未来の東京、日本そして地球のために、皆さん一人一人の「志」をどうか募金に託してください。

Perhaps the Tokyo government does not want to spend too much money on publicizing their activities, with the idea that it’s better to act than talk. However, this enormous public work project seems like a great opportunity to educate Tokyo residents and the world about the positive activities city governments are taking on behalf of people and the environment.

To read more about Umi no Mori:
http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index_e.html (English)
http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index.html (日本語)