Is it the ribbon tied in the back? Summer yukatas are the best. Maybe not the most practical clothing, but certainly stylish and elegant. I momentarily forgot I was at Shibuya station.
Everyone says how Hayama is where the Emperor has a summer home. No one mentions the Hayama Lawson’s giant, light-up coconut tree. Public landscapes reveal that design in Japan is often neither minimal nor elegant.
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.
Although hosta is an Asian plant, it’s more popular in America. For Americans, hostal is a very elegant import and expensive feeling. I associate it with upper class neighborhoods in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. You hardly see it in Tokyo. It’s easy to grow and very attractive I think.
Most of Tokyo is efficient, dense, and forward-looking. It’s great to travel in the city in a setting that evokes other places and times. Hayashi Fumiko was a famous woman novelist of the first half of the 20th century, and this is the home she lived in for the last ten years of her life.
Although the house is less than 75 years old, it evokes a very different Tokyo with its spacious garden. It’s a wonderful time capsule that has been well maintained. Admission is only 150 yen, and in summer the ticket seller offers mosquito spray and hand fans.