A furin is a glass wind chime whose sound Japanese find cooling in summer; something about glass and metal striking. I was amazed to see this domestic symbol, along with a white chandelier (below), decorating two homes in this long row of wood and blue tarp cubes sheltering the homeless. (The furin is just to the right of the rolled up bamboo used to screen door).
I am struck by how incredibly orderly these living structures are, and how on a warm day when you gaze inside, the homes seem orderly and common place: tidy kitchens, matt floors, shelves and storage, on a scale just slightly smaller than what most Tokyo-ites live in.
This long alley of make-shift homes is just below Miyashita Park that paces the Yamanote line for a fe blocks. It’s just past Nonbei Yokocho and near the center of Shibuya. There was controversy over gentrification and corporate funding for city resources when the city accepted Nike sponsorship to renovate the park with design by Atelier Bow Wow. It seems the homeless merely migrated to the area just below the fenced-in skate park and fusball court.
Now it is a typically Tokyo close juxtaposition of semi-public and vacant space, design and non-design, and living, sports, drinking, and parking spaces.
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:
- What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
- How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
- How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
- What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?
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.
Since I have been taking an intensive Japanese language course in Shibuya, I have gotten to explore some of the back areas of Shibuya. Away from the massive crossing that is world famous (called a “scramble” in Japanese), and away from the crazy teen fashion, Shibuya is full of offices and even quiet residential neighborhoods.
I often pass the front of this bland and typical office tower. Recently, I was walking in the back alley, and realized that the entire rear facade is planted. I’ll have to go back some more to see if the wall of green grows thicker. It seems like a simple yet impressive structure for transforming the dead vertical space, and providing a beautiful garden for the office workers and neighbors. Well done!
Last week I made a quick curry rice lunch using Muji curry plus a store-bought tomato and home-grown snow peas. Snow peas are now my favorite Tokyo winter plant: decorative, edible, fast-growing, and vertical.
I got inspired by seeing a neighbor’s garden in November, buying starter plants, and watching them grow, and finally eating them. There’s at least a few more lunches ripening just outside my high-rise kitchen.
Update: Digging in the canvas pot that holds one of the peas, I came across the nursery tag. Apparently the two varieties are called キヌサヤエンドウ and ゆうさや。