architect

Inspired by Shibaura House, a new type of office and community space

オランダ大使館の文化・デザイン関係の方の紹介で、新しいShibaura Houseを訪れて、創設者の伊東 勝さんに会いました。去年建てられたこの建物は、広告会社の事務所を兼ねたコミュニティスペースです。
妹島和世という有名な建築がガラスと鋼を使って、非常に透明で簡潔で上品な建物を作りました。アウトドアスペースがたくさんあります。伊東さんの展望を反映していて、とても型破りなのです。広告のためでないものを作りたいそうです。これから、もっと土を取り込んで植物を植える予定です。どんな活動がこんな建物を近所の良いコミュニティーにできるでしょうか。どうやって人を引き付けられますか。どのようにスペースの効果を倍にすることができますか。より良い未来を作るために、どの過去のものを使えるのか。ミツバチやニワトリや野菜やフルーツや里山の植物を育てたら面白いと思います。新しいスペースと伊東さんの創造的な力で、芝浦ハウスが成長するのを楽しみにしています。

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.

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.

 

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!

Lack of benches in Tokyo’s streets

The Japan Times published an interesting story about the lack of benches on Tokyo’s streets. From the official government and planning perspective, streets are for moving traffic and pedestrians. The idea of city streets as a community space is not a factor.

I am always struck by how retrograde city planning is in Tokyo. As an architect professor friend told me, Tokyo’s many narrow, single-grade small streets-which are now considered the “new” thing in the US and Europe for promoting walking and biking-are undoubtedly considered shameful relics by the city’s traffic planners, whose mission is to move auto traffic as rapidly as possible.

The most innovative ideas for using streets as community life seem to come from residents (see my previous posts about residents supplying their own bus stop seating), and from real estate corporations that own enough Tokyo land to motivate them to create unique and livable streets. I thought of the latter last week seeing the many public benches in the Marunouchi district’s wide, tree-lined streets. The district is largely owned by Mitsubishi Real Estate.

Kuma Kengo’s new design features cool roof gardens

Famed architect Kuma Kengo’s new building, Tamagawa Takashimaya S+C Marronier Court, features cool roof gardens that jut out over the sides of the building on four levels. I am curious what the plants are, and how it will look as they cover the triangular frames. More photos on Designboom.

Speaking at Pecha Kucha on December 2

Next Wednesday night (December 2) I will be speaking at Pecha Kucha night in Tokyo (click for map). The event brings together the widest possible variety of designers– including architects, fine artists, crafts, graphic designers, illustrators, and other creative types.

Pecha Kucha’s name comes from the Japanese phrase for “chit chat,” takes place in an informal club setting with a simple format: presenters each show 20 slides that automatically change every 20 seconds. Begun by Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, the event has spread to 257 cities worldwide. Some past presentations have been put online.

In my 6 minutes and 40 seconds, I will try to speak half in English and half in Japanese. I hope some of my blog readers will be able to attend.

Fall foliage at Nezu Museum

Fall foliage at Nezu Museum

Diane Durston of the Portland Japanese Garden invited me last week to visit the Nezu Museum, which recently reopened. The art collection of scrolls and screens representing nature from the fourteenth century are stunning, as is the new building designed by Kuma Kengo is a wonderful example of “wafu modern” (和風モダン),  a modernization of traditional Japanese design. But mostly I was drawn outside to the large garden.

Nezu Museum garden

The winding paths and unexpected size make you feel far from Aoyama. Although just outside the main exhibit hall, the garden is marred by the sight of the strangely tall and also squat Roppongi Hiills Tower, once inside the garden it is a fantasy of forest punctuated by old tea houses, streams and ponds. The garden has been revived yet retains a look of simplicity and wildness. Originally it formed part of the home of the museum founder Nezu Kaichiro, the Tobu Railway president and industrialist who was a collector of pre-modern Japanese and Asian art.

Perhaps even better than Kuma Kengo’s main exhibit hall is his modern take on the Japanese tea house. The new cafe is incredibly light and airy, opening out on to the garden and with an interesting ceiling light that looks like illuminated stone.

Nezu Museum garden

Since our visit last Friday, the weather has turned much cooler, especially at night. The next few weeks will have wonderful fall foliage in the garden.

Nezu Museum garden

Harvard switches to organic landscaping

Harvard organic landscape

I was proud to see a recent New York Times article about Harvard making its landscaping organic. Despite some initial resistance and skepticism that the new landscaping could withstand its heavy human usage, Harvard has found many benefits from abandoning pesticides and fertilizers: soil microbes now aerate the soil, its trees receive more nutrients and water, irrigation has been reduced by 30% or 2 million gallons per year, and tree diseases such as leaf spot and apple scab have been eliminated.

The photo above shows how grass roots now extend eight inches deep, and the soil, once heavily compacted, can now be cut like a “knife through butter.”

In a one acre test plot, Harvard has saved $45,000 per year by not buying chemicals and by composting grass clippings and branches that they previously paid to be hauled and disposed off-site. Harvard hopes to go from its current 25 acres of organic landscaping to its entire 80 acres of landscape in the next two years.

You can learn more about Harvard’s organic landscaping and what you can do on their website.

It is also exciting to read that the project was initiated by Eric T. Fleisher, the director of horticulture at the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, during his times as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Also involved was Michael Van Valkenburgh, the landscape architect whose public space designs includes the Teardrop Park in Battery Park City and Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is great to see money and knowledge being directed at the creation of new public spaces.

Skyburb: High-rise suburban living in the city

Skyburb: High-rise suburban living in the city

From Inhabitat (click for more images), I read about a design concept for high-rise suburban living called Skyburb. It’s designed by Sydney architects Tzannes Associates to provide flexible, modular, and park-like vertical spaces in densely built areas. I am a bit skeptical about the idea of “introducing qualities of the suburbs into denser urban environments” because it is hard to imagine suburban living without privatized open space, automobile dependency, and nuclear family anomie. I think revitalized cities can and must do better than that. Still, the open steel structure and heavily green renderings are certainly appealing.

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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