context

Barren space between sidewalk and Roppongi Hills

どうして六本木ヒルズの入り口は死んでいるのだろう?

Why is the entrance to Roppongi Hills so ugly and uninviting?

Every time I walk from the subway into Roppongi Hills I am shocked at the extremely ugly first view of this mega-complex. In addition to the elevated freeway, pedestrians are greeted by this horrendous, wide, astroturf-covered dead space in front of Roppongi Hills North Tower.

How could this make people want to enter Banana Republic? And what does this say about Mori Building’s vision for integrating their properties into their neighborhoods and communities? I feel that this forgotten and dirty space implies that the real landscape only begins at the podium level and that the North Tower is not of equal status to the rest of the complex, despite being in the front. It’s as if they imagine that their important customers enter the complex only by car.

This lack of respect for pedestrians, neighbors, and context is completely unnecessary. The smallest gesture would improve this space and make it more inviting and alive. If Mori Building reads this post, I hope they will consider improving this entryway to their otherwise well landscaped property. If anything, improving the entrance might also provide an opportunity to consider how to extend their landscape ideas further out into the neighborhood, creating connections with other shops and residents, and building a larger and healthier eco-system that would benefit Mori and their neighborhood.

Last night I attended the last Pecha Kucha Tokyo of the zeros decade, one block west of Roppongi Hills, and remembered that I had taken this photo weeks ago. Each time I am shocked as if for the first time. Outside of the expensive office towers and glittering malls, I wonder how such an ugly neighborhood can be attractive to multinational companies and foreign ex-pats.

Tokyu Hospital covered in vines and plants

The Tokyu Hospital building in Ookayama is truly stunning. I blogged about it last fall, when I noticed that the Tokyu rail/construction/retail conglomerate was advertising “we do eco” in the Tokyo Metro. Seeing the hospital in person exceeded my expectations: a huge building on top of a rail station and enveloped in plant life that will only become more attractive over time as the plants mature.

In addition to the two large facades with vines climbing the height of the building on tension wires, another side has deep balconies that are lushly planted. The landscape is meant to promote healing for the patients who can see and access the balconies from their rooms. I imagine it is also calming for visitors and workers, plus it makes an amazing contribution to the neighborhood and all the people using the rail station.

I would love to see the landscape from the inside of the hospital, and to learn more about the plant selection of this fantastic vertical garden.

Between reading about this project and seeing it recently, I was also very fortunate to meet Tokyu Hospital’s landscape designer, Hiraga Tatsuya (平賀 達也). After working at Japan’s largest architecture firm Nikken Sekkei, designers of Tokyo’s new Sky Tree, Hiraga-san now runs his own successful landscape architecture firm called Landscape Plus.

Alongside institutional and private projects, Hiraga-san contributed to Ando Tadao’s master plan calling for a new Sea Forest in Tokyo Bay (Umi no Mori or 海の森) linked to a network of old and new green spaces that would improve wind circulation throughout Tokyo. This was part of Tokyo’s failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Speaking with Hiraga-san, I was very impressed by his vision that an individual site design’s performance and aesthetics are improved when it responds to its context. Hiraga-san also told me about his love for Tokyo’s hills and soil.

It seems very courageous that he has created his own practice despite the poor economy for architects in general, and also Japan’s still limited understanding of the value of landscape architecture. I wish him great success, since I am certain that Tokyo as a city will continue to benefit from his projects.

Fall camellia in Tokyo

The weather is turning very cold in Tokyo, the leaves are turning color and fall camellias are now in bloom. This bright pink “sazanka” (サザンカ) surprised me on my walk through Koenji. Below you can see the context of this unexpected pleasure.

Feria nightclub in Roppongi

Feria nightclub in Roppongi

A friend guided me to an amazing green wall outside Feria, a nightclub in Roppongi, in a small alley across from Midtown. Climbing the entire front facade, this four story vertical garden is densely planted and lush. I was told that it’s about three years old.

Here’s an image of the context.

Feria nightclub in Roppongi

And lastly the view from the street.

Feria nightclub in Roppongi

Feria’s website shows how cool the vertical garden looks illuminated at night. I am intrigued that the vertical garden is the core element of the nightclub’s visual identity, in person and online.

Feria nightclub, night view, from website