design

Tokyo Balcony Garden Press

shu_kuge_wood_block_prints_garden

Shu Kuge has shifted his art from comics to wood block prints, using the name Tokyo Balcony Garden Press. I love that the name references our Tokyo home. Above are some of the wood blocks he made this winter in Tokyo. Looking forward to spending the rest of spring and summer in Japan together.

In addition to his art work, Shu has also helped my consulting company, Social Models, with comics, personas, and mascots for corporate clients including Hitachi Design Division and Facebook. It’s been an amazing collaboration, with Shu’s comics going viral in my clients’ offices.

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Have you seen this cactus bonsai shop in Tokyo?

qusamura_cactus_bonsai_shop

サボテンの盆栽をはじめて見ました。AQというユーザー・エクスペリエンス(UX)の会社の友だちは、Qusamuraのきれいなデザインが大好きだそうです。

My friends at AQ, a Tokyo user experience agency, are big fans of Qusamura’s cactus bonsai. Lovely design.

What rules do you break for design? An essay in Ethnography Matters

デザイン人類学についての記事が出ました。たまには規則を破ったほうがいいと思っています。差し当たり、記事は英語だけで申し訳ありません。

A very exciting blog started recently called Ethnography Matters. Contributors include applied anthropologists and experienced practitioners, graduate students and professors, design and technology consultants. It’s a very intelligent and public discussion.

My Guest Post is called “Outside In: Breaking Some Anthropology Rules for Design.” Design and industry are becoming more aware of the value of ethnography. I wanted to raise the question of how to make visible the full range of theories and perspectives from our academic training as cultural anthropologists. And when to break the rules.

Although it’s tempting to put a happy gloss on past endeavors, I also think there’s been a lack of public discussion about the employment realities in anthropology over the past decades and how they have led to an inward focus. This silence serves very few people.

My essay is about reclaiming the productive parts of academic training, while also gleefully breaking old academic rules. I am curious whether the younger readers, particularly graduate students, will have a different perspective. Do academic rules still limit creativity and innovation?

What do you think? Have you broken professional rules to be a better designer? Can we be simultaneously thinkers and practitioners?

“We are people who scoop. Environmentally active students.” That’s the welcome message for prospective students.

.@ilynam とユキさんと一緒に農大に来て、強い雨に降られました。入口に、「すくう人。環境学生』のポスターを見て、うれしくなりました。鈴木先生のために、海外に作られた日本庭園のことについて学べるサイトを作ります。デザインと庭と画像と土を一緒にするので、このプロジェクットは楽しいです。

It was raining when @ilynam and Yuki joined me for the first meeting to create a website for the 500 garden database of Japanese gardens outside Japan, a project I am helping Suzuki sensei with this year.

At the entrance to the school, somehow this rainy scene was an apt start for this exciting project where we will mix design, gardens, pixels, and soil. Bringing this knowledge online will be very helpful for people around the world who are interested in knowing about and visiting hundreds of Japanese gardens in dozens of countries. And working with design stars Ian and Yuki, I am confident that we can combine simplicity and beauty in the interface.

The banner offering campus tours for new students says, “We are people who scoop. Environmentally active students.” The word sukuu means “scoop” and also “save.”

Winter decorative cabbage in flower ceramic

もう一つ、植物の室内撮影。ハボタンは東京の冬に育ちやすいです。この小さい紫のキャベツと花のデザインの陶芸を組み合わせるのがおもしろいと思います。

Still more indoor plant portrait photography.

Another plant that usually lives outside in the balcony garden, decorative cabbage is great for winter color. I also like how the purple leaves and mini trunk combine with the flower design of the ceramic. In San Francisco, raccoons ate our decorative cabbage the first night we brought them home. The next day two raccoons knocked on the backdoor with a hungry look on their faces.

Furin & chandelier decorate homeless camp in Shibuya

風鈴がホームレスの家を飾っています。宮下公園の下、渋谷スランブルの近くにあって、この家はとても整然としています。東京はいつも何かと隣り合わせになっていて、垂直な層になっています。例えば、半分公共の空間と空っぽの空間、デザインされた空間とデザインのない空間、住宅、スケードポード場、飲み屋、そしてバイクの駐車場。

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.

Unexpected fall scene in traditional Japanese garden

ほとんどの外国人は、ヤシの木とイチョウの落ち葉の組み合わせを日本の秋の風景とは想像しません。

Tokyo palm trees with ginko leaves are not most foreigners’ image of the typical Japanese fall landscape.

I love this juxtaposition of Tokyo’s most common, self-seeding palm tree named Shuro (シュロ, or Trachycarpus fortunei) and fallen yellow ginko leaves. Most people think of fall as defined by maple leaves turning red, or winter as pine trees. This unexpected combination of ginko and palm is an alternative juxtaposition of deciduous and evergreen.

This photo is from “Shuro hill” at Tokyo’s oldest Japanese garden, Koishikawa Korakuen (小石川小楽園), created in the early Edo period by the second Tokugawa ruler. This area is also called “Kiso yama,”with the mountain, path, and stream designed to evoke the Kyoto highway. This is but one of many garden scenes that miniaturize famous places in Japan and China. My appreciation of this garden is indebted to the passion and knowledge shared by my professor Suzuki Makoto who gives the most extraordinary tour.

This last image shows the juxtaposition between this nearly 400 year old garden and modern Tokyo. In the background are Tokyo Dome (right) and the Bunkyo ward office (left). Many of the garden structures were destroyed during the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo, and the garden reduced in size by post-war development.

Despite its abbreviated size, the garden is large enough that only later did I realize I forgot to see the rice paddy on the north side. The loud bird cries indicate that this garden is a critical nature sanctuary in a crowded city.

Architecture bike tour with Linus Yng: First stop, space cube residence

どうして素敵な建築に都市生物多様性がないのだろう?

Why is cool Tokyo modern architecture devoid of urban biodiversity?

I recently took Linus Yng’s wonderful bike tour of (mostly) Suginami, with a few detours in Setagaya. I highly recommend exploring Tokyo on a bike with this Swedish graduate student in architecture. His tours combine visits to notable contemporary buildings, and a broad understanding of Tokyo’s history, topography, planning, edges, forgotten spaces, and endless complexity.

I’ll be running a series of posts sharing what I learned on this 3 hour ride. There were so many interesting designs, so many traces of country roads and Edo canals, and some surprises along the way. Today’s post looks at a remarkable small residence, designed by Yamashita Yasuhiro of Atelier Tekuto, our first stop.

I am amazed that in Tokyo, people are able and willing to pay for innovative small residences that stand out from the vast majority of large and small buildings that are built rather than designed. I love how futuristic this house is, and wonder what it’s like to live inside.

Yet from a biodiversity and neighborly perspective, I am very skeptical of this project. It seems all the more ironic when I read the Design Boom interview that states the architect “creates his architecture based on the system of society, the environment and the function.” Although the neighboring buildings suffer from a lack of design, I admire how social they are in terms of informal gardens.

I wonder why this designed residence is so void of plants. Perhaps the owner has no interest in plants. Yet, I wonder if the architect could not have specified some low maintenance, high impact plantings that would have brought life to the building. Perhaps architects don’t want organic material interfering with the shapes and lines they create. Given how street gardens are so uniquely Tokyo, I think this architect, like many others, has missed a big opportunity to re-imagine public green space and sociability.

Weekly flower display at Kiba Metro Station

Thanks to Chris Palmieri of AQ design studio, here are two photos of a weekly flower display at Kiba Station, on Tokyo Metro’s Tozai line (T-13). The flower arrangement is created by a flower shop called Kawashima (フラワーショップ・カワシマ) in what seems to be an informal public-private partnership.

I like how the local flower shop is offering this public improvement and receiving some publicity for their work. It’s also incredibly lovely that they provide the names of the flowers they use with a simple hand drawing. My only question is why they are unable to make a slight improvement to the scuffed stand.

In the US or Europe, I imagine the entire arrangement, including the vase, would be quickly stolen. In Japan, there is much more opportunity to share individual and small business gardening with strangers.

Gardens and Public conference in Metz, France

I spoke about “Gardening the City: Networking Small Green Spaces” at the Jardins y Publics conference last week in Metz, France. The conference brings together world leaders in botanic gardens, garden design, local governments, and tourism. It is organized by Pascal Garbe and the Conseil Général of Moselle, with support from the European Union.

The conference exceeded my imagination in terms of discussing new publics for gardens: the disabled, children, seniors, and refugees. I appreciated the outward focus beyond the walls of the garden, and the attendees were very interested to hear about Tokyo street gardens and urban wildness.

One of the most interesting and discussed talks was by Fritz Haeg, who has turned American lawns into vegetable gardens and received much attention from contemporary art museums. I am interested to read his book about this project, called Edible Estates.

Other speakers included leaders of the Barcelona, Singapore, New York and Montreal botanic gardens, Scandinavian garden designers, nonprofit community organizers, health advocates, and promoters of private gardens. Attendees included local government officials and landscape design students from this interesting area along the French, German and Luxembourg border.

The conference was an amazing experience. Further highlights included visiting the Jardins Fruitiers de Laquenexy, and the Centre Pompidou-Metz. Metz itself is a charming town divided between a historic French city around a very steep cathedral, and a German city built around the train station.

Kaza Hana: Amazing garden shop/cafe/bar in Aoyama

Leaving a meeting recently, I walked through some back streets of Aoyama, and came across this amazing sidewalk garden. The contrast between the potted plant garden and the slick glass building was intriguing. The aesthetics, density and plant selection made me realize quickly that this was not an amateur garden.

Inside this amazing vertical forest is Kaza Hana, a florist, garden design company, cafe and bar. The exterior merits further study for its vertical garden construction, its mix of Japanese garden plants and exotics, and masterful mix of color, texture, and form.

Completely enchanted, I decided to relax and enjoy lunch there as well. Inside, the jungle immersion theme continues, with plants everywhere, hanging sculptures, and a flower shop along one wall. I was fortunate to have a long chat with a flower instructor, Yoshida Miho, who later sent me her blog full of wonderful flower photos and a description of her work with plant therapy and “natural life design.”

Yoshida-san explained that Kaza Hana’s owner is a garden designer named Ishihara Kazuyuki (石原和幸). Ishihara-san has won three consecutive gold medals at the world famous Chelsea Flower Show. This fall he will also be showing his work at the 2010 Gardening World Cup this October in Nagasaki; you can see his profile and portfolio on their site. I believe Ishihara-san started as an ikebana designer.

Below are two more images from the shop, and also the intriguing sidewalk garden Ishihara-san designed for the hair salon across the street. I hope to meet Ishihara-san and learn more about Yoshida-san’s work, too.

Empty lots are abundant and under-used

Tokyo is full of empty lots that mark the time between demolition and building. Sometimes they stay empty for more than a year. Most are turned into automated parking lots, some so small they only provide space for a single car. Some in busier neighborhoods get covered in gravel and host crepe shops in a trailer.

The empty lot above, just off Omotesando in Aoyama has three uses: tapioca drinks for sale, vending machines, and ashtrays for smokers. Considering the proximity to so much high-end shopping and so many people, it seems like a vastly under-utilized urban space.

It would be cool to see something more useful in these temporary spaces: energy generators, plants for shade and habitat, edible gardens, nurseries to grow and sell plants, attractive places for relaxation, socializing, and pets. Their design would need to be portable, modular, and generate some minimal income for the owner. Creating a prototype space for these liminal spaces would be a great project for a local government, corporation, or non-traditional marketing company.

Dutch fans of Japanese gardening

One of the best parts of publishing this blog is hearing from people around the world who share their love of gardening and public spaces. I hear frequently from architecture graduate students (US and UK mostly), environmentalists, and gardeners.

Recently Hester van Dijk of Overtreders W contacted me and shared her photos of urban and rural gardening in Japan. Oversteders W is a Dutch spatial design studio. The photos in this post are hers, republished with permission, and you can see her complete photo set online. She is a much better photographer than I am.

I think of Dutch public spaces as so well designed, so I was impressed by her appreciation of Japanese gardening. Here’s what she wrote me:

Last autumn I traveled in Japan by bicycle, and I was fascinated by the subject of city gardening in Japan too. I collected a series of photos that I think might be interesting to see for you, not just from Tokyo but also from Kyoto, Kanazawa, Hida Takayama, Osaka, Naoshima and the countryside. The Japanese way of sidewalk gardening is so creative, much more interesting than here in Holland. The subject has been very inspiring for me as a public space designer.

Pasona’s new farm and landscaped building

UPDATE: I posted a revised article, “Sensing Four Seasons at a Tokyo Office Building,” on Huffington Post on July 30, 2010.

Some friends and I visited Pasona’s new office last week. They are a large Japanese staffing farm that had a highly publicized basement farm in their old Otemachi headquarters. This year they moved nearby to Yaesu in their own newly built, nine story headquarters between Tokyo Station and Nihonbashi. Pasona has unveiled a much more elaborately landscaped interior and exterior.

The image above is my favorite because it highlights the interface between the futuristic farm, dependent on a variety of grow lights including LEDs, and the urban environment outside. I am certain that the indoor vegetables will give them the most attention again, but actually I believe the exterior landscaping is more inspiring and impactful.

Below is a brief tour of interior and exterior. After the photo tour, I will suggest some metrics for judging the success of this very visible corporate monument to urban nature.

Glowing all the way across the wide downtown street even in daylight, a spectacular rice paddy with dozens of strong lights occupies the main lobby entrance of the building. The entrance doors are flanked on the outside by beautiful apple trees in giant rusted steel planters.

Almost the entire first floor of the building is devoted to the spectacle of vegetables planting, growing, and ripening under powerful grow lights: rice, tomatoes, melons, corn, eggplants, herbs, and lettuce. A large cafe features wood posts hung at angles and supporting canvas bags with soil and corn. One wall has a series of metal cases with purple lights and tiny fans that have a very “next century” feel.

There is also a room with racks and racks of lettuce, and a field of giant sunflowers. And everywhere vegetables and seedlings are arranged in attractive vignettes. Elsewhere, tomatos hang from the cut-outs in the ceiling. (Click to enlarge the photos below).

What I think works are the following:

  • Pasona demonstrates its commitment to bringing nature into the city by devoting so much valuable space and employing great landscapers and designers.
  • Pasona packages its vision in a combination of high design and new technology that is visually stunning, unique and in many ways hopeful.
  • It is interesting how the cafe and second story meeting spaces are divided and enhanced by greenery. The constant changing as plants plants grow and get replaced, and juxtaposing informal meeting spaces with living plants is a welcome change from most office interiors.

But I also have to point out where the vision falls short.

  • It largely fails as a public gathering place. The giant lobby rice paddy is at once open free to the public and oddly devoid of people, except for a few curious first time visitors. The strange color, strong heat, and loud sound of the lights seems to repel people. In fact, the employees use a side entrance, and bypass the lobby. There is no sense that employees or neighbors will use most of this space, except for suited young people using the cafe and second floor meeting rooms.
  • The intensity of the lighting and sheer quantity beg the question of energy expenditure. Pasona must address how sustainable this idea of indoor agriculture is, and whether they see energy production or usage changing in the future of urban farming.
  • There is no sense of season or natural habitat. It is understandable that birds and wildlife are not permitted inside, but their absence makes the interior seem sterile. Why is the corn ripening in May?

While the indoor farm will generate the most attention for Pasona, I think that the exterior landscaping is more impressive and ultimately more interesting for urban habitat creation and the integration of nature with work space. Two thirds of the building front and at least one side have been carefully planted on handsome screened balconies to produce four seasons of color. Included are citrus trees, wisteria vines, Japanese maple, blueberries, and flowering vines like clematis.  Although the plants are small now, it is easy to imagine the exterior becoming a unique vertical forest and colorful garden over the next years.

The exterior vertical landscaping has 200 species of plants, and many trees that lose their leaves in the winter. The idea is that the plant mass will reduce carbon emissions, summer shade will keep the building cooler, and winter bare branches will allow more direct light during the cold season. While the public is not invited to the upper floors, it appears that the exterior plants are all on balconies that are either accessible or viewable from inside the offices. Click below to see posters that explain the exterior landscape and the designers who worked on this project, and how the exterior garden appears from the sidewalk below.

I am looking forward to watching the exterior of the building grow into its potential. And I am eager to hear how the office workers feel about the outdoor plants that are so close to their interior work spaces.

I’ll end this post with a dandelion weed I spotted on the edge of the rice field. It is this type of unplanned feature that makes natural landscapes so enchanting.

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.