futuristic

Sumida river sparkles at night. Is Tokyo best experienced by dark?

日中より、夜の東京のほうがきれいですね。国技館を出て、橋を渡るときに見える隅田川や神田川やスカイツリーはロマンチックな感じがあります。

Tokyo looks more magical at night. Walking across the Sumida River after seeing a sumo tournament, we admired the retro modern view of the bridges, elevated freeways, railway tracks, and inky black river. Even Sky Tree, the latest addition to this skyline, projects a futuristic image that is oddly familiar.

The green neon marks the Kanda river’s last bridge before joining the Sumida river. This river starts at Inokashira park in Kichijoji, west of where we live and winds for 26 kilometers before joining the Sumida and flowing into Tokyo Bay. A few years ago, I co-wrote an article about the Kanda river’s history and potential for new urbanism in Tokyo. You can download the 6 MB document in PDF form here.

At the bottom, you can see that there are still pleasure boats parked at the bottom of the Kanda for river dining and drinking. I’ve never been on these smaller boats.

Scenic combination of Showa window and Chinese parasol tree with pods

昭和時代の窓と大きいアオギリの木は素敵です。今、薄緑色の花がたくさんついています。東京にはもっと古い建物と熟成した木がいります。

Near our apartment is this older house with a deciduous tree that fills out in the summer. I love the bunches of light green pods it produces. Sadly there are not enough old houses or old trees in Tokyo. When you see this combination in Tokyo, it’s at once nostalgic and perhaps futuristic.

Ever resourceful Jason at Flora Grubb Gardens identified it by photo as a Firmiana simplex, Chinese parasol tree in English or aogiri (アオギリ) in Japanese. A quick visit to Wikipedia taught me that it’s an ornamental tree related to cacao. It’s within the same plant family as cotton, okra, hibiscus, and abutilon.

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.

Unusual city trees & shapes in Okayama

Unusual city trees & shapes in Okayama

Last month I visited Okayama to see Korakuen garden on a trip that also included Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea, Kurashiki, Awaji-shima and Kobe. Okayama is a modern city with wide boulevards and tons of automobile traffic. Still, I was struck by two improbable plant and fountain installations.

Above is a double pygmy date palm growing under lights in an underground passageway. This barren space is at a major intersection and is the only way to get from the tram to the sidewalk (en route to Korakuen garden). Grow lights are environmentally questionable, but adding exotic plant life in a dramatic and futuristic setting certainly brightens this subterranean space.

Okayama flower fountain

Maybe it is because of my unfamiliarity with 1970s Japan, but I was struck by this flower-shaped fountain outside of Okayama’s main rail and Shinkansen station. Friends told me that it is a common civic adornment. Still, I like the theatrical and exaggerated floral shape.