The best place for a cold Tokyo day is the new Shinjuku Gyoen green house. Here’s a funny mix of Mexican angel trumpet and papaya under the glass dome.
An amazing, tropical place to spend a cold day. Yesterday, I enjoyed watching the park’s fall foliage through the enormous glass walls.
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.
I took a short break from the Epic 2010 ethnography in industry conference to see the Mori Art Museum’s Sensing Nature exhibit. Friends had told me about it, so I had high expectations. The exhibit is very conceptual and sensory at the same time, unfolding in a series of large installations that are familiar and strangely new views of our relationship with nature. It continues until November 7 at the top of Roppongi Hills.
It is a strange experience to go from the 62nd floor observatory, with 360 degree views of Tokyo and beyond, into these enormous and enclosed gallery spaces created by three mid-career Japanese artists: Yoshioka Tokujin, Shinoda Taro, and Kuribayashi Takashi. There are feathers, wind, water, forests, mud, mountains, and glass.
I was also struck that in almost all these the imaginative “new worlds,” it is impossible to experience the artists’ dreams without also being hyper-aware of our own presence within them. It is interesting to watch the reactions of other visitors, and to even catch unexpected images of ourselves. I highly recommend visiting the exhibit.
Japanese believe that wind chimes, particularly the sound of glass on metal, make you feel cooler in the summer. I am not sure if I agree, but it’s a nice seasonal decoration. When the wind is too strong on my balcony, I use a clothes pin to silence it.
On a prominent corner of Gaien-nishi Douri in Aoyama is this six story mixed use building with a vertical rose garden called Aoyama Art Works. On one side is all extra tall glass windows and a ground floor Specialized bike shop. On one of the smaller trapazoidal sides, framing the entry way, is a wall of yellow roses with incredibly thick vines.
On close examination, the metal trellis structure also supports additional planter pots on the higher floors. The effect, however, is of one giant rose bush. It must look spectacular in full bloom. This is an impressive example of how a gigantic garden can be created with less than half a meter of depth on the sidewalk.
A traditional sound of summer is an old-fashioned wind chime. This one is glass and metal, with a chrysanthemum patter. The sound is supposed to make you feel cooler.