greenery

Small house borders large empty lot and some greenery. How did this post-war house survive, and how long has the neighboring lot stood empty?

この小さな戦後に建てられた家は、東京の終わらない再開発を生き残りました。手前の大きな空き地が、どのくらい空いていたのだろうと思います。

This small post-war house has survived Tokyo’s constant re-development. I wonder how long the large empty lot in the foreground has stood empty.

Wildness beside a busy subway platform

In Yotsuya, the Marunouchi subway pops out of ground in central Tokyo. From the platform, there is this amazing view that includes a still functioning, although rarely used service road, an abandoned bus stop and plaza gradually returning to the wild, and a border of exuberant independent plants. There is something beautiful to glimpse this inefficient use of space and so much lush greenery in the midst of a dense city.

Giant hedge frames modern house in Nakano

I love this giant hedge framing a modern house in Nakano. It’s even more beautiful at night, which is when we discovered it on a walk through the neighborhood.

The house is mostly concrete with wood on the second floor balconies and some bamboo as a screen for the ground floor. I love how the hedge opens up to provide an entrance to the house (and a permeable parking space). The outer hedge is then echoed by a shorter inner hedge close to the ground floor windows. On the right side, there’s a small gap and room to park a few bicycles. It’s a great combination of privacy and opening, concrete structure and plant life.

I like how the gardener has used bamboo poles to train the hedge into an arch over the entrance. It’s a simple and elegant support.

Viewed from the side, the house disappears behind the thick greenery. Usually I am a fan of much greater plant variety, but this residential garden shows how much can be achieved with a single species.

Visiting Nagano and Niigata with Nodai

Niigata Dream House

Last week I visited Nagano and Niigata prefectures with Nodai. It was my first experience seeing the incredible beauty of the countryside, the rice fields and satoyama ecosystems, steep hills, wood houses, and small towns. The focus of the trip was rural revitalization and experiencing history, both centuries-old and more recent, in landscape.

Although I had heard of satoyama from 5bai Midori, I had not expected to be so overwhelmed by the exuberant greenery of rice field, abundant water and forest. In some ways, the agricultural landscape looks like it had been there for 2,000 years of co-habitation between people and nature. Because of the small plots and terraces, much of the farming is still done by hand, and there was no evidence of industrial agri-business like flat Kansas wheat fields or Maryland chicken mega-factories.

Matthew Puntigam photo of Niigata satoyama

Our university field trip made clear that this is no pastoral eden. Abandoned houses and schools reflect a rapidly aging and shrinking population, and we witnessed buildings from Japan’s 1980s Bubble that were shuttered or on the verge of bankruptcy.

The trip included three major locations connected to efforts by Nodai’s professors in the Garden Design Laboratory and Landscape Architecture Science. The tour was led by Professors Shinji, Suzuki and Hattori.

1. Obuse in Nagano: an Edo town that was once a center of commerce and culture due to its location at the confluence of the Matsu-kawa River and Chikuma River, with a six hundred year history of chestnut trees and one hundred year old sake distillery. Today there is a famous Hokusai Museum, restaurants, chestnut foods, sake production, a marathon, and an “open garden” town program.

2. New Greenpia (ニュー・グリーンピア), a massive resort built in the 1980s to provide outdoor experiences for working class urban residents. A central feature is a garden designed by a Nodai professor, and the resort history shows how the exuberance of the Bubble laid a poor foundation for the past two decades. Its name refers to its green mission and its uto*pia*n ambitions.

3. Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial, which describes itself as “350 artworks, deployed in communities, rice fields, vacant houses and closed schools, are the fruit born from the collaboration and exchanges between rural locality and city, artist and satoyama, and young and old.” A Niigata Art Triennial director spoke with our group outside Marina Abramovic’s Dream House (see Nodai Trip, part 4, for more on this installation and Niigata Art Triennial).

Nodai Students in front of Niigata Dream House

The trip also included a chance to speak informally with the professors, graduate and undergraduate students, and Research Fellow, plus banquets with enormous portions, visits to Japan’s giant highway rest stops, and onsen bathing.

Nodai students at trip banquet

And lastly, there was an informal lesson on making onigiri for my foreign colleague and me.

I’ll post more photos and observations from the trip in the next days.

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.

Continue reading