modular

After massive cleaning, balcony floor is very clean, and plants even more modular

garden_detail_new_wood_floor_home_balcony
大掃除の後で、ベランダの床がとてもきれいになりました。今は、植木鉢を動かしやすいです。

Because the building was inspecting and maintaining the drains, we cleaned out the old rotted path, and all the accumulated dirt and roots that had jumped the pots. The balcony floor is now much cleaner, and it’s easier to move the plants around in new configurations.

Purple berries on murasaki shikibu pop on light green foliage

紫式部の果実は薄緑の葉に似合います。この特別な秋の植物は『5倍緑』という都市里山箱のなかで成長します。史火陶芸教室の前を、歩行者が注目しています。季節ごとに、小さい風景ができあがります。史火のホームペジで、この5倍緑箱が二年前にどんなだったかを見られます。

I love how the purple berries pop against the light green foliage. This hardy shrub is a classic fall marker, and a reference to the female novelist of the thousand year old Tale of Genji. Unlike my balcony specimen, which dropped its berries while still green, this one outside Shiho ceramic studio looks fantastic. It’s growing in a 5bai midori, the modular urban satoyama box.

I bought the first box two years ago, and the second last year. They really thrive on this north-facing sidewalk and draw attention to the studio and store. If you click on Shiho’s website, you can see on the home page how small the first one was. It just needs lots of water, and very occasional pruning. There are so many local species that each season has something special and evocative of the Japanese landscape.

Traffic cone planter

賢いアイデアです。トラフィックコーンの上で、簡単な金属の仕掛けで、植木鉢を四個支えています。横に並んでいるので、スペースの効率が良いです。 高さの違いもおもしろいです。

What a clever idea! This simple metal structure places four flowerpots on a traffic cone. It’s very space efficient because all four are in a single line, with a slight variation in height.

Small biodiversity garden for construction workers

高速道路の工事現場のまんなかに、きれいな生物多様性の庭があります。すべての働く場所は庭になるはずです。

I saw this beautiful biodiversity mini-garden at a construction site for the  combination surface and underground urban freeways along Yamate Dori not far from Yoyogi Park. Although I bike this route every weekday, it took me a while to realize that this garden was inside the construction site, and visible mostly to the construction workers. What a great idea that workers’ jobs can be improved with on-site gardens. It looks very modular and portable.

This project is, I think, by Shimizu Corporation, one of Japan’s big builders. It’s funny that they get more attention for their grandiose city on the ocean Green Float concept than some of the small and inexpensive projects that they are already carrying out.

Small oak is sprouting new leaves and flowers

里山の箱の中で、小さな柏が若葉をのばし、花を咲かせています。

This small oak tree in my satoyama box is pushing out new leaves and flowers. I am a big fan of 5bai midori’s modular boxes full of native trees, bushes, and small plants. This box measures only 20 by 20 by 20 centimeters, yet it is full of plants and surprises. Some of them are evergreen, and it’s fun to watch the rest of the box revive in spring.

Update: I found the tag, and the tree is called konara in Japanese (コナラ). It’s an oak, with the Latin name (Quercus serrata). It’s a very typical Japanese forest tree, and its ample sap attracts good beetles like kabutomushi (カブトムシ). I wonder if we’ll get acorns out of this tree.

Modular satoyama box in full fall color

ベランダの庭には小さな里山がある。色が毎日変わって楽しみだ。

There’s a small satoyama in my balcony garden. The color changes every day.

The leaves on tis small tree in my balcony’s modular satoyama box are turning dark crimson. I love how this small box from 5bai Midori is full of Japanese native plants. I have kept this satoyama box for just over a year now, and always enjoy watching the change in seasons. It’s just 15 cm by 50 cm!

Modular succulent garden outside restaurant

You don’t see that many succulent gardens in Tokyo, probably because of the heavy rain. A restaurant I frequent, Enjoy! East, suddenly sported these two modular units with a lovely succulent garden, and odd message about “farm of the people.”

I wouldn’t call it a farm, but it’s a lovely addition to the sidewalk, and a generous invitation to passers-by to stop and check out the excellent food at Sendagaya’s Enjoy restaurant. It should be super low-maintenance, and with the proper soil it should drain well to keep the plants healthy.

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.

Beautiful “walklet” replaces parkings spaces in San Francisco

Rebar, an art and urban planning project in San Francisco, has just unveiled their first prototype of a street-side “walklet.” Rebar became famous for converting parking spots one day every year into inventive urban parks. The event grew, and drew more and more people around the world who changed the streetscape for one day. Now, Rebar is putting in semi-permanent “walklets” with benches, tables, bike parking, and planters on top of parking spaces. The project has been OK’d for six months, and can be continued if well received.

This is genius!

To quote from Rebar’s site:

Inspired by Rebar’s PARK(ing) Day and other efforts to convert parking spaces into people places, cities around the United States are transforming excess roadway into public plazas, pocket parks and experimental sites for new forms of urban infrastructure.

To help support this growing trend, Rebar has created “Walklet”—a modular, flexible sidewalk extension system designed to create new public spaces for people by extending the pedestrian realm into the parking lane.

The installation at 22nd and Bartlett in San Francisco is part of a pilot project supported by the City. The collection of benches, planters, bike parking, and tables, sheathed in stained bamboo and red wood, will be in place for six months, and if it’s well-received, could remain in place indefinitely.

The prototype has been arranged to suit the needs of that neighborhood’s site, but Walklet are incredibly adaptable. Each three-foot wide Walklet module provides a single, specific program that can be mixed and matched with other Walklet modules to create the right design combination for each unique site. Walklet extends the sidewalk surface into the street but provides much more than just a place to walk—it creates an adjustable, flexible, full-scale laboratory for developing and refining the perfect combination of user programs.

Like Flora Grubb Gardens, I, too, wonder what will they plant?!

Update: Here are photos of the planting.

Marui department store brands itself with plants

Marui's plant walls in subway passage

Several months ago Marui opened up another department store in Shinjuku san chome, along with at least three other existing ones and retail competition that includes Isetan’s flagship across the street. It is interesting that one of its defining design themes is green space. If you arrive by Tokyo Metro, you can see strips of living plant walls in the underground passageway.

Marui at night, Shinjuku

At the street level, Marui created large gardens more than a meter wide along the sidewalk with trees, bushes and grasses. This provides an unexpected burst of plant life in an area otherwise paved and overflowing with signage and people.

Marui green brand

Marui even uses low light plants in indoor merchandising. It feels like a coherent and unique brand identity extending from outside to inside the retail space. Unfortunately some of the indoor “plants” are plastic, including faux vines above the first floor selling area, but not everyone notices.

Marui green wall

In the photo above you can see how the subway level green wall is a modular system, allowing easy replacement of plants. It’s great to see a retail company standing out by providing plants and gardens to passer-bys as well as shoppers.

Weed in Kanji: The language of nature

Weed in Kanji: the Language of Plants

Kanji, the Japanese characters that borrows from Chinese, are not only ideographic but also modular. The secret to memorizing hundreds and thousands of kanji is to focus on their elements for meaning and sound. As an adult learner, I am struck by how many of these core kanji elements represent nature, such as water, tree, mountain, fire, stone, sun, valley, soil, tree, and so on.

As an example, the word zassou (雑草) or weed is composed of two characters– zatsu (雑) or miscellaneous and kusa (草) or grass– and a total of five elements, including three characters that represent life forms: tree, bird, and plant. That zatsu character’s use of the number “nine” is perhaps arbitrary, but there is also a meaning that can be inferred by the combination of nine, tree and bird. Many Japanese words and personal names have at least one character or element that represents nature.

I must clarify that the above image and explanations come from Daiki Kusuya’s wonderful Kanji Starter 2 (IBC Publishing, 5th edition, 2008). The book does a great job of presenting simple to complex kanji, offering memorable explanations, and cross-referencing by number. Still, the author warns that he created his explanations to help second-language learners, and that they should not be taken as true etymology. I like how the author privileges memory and imagination over historical accuracy.

“The pictographs or ideas explaining kanji characters in this book may not necessarily be based on their historical development. They may be alterations or even my own creations. Again, the purpose of this book is to know the meanings of kanji characters, not to study how they were derived.”

I am simultaneously studying Japanese language and why urban Japanese, like many global counterparts, want a greater connection with nature. To an outsider, it is curious how nature is so pervasive in Japanese language. Perhaps many Japanese do not reflect on this aspect of their language, much like no one considers it remarkable that so many Tokyoites tend  flowers outside their homes and shops. As an anthropologist, I view this lack of discourse, this invisibility of the everyday, as evidence that it is a key aspect of the culture.

Woolly Pocket Garden at Flora Grubb Gardens

Wooly Pocket Garden at Flora Grub Gardens

My favorite San Francisco garden store, Flora Grubb Gardens, has an installation of a new vertical garden from Woolly Pocket Garden. It’s a modular system for green walls using a simple pocket design. The pockets are a breathable felt made from recycled plastic bottles, and the vertical gardens can be easily installed indoors or outdoors.

Wooly Pocket Garden

And here’s an image of a “green ledge” above a storefront  in San Francisco’s Mission District (taken by Leanne Waldal).

Green ledge San Francisco Mission DistrictGreen ledge SF Mission

5bai Midori, or 5 sided green

Gobai Midori, or 5x緑, ConceptIn an earlier post, I talked a little about 5bai Midori‘s street beautification products and the creative force behind this small green business Tase Michio. This post uses photos from their website to explore their idea of restoring the countryside, or satoyama(里山), and bringing it into the city.

The photos above illustrate the concept of carving a piece of rural nature into a modular square. 5bai Midori plants these bio-diversity trays on modular metal cubes with up to five sides for plants and special light-weight soil. Applications include residential entrances, sidewalks and balconies, apartment and office buildings, green walls, rooftops, neighborhood planters, boulevard and highway guard rails, interiors, benches, and special events. They have targeted individuals, governments (including amazing, yet unrealized plans for greening Kabukicho and Marunouchi), developers and construction companies.

These are some images of how plant trays are cultivated to include a multitude of species in a small area.

Gobai Midori, plant cultivation

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Beautifying major streets

Pansies on Shibuya sidewalk

As a gesture for improving a huge street in Shibuya, I admire the shop owner who contributed these small planters with pansies. It certainly makes the wide sidewalk, busy street and subway construction zone a bit more beautiful.

As a contrast for visionary ideas to improve major streets, I am showing below an image from a native plant company 5bai Midori (literally five-sided greenery) that uses a modular system for residential exteriors and interiors, small businesses and neighborhood improvements.

Gobai Midori street median

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