outdoor

From every room in San Francisco apartment are views of outdoor palm trees from New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Hawaii, and elsewhere

cllintonpark_palm_rhopalostylus_sidewalk_viewedfromlivingroom

サンフランシスコの家では、すべての部屋からヤシの木が見えます。東京に引っ越す前に、サンフランシスコのヤシの庭のサイトを作りました。

My San Francisco apartment is much more shady than the mid-rise Tokyo apartment that faces south with big views. With the expert advice of Flora Grubb‘s Jason Dewees, I planted cold-hardy palm trees that can be seen from every room. Almost everything came in small “5 gallon pots” (about 19 liters). There are palms in the sidewalk garden, in the light wells, and in the compact back yard. Before moving to Tokyo, I created a website showing off the plan and information about each palm species.

clintonpark_garden_viewfromkitchen

Tokyo Tower in late summer

芝のアウトドアのプールが閉まる前に、晩夏の東京タワーの写真をたくさんとりました。東京タワーは東京の数少ないランドマークですね。「ランドマーク」とは、自分の居場所がわかるような目立つ建物のことです。

Before the Shiba outdoor pool closed in mid-September, I spent more time admiring Tokyo Tower, both from the pool itself and from park surrounding it. I’ll post a few photos of this rare Tokyo landmark in the next week.

Bonsai shedding leaves

冬の日光は、室内で植物を撮影するのにいいと思います。

ベランダの庭には、植木鉢が多いです。ですから、室内に持って来るのが簡単です。一つの植物はお客さんを接待するときに使えますし、気分を変えてくれます。盆栽は一番持ち運びがよくて、いくつかの要素が小さな世界を作ってくれます。

The winter sunlight is particularly good for indoor plant portrait photography.

Bonsais are the ultimate in portable and creating an entire, changing world with few elements. Part of gardening involves the overall effect of dozens or hundreds of plants. But part is also the specific plant and season.

As a balcony gardener using containers, I have many small plants that are especially portable. A single indoor plant can welcome a guest or create a mood.

Ficus vine crosses the line between outdoor and domestic space

このイチジクのつるは外となかの境界線を越しました。小さなアパートでは、いつも庭が近いのです。

A huge advantage of our small apartment is that both the kitchen and the living face the balcony garden. I love how this ficus vine has crossed the line between outdoor and domestic space.

Leaving the apartment on a rainy spring day

アパートの入り口から見えた、雨降りの朝の景色です。節電ですから、電気をほとんど消しています。中と外の対象がはっきりしていますね。

This is the view from my apartment building lobby on a rainy spring day. Because of energy conservation, many lights are turned off. This increases the contrast between indoors and outdoors.

I walk through this lobby every day, and rarely think about it or consider taking a photo. Recently, I participated in the Xerox and City photo workshop at Vacant, led by Hirano Taro and organzized by Too Much magazine as part of their Romantic Geographies series. We were asked to take photos of our breakfast and then our trip to the workshop in Harajuku. It made me think more about spaces that become automatic or ignored.

Tokyo residents are more aware of energy use and lighting now. Many parts of the city are less brighly lit: from billboards to train stations to residences. By lowering our lighting, we are more attuned to natural cycles, and more sensitive to the boundaries between private and public, indoor and outdoor, personal and shared resources.

Small plum tree bonsai in full bloom

お店の外で、盆栽の梅がのんびりと咲いています。

I love how this extravagantly blooming plum tree is sitting outdoors at night, unprotected and unmindful of its surroundings.

[Date: March 3, 2011].

Guest post: úti, a mobile game to discover nature

Frequently I hear from urban planners, professors, students, and green city people from around the world who want to share their projects or meet people in my network. I encourage them to create a guest blog post. Below is a French student project that turns urban or rural nature discovery into a video game. It sounds creative and fun! The makers will be at Tokyo’s Miraikan this week to talk about it. And, if you would like to share your project, please send in a guest blog post! [Editor]

Can nature be the playground of a video game? Interested in this idea, five students in digital design and production from Gobelins, l’école de l’image, Paris, worked for nine months on a common graduation project named úti (Icelandic for “outdoor”). By addressing the discovery of nature using a game, the team, composed of three graphic designers and two developers, wishes to approach a young audience.

The concept is simple: put in the shoes of a explorer, the player starts exploring the nature that surrounds him, be it a green space downtown, or a forest in the countryside.

The game is composed of a mobile application, which uses GPS to record the walking path and provide the player with contextual activities: discover nearby points of interest, identify tree species, take part in collaborative timelapse animations by taking photos…

Back home, the player can visualize the territory he explored and the species he identified, by connecting to his base camp on úti website.

úti will be showcased at the Digital Content Expo, in the Miraikan, from tomorrow to Sunday. You will be able to test the mobile application and meet the team at the “Futur en Seine” stand (1F).

They are looking for partners and investors, so if you are interested in supporting the project, please contact the team at contact@projet-uti.com

More info on the Digital Content Expo website: http://www.dcexpo.jp/en/programs/futurenseine/

Visit úti website for video demos: http://www.projet-uti.com

Roppongi West Park is a quiet oasis on back street

Roppongi is a very foreign neighborhood for me since I rarely visit its offices, nightclubs and museums. However, with the recent conference, I took a friend along a back street between mega developments Mid Town and Roppongi Hills. We stumbled a very charming, small park named Roppongi West Park (六本木西公園). It was a welcome escape from the elevated freeways and concrete overload.

The park provides a great amount of shade and the loud murmur of cicadas. My fellow Maryland state friend and I wondered how come mid-Atlantic cicadas only appear every seven years, while Japanese ones go through similar seven year cycles but appear annually. The park had benches with businessmen smoking, chatting, using their cellphones, and escaping their offices. There were also sand box, playground, and a public bathroom.

Seeing this small gem made me think about the up-until-now unrealized possibilities for the mega developers to connect with their neighborhoods through landscapes. Mori Building talks about how its vertical gardens lower summer time temperature in its neighborhoods. And Mitsubishi Estate is concerned with making Marunouchi more attractive through livable streets.

Creating gardens and habitats that extend to nearby  pocket parks, as well as neighboring residential and commercial gardens, could brand these new places with historical memory, a signature fruit tree, butterfly or bird habitat, outdoor recreation, and innovative public place making. While the developers goal is to maximize rental income, attention to the neighborhood, its existing assets and people, could be a low-cost and high impact way to brand, differentiate, and attract visitors and tenants.

District landscaping is one of the most economical and transformative improvements. By extending beyond the limits of a single property or the holdings of one developer, district landscaping is vital to place-making, memory, habitat, and human affection.

Shobu, or sweet flag, floating in sento’s outdoor bath

Last night at the sento, I was surprised to see what looked like leeks floating in the outdoor bath. Turns out it was shobu (ショウブ), commonly called sweet flag or acorus calamus. This sword-like plant represents samurais’ bravery, and is a traditional decoration for Boys’ Day (Tango no Sekku, 端午の節句) on May 5. It’s also medicinal.

Winter flowers brighten Tokyo

Tokyo’s mild winter is amazing. All these photos of winter flowers are from yesterday, January 20, 2010. Ranging from natural to forced, outdoors to indoors, the flowers include early plum blossom along an urban path to a red tulip in a sidewalk garden, to a mini daffodil at home.

Starting a week ago, this plum tree along a walking path to Nakano JR station began opening its petals. The tree extends from a private garden into a public path. After November and December’s camellias (and my balcony pink camellia is still blooming), the winter plums suggest that there is no month in Tokyo without flowers blooming naturally. My husband saw bright green mejiro birds in the tree later that day.

I also noticed these bright red tulips in a Nakano sidewalk garden that I often pass. It’s the garden that was growing rice in styrofoam containers last year. The gardener has planted some bulbs, but she’s also added some hothouse-forced bulbs to her charming public garden. Because frost is so rare, the tulips can thrive even in mid-winter.

I also saw another neighbor cutting roses from her sidewalk garden. Pansies are also common in winter.

Lastly, inspired by all this winter color, I bought some mini-daffodils for my home. Indoors, they go from bud to bloom incredibly fast. The bright yellow cheers up the apartment and fools me into thinking that spring is not so far away.

What flowers do you enjoy in winter?

Wild parrots in Hiroo

Walking on a small street in Hiroo, in central Tokyo, we heard a strange noise and saw some people staring at a persimmon tree. On closer examination, we saw that there was a flock of wild green parrots gathered in this tree. The green on orange colors perched on a leaf-less tree is sublime.

I have seen wild parrots throughout San Francisco, and there was even a movie about them. I didn’t realize that Tokyo was warm enough for them to survive outdoors. I wonder how many there are.

Speaking with a woman recently about urban ecology, she told me that she enjoys city bird-watching. It made me realize that bird-watchers, particularly those who enjoy their hobbies in the city, can be an important voice for improving urban landscapes and habitats. Maybe urban bird-watchers are analogous to surfers who have been active in the clean ocean movement.

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.

Patrick Blanc’s Vertical Gardens

Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens

My friend Bryan Wu sent me this Wired article about Patrick Blanc‘s enormous vertical gardens. The one pictured above is on the exterior of London’s Athenaeum hotel. It is eight stories tall, with 260 plant species and 12,000 plants.

What’s remarkable is that Blanc is a botanist who carefully selects plant species for climate, wind, and sun versus shade. He has worked with Herzog & de Mueron on the CaixaForum in Madrid, and installed a huge indoor wall at the Taipei concert hall. Below is his largest wall, 15,000 square feet, on the Rue d’Alsace in Paris.

Patrick Blanc's Vertical Gardens

Tsukishima: green wall on senior center

Tsukushima: green wall on senior center

Near the Tsukishima riverbank community garden, there is a mid-rise senior center with two simple green wall of ivy. I wonder why it’s not fuller, and whether they are using rainwater capture. Or do the residents or staff water the small pots on each outdoor hallway.

Tsukushima: green wall on senior center