Tulip bulbs, decorative cabbage, and a winter clematis.
I like how the misters on these giant green columns benefit the plants and overheated people below. There’s also a lovely effect of plants and mist against early 20th century brick, preserved as part of the Marunouchi Brick Square development by Mitsubishi.
In the center of Shinjuku ni-chome, a man who seems to have lived in the same shop house for many decades has created a narrow garden in the 25 centimeters between sidewalk and street. It occupies his side of the street, and the opposite side of the street, with well over 100 pots all existing in public space that is frequented by patrons of the hundreds if not thousands of small gay bars. It has the largest number of gay bars of any gay neighborhood in any city in the world. I like how the gardener has labeled all his plants, some pots are secured with chains, and some propped up on beer crates.
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.
Today I am potting up plants and getting my flowerpots ready for the Shiho student ceramic show. Above are the last two larger flower pots. When I go to the studio today, I’ll see how they look after being glazed and baked.
The one with the holes can be used with a candle, or you can place a plant inside that you’ve bought at the nursery in its original plastic pot. I like that it’s lighter weight, transparent, and easy to swap plants in and out.
I am also showing small pots and smaller bonsai pots. I have an idea for untraditional bonsai plantings, including air plants that can be removed so you can see the whole ceramic pot. For the larger pots, I’ll try to mix seasonal flowers, purple leafed cabbage, and some of the plants Matthew left in the back garden.
The show starts this Saturday and runs for five days. I’ll be at the gallery on Saturday from 3ish to 7, on Sunday from 5 to 7, and sometime next week depending on my work schedule.
On my favorite Koenji shopping street called “Look,” a shop selling feminine French homewares just built a lush second floor garden. By attaching two long and deep planters, they have transformed this older building with new life. I love the variety of plants, and the way the garden adds onto what is already there.
The shop is called Malto and they are online, too.
Why is this major intersection so ugly? Pedestrians deserve better.
Some people think that Omotesando is Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. There is an incredible zelkovia tunnel and many posh global brands. However, at the main crossing, just above the Omotesando train station, the aggressively barren non-landscape is shocking. The small in-ground landscape triangle and the four above ground planters contain nothing but dry soil and some lonely weeds.
I wonder how long they will remain this way. In a city where most people commute by train and foot, the areas above stations should be amongst the greenest, with nature being used to make these frequently passed areas more pleasant and inviting.
Somebody clearly loves flowers.
Tokyo is an endless adventure. Walking through the backstreets of Nakano, I was amazed by this flowerpot garden that covers the entire facade of the house, and even camouflages the car parked in front. There must be hundreds or thousands of potted plants, mostly secured by wire.
You can see on the car that the gardener is showing off some winter flowers, like chrysanthemums, pansies, and cyclamens. The car seems very tidy and protected with styrofoam sheets so I am guessing that they really do use their car. I like how they are making car-driving less convenient in order to increase the amount of plants and make their home more beautiful.
Chris at Tokyo DIY Gardening has assembled four other Tokyo examples where plants seem to have greater importance for residents than the ease of using their car. You can see examples of a similar house on Tokyo DIY Gardening, a perhaps abandoned motorcycle and car also on Tokyo DIY Gardening, Linus Yng’s Tokyo Parallellt, Twitter’s @Remmid’s YFrog stream.
I love the amazing spirit behind this Nakano house where more is really more. Covering your house and parking pad with plants gives you a different relationship with your neighbors. I think it’s interesting to contrast this exuberant urban forest with more cutting edge Tokyo architecture that not only ignores landscaping but creates a hostile interface with neighbors. Two examples come from my fall bike architecture tour with Linus Yng.
First is the fantastic Endo Masaki “Natural Wedge House.” The triangular shape meets sunshine regulations and provides an interesting and translucent shape. The structure is entirely visible, and the house seems to float on top of the base. However, from the street you can’t see the front door, and there is absolutely no plants as part of the design or actual residence. Instead, this house interfaces with the city through its car.
Another example is perhaps unexpected. Ban Shigeru’s Hanegi no mori building is celebrated for preserving the wonderful old forest canopy that surrounds the 10 or so units. Yet, again, this Tokyo architecture seems to draw inspiration from car-dependent cities, with the residences atop a parking lot. From the street, the visitor sees cars first, then the building, then the tree canopy.
I wonder if residential architects even in Tokyo imagine that their clients do most of their trips by car. Is this a class bias or a mistaken assumption. Do those with money neither walk nor take transit? Or is it a matter of wanting to show off the houses’ novel designs unobstructed by plants? Devoting so much scarce resources to car parking and access cuts off the home from the neighborhood and promotes a type of urban life that seems wasteful and unattractive.
It’s funny how plants connect you even more with people than nature. Thank you Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan for this apple mint. From balcony to balcony!
I recently met up with Twitter’s @mygardeninjapan after exchanging many online comments and thoroughly enjoying his detailed documentation of his balcony garden in Yokohama. Along with @a_small_lab and Tokyo DIY Gardening‘s Chris, we had a bento lunch in a temple garden and then a fascinating walk around the Omotesando danchi.
It was very kind of @mygardeninjapan to give us these small wooden pots with mint plants from his garden and hand-made signs with illustrated care instructions. His ladybug logo reminds me of his blog story about his efforts to attract ladybugs to his balcony garden. I am looking forward to growing and eating this mint in my balcony.