The Bauhaus-like architectural simplicity and the decorative ceramic tiles mark this commercial building as product of postwar industry and trade, long before the excess of the Bubble. It’s lovely to see maritime companies that have done business for decades still exist along Tokyo’s waterfront.
It was raining when @ilynam and Yuki joined me for the first meeting to create a website for the 500 garden database of Japanese gardens outside Japan, a project I am helping Suzuki sensei with this year.
At the entrance to the school, somehow this rainy scene was an apt start for this exciting project where we will mix design, gardens, pixels, and soil. Bringing this knowledge online will be very helpful for people around the world who are interested in knowing about and visiting hundreds of Japanese gardens in dozens of countries. And working with design stars Ian and Yuki, I am confident that we can combine simplicity and beauty in the interface.
The banner offering campus tours for new students says, “We are people who scoop. Environmentally active students.” The word sukuu means “scoop” and also “save.”
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 am so impressed with the utter simplicity of this residential garden. Using practically no space, this vertical garden consists mostly of one well trimmed magnolia tree and a vine that screen the home. I don’t know whether credit should go to the rain-soaked climate or a smart home-owner. This house shows what’s possible in terms of ample plant growth in the most minimal of urban spaces. With more of these gardens, Tokyo would see lower summer temperatures, more wildlife, and a great quality of urban life.
Today’s New York Times has a great “Room for Debate” feature where four cultural experts discuss the beauty of the Japanese bento box. Although seemingly off-topic from Tokyo Green Space, the discussion expresses relevant cultural aesthetics and the importance of beauty, simplicity, and care.
John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, talks about simplicity and making due in an island nation with limited natural resources. I like his view that Japanese value “making less into more,” and traces bento creation to Kyoto food, a fanciful illusion that masks limited food resources.
Kenya Hara, art director of Muji and professor of Musashino Art University, talks about shokunin kishitsu, or craftsman’s spirit. By cleaning carefully, working diligently, or preparing lunch boxes with creativity, airport cleaners, construction workers and home-makers make the mundane into something beautiful.
I also like how he claims Japanese have a special ability, “an incapacity to see ugliness,” that allows them to ignore urban chaos, ugly architecture and bad signage. In the drabbest office or construction environment, there is still a space to enjoy a perfect bento lunch.
It is easy to see how some of these ideas are expressed in the beautification of public spaces: ordinary people working within the constraints of an often poorly designed urban landscape, creating small vignettes of beauty with a mix of artistry and care, and sharing these creations with minimal self-importance.