By day, Tokyo’s waterfront is often underwhelming visually: a mix of port shipping, older buildings that routinely turned their backs to what used to be polluted water, and new luxury high rises. By night, the water sparkles, and the city is far more seductive.
I love how this flood gate on the Shibaura canal has a giant cartoon fish. When the gate is lowered, the painted fish descends to join the real fish in the canal. I wonder why his heading is facing up. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave the city’s bright lights just yet.
I attended a morning lecture at the University of Tokyo about landscape planning by Harvard Graduate School of Design professor emeritus Carl Steinitz. Many wonderful examples of Chinese, European and American large-scale landscapes, and a sense of continuity with Professor Steinitz’s professor and mentor, the illustrious urban planner Kevin Lynch.
My perspective on urban planning is far removed from lofty discussions of master plans. In my mind, Tokyo is a living city despite poor planning and governance. Those who believe in planning from above have difficulty in conceptualizing or benefiting from the enormous energy and capability of ordinary residents.
Leaving the lecture and on my way to a student cafeteria curry lunch, I was thinking these thoughts when I was struck by the autumn light against the mature trees and the shadows against the early 20th century brick buildings. There was a slight stench of ginko fruit. What a prefect visual and olfactory moment.
This week I have been very fortunate to hear several lectures by architects, urban critics, and landscape designers, including events at the Norwegian Embassy and Mori Building. It’s great to recognize so many talented people focused on urban environments and living with nature. I was also fortunate to share lunch with a Hitachi executive working on Smart City Business Management, a new division involved in global city projects. It was not surprising that he is a University of Tokyo alumnus.
With Chris’ help, I posted a photo essay about photos and buildings on Tokyo-DIY-gardening. It’s easy to imagine how plants can soften the built environment. Looking at plants in the city I am also struck by how buildings make plants even more beautiful. The essay asks more questions than it answers. Looking at everyday Tokyo streets and non-landmark places provides a starting place to consider environmental aesthetics.
Azabu Juban is one of Tokyo’s most central and most expensive neighborhoods. Arriving at the Tokyo Metro station for a meeting with a book editor, I was struck by just how unattractive the roadway is. In the opposite direction are small streets with traditional Japanese food, French cafes, and many charming places. But in this direction, there is a large swath of concrete plus interconnected elevated freeways.
This combination of high value real estate and astounding dead space also occurs nearby at Mori Building’s Roppongi Hills. I wonder if Japanese are particularly astute at ignoring the unaesthetic and directing their vision to the more attractive parts? How much more valuable would these neighborhoods be without the visual and air pollution caused by elevated freeways? How can a combination of private and public investment increase property and use values?
While freeway removal seems like the best solution, even hiding them with plants would greatly increase the property and use values below and adjacent to these dead spaces. An example are the beautiful mature ginkos in Sendagaya, at least when they are fully leafed out.
A friend guided me to an amazing green wall outside Feria, a nightclub in Roppongi, in a small alley across from Midtown. Climbing the entire front facade, this four story vertical garden is densely planted and lush. I was told that it’s about three years old.
Here’s an image of the context.
And lastly the view from the street.
Feria’s website shows how cool the vertical garden looks illuminated at night. I am intrigued that the vertical garden is the core element of the nightclub’s visual identity, in person and online.