In August, I began working with Mitsui Real Estate, Recruit, and a small NGO to introduce a new luxury high-rise residential tower in Shibaura, a less known waterfront area between Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho. It’s near where the base of Rainbow Bridge is located.
In this online interview (in Japanese) and in real estate brochures distributed around Tokyo, I relate my experience working in the neighborhood at Shibaura House, where I led gardening and fieldwork workshops for locals and international visitors, adults and small children.
The new tower, which is just now breaking ground, contributes to the restoration of Edo-era canals by creating a public waterfront park. This park contributes to the developer’s goal of creating a resilient community that includes new and existing residents. Providing greater access to the waterfront also restores a vital part of Tokyo’s history that was neglected in the 20th century.
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.
Recently I am consulting for one of Japan’s largest real estate companies seeking to attract residents to a waterfront area that many might not have considered before. What makes an apartment or a neighborhood desirable? What architectural and landscape choices are most important? What are the trends today and in the future that drive consumer choice?
As an English speaker in Tokyo, I am also always drawn to the selective English language marketing, often an odd English name for the property. This building advertised in the Sendagaya JR station has a name that has a certain logic, but which also completely fails as an English language name.
Yes, Gro-bel is a shortened form of “Grow Best Life Stage.” It’s also the Japanese pronunciation of the word “global.” What was meant as optimistic, modern and international, instead comes off as bizarre, stilted, and heavy handed. In this context, using English is more decorative than functional or expressive.
The view from Tatsumi pool.
I often show images of the long cherry tree path that leads from Tatsumi’s subway to the municipal swimming pool. The 10 minute walk mixes all that’s both beautiful and dirty about 1960s infrastructure projects. There’s the amazing public sports facility, a now mature park with tall trees bordering the elevated freeway, and an odd mix of new construction, prior buildings, and informal green spaces that benefit from a lack of attention.
I have no idea why this huge pipe crosses the canal and enters the small two story house. How this house survived all the redevelopment, what is being piped in or through the house, and is the foundation as make-shift as it appears? I wonder if it has anything to do with all the nearby sewage and storm water treatment plants.
Just under the enormous circular ramp leading to Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba is a gigantic tower of cement. I guess there are enough construction projects to justify a waterfront cement operation.
These two photos show the different scales of homes and enterprises in Shibaura. They make me curious to explore more.
I recently visited Tatsumi, a landfill island near Yumenoshima in in Koto-ku for a house party. There are lot of new housing developments alongside the canals and neighboring old housing complexes. It’s sad that the public infrastructure is so incomplete. This neighborhood would be much more appealing if the canal-side sidewalks and parks were continuous. This lack of access to the Bay makes me often forget that there is a Tokyo waterfront.
I often tell people that Tokyo’s urban life is wonderful in spite of city planning. On the one hand, this view valorizes the activities of everyday people in making public spaces alive with plants, care, and community. On the other hand, it also expresses a resignation that city leaders cannot or will not improve city life.
Recently I attended TEDxSeeds at Yokohama’s restored port. In addition to wonderful historic buildings that are preserved and reused, the entire port area has a revitalized public park and waterfront promenade. One of the most spectacular public places is the undulating rooftop park above the International Ferry Terminal, designed by London’s Foreign Office Architects; in Japanese it’s called Osanbashi.
This is a bold example of creating a new open space that combines commerce (the business of loading and unloading passenger ships) with a place for residents and visitors to stroll and relax on the waterfront. I heard one Yokohama resident refer to the building as “the whale” building because of its curvy surface.
If Tokyo city leaders thought big, what kind of new public spaces could be created here? How could some of its past be made visible and accessible today? What natural resources could be reclaimed with great architecture and some vision? It seems in terms of city planning that Japan’s other cities are more dynamic and more forward-looking than its capital.