Tag Archives: japan

Coach Flagship, Omotesando

Coach Flagship, Omotesando in Tokyo, Japan, by OMA, 2013.

In early April Coach opened its flagship Tokyo store on Omotesando, a strip known as much for its high-end fashion houses as for the architects designing them. Most well known are Prada by Herzog & de Meuron, Dior by SANAA, and Tod's by Toyo Ito. Coach's flagship is designed by OMA, but it departs from these other projects on Omotesando in a couple ways: Coach is part of a larger building rather than a standalone building, and the project is but one version of a design (by OMA's Shohei Shigematsu) that will be applied to various Coach stores around the world; it is not a one-off, one-of-a-kind store trying to make a statement on one of Tokyo's thoroughfares of contemporary architecture.

In OMA's design for Coach there are echoes of Rem Koolhaas's experiments with Prada close to 20 years ago. While the Prada stores strove to rethink retail as a cultural and social space, Koolhaas made each location unique—New York's SoHo interior is unlike the LA store, even though they exhibit similar attitudes to what a store can be. On the other hand Shigematsu worked with Coach to develop a system that could work with the company in various geographies and at various scales. Inspired by Coach's original library-like shelving, Shigematsu's system is made up of acrylic boxes that respond to the variety of leather goods the company now makes—they started in NYC in the 1940s making wallets and handbags, but now make footwear, jewelry, and much more beyond their core products. Even before the opening of the Omotesando flagship, Coach opened a relatively small kiosk in Macy's near its Broadway entrance. There the boxes are embedded with LED lights and stacked in a "V"-formation to give the store a flexible armature for displaying their goods.

The Omotesando flagship takes this system and carries it to the exterior to make the facade a means of display. Instead of the typical storefront glass giving a view of products inside the store or in a staged display case, the glass units are an armature for purses and other products; the vertical units that make up the herringbone pattern even allow mannequins to be positioned on the exterior. The exterior glass wall is carefully detailed to allow each unit to be a focused display of a product. This happens through the frosted glass fins that extend to both the interior and exterior; their cloudy surface helps to make each piece of vision glass distinct, a small window framing one of Coach's designs.

To maintain a consistent facade, the floor inserted into the two-story space is pulled away from the exterior wall, into what's called the "floating tower." The acrylic boxes that function as the display system define the edges of the tower and allow Coach's goods to be displayed outward and inward. With the exterior glass wrapper and the interior acrylic boxes, the design's parti can be seen as a box within a box. But of course these surfaces aren't flat; they are deep and act like a series of miniature dioramas, each one putting a handbag, pair of shoes, or some other item on display and making it look like a treasured object that one must have.

Three Projects by Toyo Ito

Three Projects by Toyo Ito on the occasion of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize

The following images are courtesy the Hyatt Foundation, and quotes are from Toyo Ito: Forces of Nature, edited by Jessie Turnbull (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012).

Yesterday came the news that Toyo Ito is the 2013 laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. He is the sixth architect from Japan to be awarded the Pritzker, following Kenzo Tange (1987), Fumihiko Maki (1993), Tadao Ando (1995) and the duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (2010). The jury commended his "body of work that combines conceptual innovation with superbly executed buildings" and "a spectrum of architectural languages," or "personal architectural syntax." The lack of formal repetition or branding in Ito's 40-year career is refreshing, though in the last decade or so he been exploring a distinctive approach to melding structure and surface through increasingly complex forms. A few of those projects are highlighted here with quotes from Ito.

The earliest of the three projects is the Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall (2004—2006) in Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu. I was first intrigued by the project's undulating roof/column, a condition I blogged about with it alongside some other projects exhibiting similar traits. Ito pointed out that "the crematorium was not intended to have an accessible roof, but at the opening ceremony I remarked, 'Well, the roof is probably the best space in the building,' and then everyone started to climb up there. An exception was made, and guests were allowed to explore the roof."

Both the crematorium in Gifu and the Tama Art University Library (2004—2007) in Hachioji-shi, Tokyo, were engineered by Mutsuro Sasaki, who started working with Ito on the Sendai Mediatheque (1995-2000). Tama's structural system "consists of interlocking arches with spans ranging from roughly six to sixty feet." Further, "The core of the arch is made of steel, surrounded by reinforcement, with concrete poured on top. This structural system allowed us not only to make the walls extremely thin but also to create a very small footprint for the column, with the intention that the arch would appear to be floating in space."

The last project is the Taiching Metropolitan Opera House, now under construction in Taichung, Taiwan. Cecil Balmond is the structural engineer of choice for this large and incredibly complex project; the two started working together on the Serpentine Gallery (2002). Three theaters and various other spaces are contained in an orthogonal form where "the interior is punctured with countless holes, so that levels are connected horizontally and vertically. Cave-like holes penetrate the form." Ito describes how the concrete structure "came from taking two flat surfaces, dividing them into a grid, and then systematically connecting circles around alternate points vertically with a flexible fabric to create a three-dimensionally curved, continuous surface." Further, "By repeating the polyhedrons and then connecting them vertically—and then smoothing them out—we created this structural system." I'd wager that when the building is done it will be considered Ito's magnum opus.

Terunobu Fujimori: Architect

Terunobu Fujimori: Architect edited by Michael Buhrs and Hannes Rössler
Hatje Cantz, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

This book on Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori was published on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition at Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. Fujimori, known for his quirky teahouse designs, contributed a "trojan pig" on wheels for Villa Stuck, though he changed it to a coffee house, since that drink is more popular in Germany than tea (but less so than beer, which he didn't think would work in a small space). The "walking cafe," as the architect calls it, is one of more than 20 projects collected in this very welcome book on the architect who practiced as an architectural historian for two decades before realizing his first building at age 42.

This now well-known past has led to designs that are highly idiosyncratic, neither repeating modernist tactics nor traditional ones. Fujimori actually spells this out as one of three principles ("my design should resemble neither the existing styles of any country nor the works of any modern architect") in his enlightening introductory essay (the other two principles are that "science and technology should ... be wrapped in nature" and "no boundaries between the site and surroundings).

In addition to the documentation of completed buildings and urban planning projects, and Fujimori's essay, the book consists of essays by Toyo Ito, editor Hannes Rössler, Dana Buntrock, and Thomas Daniell. The last focuses on ROJO (the Street Observation Society), which Fujimori started with artist Genpei Akasegawa and others in the mid-1980s to document the quirky and the everyday in Japanese cities. It's not hard to see the link between the humorous objects they have discovered and the buildings that Fujimori produces, yet the latter are hardly one-liners; there is a depth to his architecture.

In the past I've been drawn in particular to the "green roofs" that the architect has created, ones that entail lots more maintenance than extensive and intensive roofs popular today, but their reconsideration of what a green roof can be is paramount. The same can certainly be said about his teahouses, which maintain the detailed focus on the ceremony but question the location and the act of getting to them; many are perched atop tree trunks, and one is even suspended by wires. They are simultaneously alien yet familiar, handmade constructions that are hard to dislike. It's great to have the teahouses and other projects in one place for more people to appreciate.

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Toyo Ito: Forces of Nature

Toyo Ito: Forces of Nature edited by Jessie Turnbull
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012
Paperback, 144 pages

Since 1966 the Princeton University School of Architecture has hosted the Kassler Lecture, held annually in memory of longtime Princeton professor Kenneth Stone Kassler. But it's just this year that the Ivy League school started turning the lectures into books, beginning with Toyo Ito's 2009 lecture, "Generative Order," and soon to be followed with R. Buckminster Fuller's inaugural lecture. The book on Ito's lecture comes at a time when the Japanese architect is receiving attention not only for high-profile projects in the works but also his humanitarian efforts in Japan after the tsunami last year; the latter earned him and his fellow curators an award for the Japanese Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale.

Much of the book—made up of an essay by then dean Stan Allen, Ito's illustrated lecture, an essay by Ito from 1978 (translated into English for the book), an essay by Julian Worrall, and a short mention of "Home for All," the project that responds to the tsunami—is focused on a few of Ito projects: the White U house (1976, demolished 1997), the Tama Art University Library (2007), the Taichung Opera House (2013, under construction), and the BAM/PFA (unbuilt, now being designed by DS+R after Ito's design was too expensive for UC Berkeley to realize). These projects, as well as the Sendai Mediatheque (2000), are influential projects, affecting the way architects think about space, structure, and nature.

This influence can be partially attributed to the way Ito has been able to redefine his architecture over time without letting go of core beliefs, which recalls the tripartite view of Frank Gehry's oeuvre (chain link, early sculptural works, post-Bilbao projects). Ito has moved from, as Allen accurately describes it, redefining domestic architecture to preoccupations with digital technologies to structural experimentation. The last find expression at Tama Art University but will be even more dramatic and iconic in Taichung, Taiwan. Ito's Kassler lecture may have been all of three years ago, but the book is a timely product that sees an architect not willing to stop experimenting or reconsidering what architecture can accomplish.

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Hansha Reflection House

Hansha Reflection House in Nagoya, Japan by Studio SKLIM, 2011.

When I visited Tokyo, Japan some years back, in addition to the numerous Tadao Ando-designed buildings and structures by other architects of note, I really wanted to go see Klein Dytham's Under Cover Lab. Tucked away on a side street close to and parallel to Omotasando -- a shopping street home to flagships designed by Herzog & de Meuron, SANAA, Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, and Tadao Ando -- is KDa's small cantilevered jewel of a building. It is a design indicative of the creativity required when dealing with the city's expensive real estate and small lots.

Under Cover Lab comes to mind when I first saw the Hansha Reflection House in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture by Singapore's Studio SKLIM. The Nagoya context for the house is not as dense as that of the KDa project; it's more suburban than urban. On a smaller scale, the architects have also created a cantilever, a second floor that reaches towards the street and whatever lies beyond. And apparently it's what lies beyond that is key.

The architects describe that the house is "situated at the entrance of Misakimizube Koen, one of the picturesque parks fronting a lake and flanked by Sakura trees." Therefore the house has been designed to work with its environment. One can glean from a quick glance that the interior circulation culminates in the horizontal picture window that is highlighted with trapezoidal panels on the second-floor cantilever. This window frames the lake view; no wonder the window is horizontal.

Yet the house is not as simple as it appears from the outside. It is actually a tripartite composition in plan. From front to back the spaces are public, service, and private. Further, bordering the small service zone is a courtyard/light well. This last piece is actually the design's key -- as much as, or more than, the cantilever -- for it helps order the house while inserting a bit of natural light and air into the center of the house. It also gives the house an introverted core, something more substantial than the relatively small window fronting the house.

Project Japan

Project Japan: Metabolism Talks by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist
Taschen, 2011
Paperback, 720 pages

If any living architect is masterful at exploiting the potential of the book, it is Rem Koolhaas. His Delirious New York made a name for the visionary architect, and it is considered one of the greatest architecture books of the 20th century. Fifteen years later, when he finally had some buildings under his belt, Koolhaas redefined the architectural monograph with the behemoth S,M,L,XL, which he produced with Bruce Mau. These are the two most influential titles among many books he has authored or edited, including a number generated from his design studios at Harvard GSD. Likewise, if any curator is masterful at compiling interviews with, among others, architects and artists, it is Hans Ulrich Obrist. He has reportedly amassed over 2,000 hours of interview recording, 24 of which happened in one marathon session with Koolhaas at the Serpentine Pavilion the architect designed in 2006 with engineer Cecil Balmond. Together, Koolhaas and Obrist are a good team, something I witnessed at the New York Public Library a month ago; the former pursues an intuitive theory and the latter "is a genius at discovering."

Attending the book talk at the NYPL in March did a lot to eliminate any surprises in the book, an oral history of the Metabolist movement in Japan in the 1960s and 70s, what is arguably "the first non-Western avant-garde movement in architecture and the last moment that architecture was a public rather than a private affair." In the talk the duo covered the book's main points, most of which are carefully articulated throughout, including the origins of the movement in the Manchurian occupation, grappling with tradition, the media attention of certain Metabolists, the solidarity of the members, and the impact of the 1973 oil crisis on their work and their international ties. For those who didn't listen to Koolhaas and Obrist speak for nearly two hours like I did, the book will be even more of a joy to read, slowly and carefully unfolding the Metabolist story through interviews, history, and photographs (many of the last are newly commissioned shots by Charlie Koolhaas of surviving buildings by Metabolist members).

Project Japan was made over the course of six years, and in the process Koolhaas, Obrist, and their editors Kayoko Ota and James Westcott (with AMO) amassed more interview transcripts than they could print, not to mention the archival images, documents, and other information to distill into 720 pages; a large book to be sure, but it does not feel too big for the subject and material. Kudos should be given to Irma Boom for a book design that threads the three main types of content -- interviews, history, photos -- throughout the book with color-coded edges. Even more content is found in keyed comments from "a supporting cast of characters" alongside the interviews; unfortunately their proximity to the fold makes reading them tricky. Overall Boom's layout and design greatly enhances the flow of what is really a narrative story (or a film, as a review at Domus describes it). Koolhaas and Obrist have crafted a remarkable, illuminating book that tells the story of Japan over four decades, centered upon a 15-year period when the Metabolists imagined its future. This book is recommended not only for learning about a time and place that supported visionary architecture, but also for simply being a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Tsutaya Books

Tsutaya Books in Tokyo, Japan by Klein Dytham Architecture, 2011.

Even as bookstores around the world shutter as devices like the Kindle and Nook swerve the market to ebooks, new things are still happening in the world of books. The recent opening of Tsutaya Books in the Daikanyama district of Tokyo is one such example, a slight beacon of optimism. The bookstore is actually just one part of Daikanyama T-Site, the three-building "village" designed by Klein Dytham Architecture that includes other retail tenants. Tsutaya Books itself also sells music and movies and houses a cafe and lounge, making the place a social one as much as it is commercial.

Klein Dytham won a design competition for the project, beating out 70 other architects from Japan. An article at Wallpaper* quotes partner Mark Dytham on not being a favorite for the design competition, "but integrating the brand into the very fabric of the site and structure appealed to Tsutaya's owner, Muneaki Masuda, who wanted to do something completely different. This is also the case with the interiors, for which we worked closely together to create a new cultural experience."

The branding that he is referring to is working the T-shaped logo into the site plan and the building shapes, but most overtly it's the distinctive perforated screen facade. A single bowed, T-shaped module is repeated across the facades, leaking inside in parts as well. The pattern graphically works like a weave, but each part clearly reads as a "T". It gives the buildings a needed texture, balancing out the glassy expanses and the interior's clean lines and warm tones.

Photos of the interior suggest an atmosphere conducive to browsing but also relaxing and hanging out. The bookstore's various spaces blur any distinctions between the various parts of the store, such that books and other items are on display by the lounge, for example. Interesting interior touches include a children's section with little hideaways, counters supported by stacks of books (an acknowledgment of a near or distant future?), and a stunning hammered steel stair that sits as an object in space. A lot is going on -- architecturally, commercially, socially -- and that's a pretty good example for other bookstores, even ones a fraction of Tsutaya's size.

Photographs are by Ken Lee, from Flickr, used with permission.

2G N.58/59: Kazuo Shinohara Houses

2G N.58/59: Kazuo Shinohara Houses edited by David B. Stewart, Shin-Ichi Okuyama, Taishin Shiozaki
Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2011
Paperback, 296 pages

Barcelona-based Editorial Gustavo Gili devotes a double issue of its 2G Magazine to influential architect Kazuo Shinohara's houses. This intensive survey spanning from 1959 to 1988 may have been released about five years earlier, but Shinohara turned down the editors' 2001 request, a sign of the control he exerted over the presentation of his projects both in graphic and literary terms. His death five years later opened the door to 2G, thanks to his heirs and to former clients willing to open their doors for specially commissioned photographs by Hiroshi Ueda. The result is a great presentation of 23 houses that trace the architect's "Three Styles" across three decades.

I would like the houses I design to stand forever on this earth. ... I intend to devote myself to attempting to inscribe eternity within spaces. -Kazuo Shinohara, in "Theory of a Residential Architecture," 1967

The above quote from Shinohara -- one of four essays collected by 2G in the Nexus portion at the end of the double issue, mirrored by three contributions from the editors and others at the beginning -- positions the architect within the larger context of Japanese culture and architecture by squarely opposing his buildings with the prevailing notion that architecture does not last for more than a couple decades. Yet when the reader confronts the First Style of his residential architecture in the Umbrella House (1959-1961), it is clearly rooted in traditional Japanese buildings, if in a way that is different to only the trained eye. Most striking in that house is the exposed roof structure, which prefigures the structural bravado of later houses. Near the end of his First Style, in the House in White (1964-1966, pictured above), a single columns stand in an otherwise bare white living area, a Western space inside an otherwise traditional-looking exterior.

The Second Style is marked by fissures or crevices, linear spaces -- sometimes exterior, usually interior -- that occupy the middle of basically symmetrical plans. These apparently insignificant spaces in that brief style are a step towards the Third Style, which started with the Tanikawa House (1972-1974), visible on the cover of the double issue. The view depicts a dirt incline capped by a pitched roof, a space of "no architectural significance other than simply to express this incline." The prominent columns and braces take on a strong presence and signification, recalling the roofs and columns in his First Style; soon they would become more disjointed, taking on a similar Tanikawa-esque form, but structured in concrete and in some cases impeding spaces. House in Uehara (pictured above) is a suitable example, given the dramatic presence of the diagonal braces inside and the disconnected top floor, a later addition Shinohara intentionally made different.

In the popular "small houses" of Tokyo and other parts of Japan, I see the influence of Kazuo Shinohara, particularly from his Third Style where complex spaces and structure congeal into forms that are as far from self-conscious as any. Shinohara strove from the beginning to treat the "house as a work of art." More subtle in the early years, by the 1980s, when he received larger commissions and therefore the residential ones trailed off, his houses resemble works of art. They find their meaning in their own being and how they interact with the city around them. They deserve attention, and this publication thankfully reveals Shinohara's houses to a wider audience.

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Small Houses

Small Houses: Contemporary Japanese Dwellings by Claudia Hildner
Birkhäuser, 2011
Paperback, 160 pages

Recently I featured on my blog a number of small residential buildings in Tokyo, Japan that were built from 2000 to present. A quick glance at those various projects makes one realize the undeniable appeal of small houses; their daring and often introverted designs offer loads of innovation in petite packages. As this book's collection of recent small houses in Japan -- Tokyo and elsewhere -- attests, the reasons behind an apparent density of standout progressive architecture is many: clients accept novel solutions as ways to maximize the use and appeal of small lots; the short lifespan of buildings means that a constant crop of new forms appear; and the heating and cooling of the body instead of the space leads to thin walls and membranes that are not possible in other countries. These and other characteristics are interdependent, but if Munich-based journalist Claudia Hildner's book is any indication, they result in architecture that is formally and spatially complex if minimal in just about every other way, especially surfaces.

Hildner assembles about 25 houses in a simple format where each project is illustrated with a few photos and floor plans (sometimes accompanied by sections and/or elevations); the drawings are rendered consistently, helping to make the book graphically appealing. Seven one-page essays are interspersed among the projects, each elucidating a particular trend or consideration of contemporary houses in Japan. Ulf Meyer provides a helpful introductory essay that traces the evolution of Japanese residential architecture in the last 100 years or so. He also provides case studies by now well-known architects -- Kenzo Tange, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma -- but Hildner's selection of succeeding projects focuses on younger architects; this makes sense, since a lot of these small commissions go to younger architects that have not yet made a name for themselves.

As in any contemporary collection, certain projects stand out more than others. In the case of Small Houses, for me those include: House in Buzen by Suppose Design Office; Kondo House by Makiko Tsukada Architects; Moriyama House, also by Suppose Design Office; and the Minimalist House by Shinichi Ogawa & Associates. When I start to break down what these projects have in common, why they appeal to me, it has to do with how they deal with the small lots and dense contexts of Japanese cities to create internalized worlds for their owners. The House in Buzen, for example, creates a network of skylit internal streets between each room occupying its own "building." The Minimalist House is basically just a rectangular box, six meters wide by nine meters long, but one third of the long dimension is occupied by a courtyard beyond an all-glass wall; open to the sky, this space is the only part of the house not closed off to the exterior, a slot of sky and sunlight that is as powerful as it is minimal. This shared trait across these four projects -- also evident in many of the others in the book -- hits on why the Japanese small houses are so appealing: they creatively shape space and experience in tiny footprints to create microcosms of the city outside, yet eschewing apparent chaos for tranquility and calm.

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House in Hieidaira

House in Hieidaira, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan by Thomas Daniell Architects, 2009.

The following text and images are courtesy Thomas Daniell.

This is a single-family house designed for a lush natural setting in a new subdivision in the mountains above Kyoto. The site slopes away to the north, facing onto a National Park, with a view across a forest toward Mount Hiei (the most sacred mountain in Japanese Buddhism).

In compliance with new building regulations that mandate orthogonal walls and gabled roofs, the house takes the form of a nagaya (traditional row house): a linear sequence of rooms contained in a long, narrow volume aligned perpendicular to the street. The house expands in section to follow the slope: single-story at the street façade, expanding to two stories at the rear of the site. This allows the gabled roof shape to define the interior spaces rather than simply sit on top of them. The bedrooms are half buried, whereas the living area is oriented toward the mountains.

The historical nagaya type is a response to the narrow, deep sites in congested inner-city Kyoto, with little or no space between buildings, but in this semi-rural location the lot has been divided in half longitudinally, with building and garden set parallel and having approximately the same width and footprint. The rooms are arranged as a band running along the western edge of the site, enabling natural light penetration into each room. The location of the building gives maximum separation from the neighbor to the east, and hence maximum sunlight in the garden area that remains.

The overall nagaya form remains as abstract as possible, made entirely from bare concrete. The roof has no cladding or surface membrane (an invisible waterproofing compound has been applied to the exposed slab) and there are no projecting eaves, making the house volume akin to something sliced from a block of tofu. There are no drains, downspouts, or gutters -- or more precisely, the entire roof plane has been subtly shaped to become an enormous rainwater channel. The roof perimeter slopes gently upwards, creating subtle parapets that prevent water from falling down the long walls, channeling it all to the building’s north and south ends where it may fall freely to the ground.

This area can receive heavy snow in winter, and so long-term durability and insulation was a primary concern for the clients. All the windows are double-glazed. With the exception of the storeroom (adjacent to the parking) and the sunroom (adjacent to the entry hall), all the exterior walls are insulated. They have been lined with 30mm-thick polystyrene foam spray, then finished with painted plasterboard. The roof and floor slabs have been lined with 50mm-thick expanded polystyrene sheets. The sunroom has been left in exposed concrete because it is intended as a semi-outdoor space, used as a greenhouse. Oriented to the southeast, it receives a great deal of direct sunlight through the glass walls and roof, and the exposed concrete wall visible inside acts as a heat sink that helps to warm the house at night.