November 16, 2011
We began the first day of the COD Japan conference with two lectures, held on the 45th floor of the Mori Building at Roppongi Hills, designed by KPF. It was a great vantage point to look down on buildings visited in the last few days. The first lecture was by Masami Kobayashi of Meiji University. The title of his talk was Japan & the Tohoku Rebuilding Efforts.
Professor Kobayashi described how Tokyo had grown through centuries of what can only be called calamities– wars, fires, and earthquakes. Parts of the city were damaged or destroyed and then rebuilt. The city, therefore, has the texture of many eras of development layered on top of one another, creating a weaving of old and new, dense development and open space. He described it as a ‘salami pizza city’.
He went on to describe the enormous damage caused in eastern Japan by the recent (March, 2011) earthquake and tsunami. In helping with the reconstruction of the coastal towns destroyed by the tsunami he was finding a unique role for architects. The key, long-term issues are where and how to restore the communities that were destroyed. One key issue he and others are struggling with is that if you build a sea wall high enough to protect a community, you separate them from their key asset, the sea. The other key issue is a tsunami often destroys part of a community (the part lowest and closest to the ocean), leaving developments further back or on hillsides unharmed. The challenge arises in how to integrate sections of rebuilt areas with the older surviving ones.
Through charettes, his team of students and faculty are working to find alternate solutions. One idea is to raise the land; sounds simpler than it probably is. Another idea is to redevelop the low land but provide clear and easy paths out for people, i.e., lose buildings in future tsunamis but not lives. Yet another solution explored how to break a sea wall into sections that would break up waves yet provide views. I was impresses that his group was working toward real solutions to complex, community-oriented issues. The quality of life obtained in the end for the inhabitants, the fabric of the community, was equally as important as the civil engineering solution to the problem.
The second lecture follows….
Jim Childress FAIA
Another highlight of the day was a visit to the The National Art Center, by Kisho Kurokawa in the Art Triangle of the Roppongi area of Tokyo. On the site of an old army barracks, the building’s glass front meanders around the entry and forms one side of a small urban garden. The other side is enclosed by a modern renovation of a small remnant of the barracks. The curving glass curtain wall, with fritted glass sun shades, seems so simple but must have been a challenge to build. The catwalks on the inside are unfortunate but I assume are required for glass cleaning.
Restaurants, five altogether, include three on top of the concrete cones. The wall between the public lobby and galleries is comprised of back lit glass and fins of wood. The galleries are all lit by indirect lighting in coffers, and are especially bright by western standards. The partitions hang from tracks and sit on adjustable feet so they can be rearranged. I especially liked the exit lights in the floor.
November 15, 2011
One of today’s highlights was visiting what is called the Art Triangle in the Roppongi section of Tokyo. The smallest museum here is the Design Site project by Tadao Ando. It is a one-story building stretched along the edge of a small urban park, designed by EDAW, with a large commercial complex by SOM on the other side of the park. As one would expect, it is beautifully detailed. The roof appears, and feels, like it is steel, with a waterproof coating, and all of the joints ground smooth. The concrete feels like it has been waxed to a smooth, warm, low-luster sheen. The back of the building is all concrete with an impossibly long horizontal window cut into it.
Jim Childress, FAIA
November 13, 2011
The Committee On Design Conference in Japan begins its first day in Tokyo. Having never been to Japan, I am struck by how much the city appears similar to almost any city in the world, except there’s a lot more of it. It seems to stretch to the horizon without any apparent center core. The vast majority of the architecture is understandably modern. With the exception of the Imperial Palace area, it appears to have all been built from 1950 on. I would be hard pressed to say the city feels ‘Japanese’ but it is distinct in how it’s such a wonderful cacophony of buildings all vying for attention.
Some buildings are beautifully crafted, but they are tucked under a viaduct and mixed in cheek to jowl with everything else. This commercial building with a brise soleil of vertical fins that create an appearance of a white building on one side, transparent in the middle, and black on the other side as you pass by.
I don’t know who designed the buildings and garden below, they are not in the guide books, but they are as interesting as the major pieces of architecture.
Others, like the cantilevered box on stilts on the right (below), are just plain weird. However, one has to respect the design energy. Whether you like it personally or not, you have to respect that each are individuals and someone carefully thought about it.
Jim Childress, FAIA