COD Japan Conference 2011: Tokyo, The International Forum by Rafael Viñoly

We toured the building with two of the architects from the local architecture firm who collaborated on the project.  The project was more complex, and the central atrium space that has been so widely published, was warmer and more inviting than I expected.  The site plan was the key to winning the project according to the local architects.

The simple box of performance and convention spaces fronts onto the central business district. The now familiar fish-shaped atrium sits tight against a rail line on one side and on the other side creates an outdoor gathering space between this atrium and the performance house.  Enclosed bridges connect the ‘fish’ atrium to the performance venues.

The ‘fish’ is a tour de force of structure and light and is truly beautiful to walk through.  It is curious that it is so disconnected from the theaters and convention spaces; not really serving as a lobby for either.  Its prime role appears to be as an atrium for a small group of people to pass through to get to the narrow band of small conference rooms bordering the rail tracks.  It also functions as a dramatic light fixture in the city.  The quality of this light-filled space running alongside the entire outdoor gathering space is what makes the experience so special day and night.  The local architects noted that Tadao Ando had suggested the ‘fish’ be filled in with glass floors to make the large atrium more useful–and profitable.

The theaters are another challenge. With an understandable desire to have their public entries overlook the central business district on one side and the outdoor courtyard on the other, the entry sequence up to the theaters contorts one way, then another.  Ultimately, this sequence is a regrettable let-down compared to the marvelous ‘fish’.  The same can be said for the theaters themselves, though I suppose one goes to the theater for the show more than the quality of the space.  In the end, the lasting memory is of the grand spectacle of beautiful architecture in the atrium space.  As a visitor to an event, it is conceivable one might miss this tour de force and wonder what all the architects are excited about.

Jim Childress, FAIA

(Photos courtesy of Jim Childress and Ann Thompson)


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