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Barista Pro Shop, one from the chain of Streamer Cofee Company is a very unusual cafe. Situated in the district of Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan this building stands out due to it’s resemblance of a shipping container tilted vertically. I was not sure if it was a real shipping container used for the construction, but after a closer examination, I discovered  that it is only a design solution.

Barista Pro Shop container house tokyo

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Located on a small triangular plot, that used to be a parking lot, the ground floor of the building is merely 10 m². The idea behind the design of the shop is to show the manly and robust nature of string coffee by the use of steel walls, wood  and concrete. The 2nd and 3rd level temporarily hosts Armani concept store at this is a very upmarket fashion oriented neighbourhood.

There are benches provided outside as the building itself has a small footprint and not all the customers fit inside. The space provided is actively used: as visible in one of the pictures. During the day the plot was occupied by a professional photo-shooting.

More pictures of the Barista Pro Shop Harajuku:

This post is not about architecture as a beautiful object, and not even about pretty landscaping. But first a bit info about the building and then I will take you to the reason why this building has changed my life.

South view to the bridge dividing two parts of Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum

I spent only one afternoon in Nagasaki, I was in the rush, but still that was enough to get very positive impression. The city is very different from other cities in Japan. It is more European and at the same time even more different. The urban planning is just great – while walking around I kept thinking to myself that many architects and planners (including some people, that I know) should be sent in to Nagasaki, to learn some important lessons they must have missed in their lifes.

View to the bay from the rooftop of museum

Landscaping nearby museum

Designed by Mr. Kengo Kuma and NIHON SEKKEI, Inc., opened in April 2005, the buildings won many prizes in building and illumination design competitions. Comprised of two buildings located across a canal from each other and connceted with a glass bridge. Interesting design feature – vertical louvers composed of approximately 12 000 square meters of Brasilian granite. The louvers give interesting and interactive dimension as you move-by.  However the best feature of  Nagasaki prefectural art museum is the wonderfully done landscaping, green rooftops what almost melt into the surroundings.

Views from roof-top terraces

After going down from the roof terrace, I was enjoying the view from bellow and then… Two girls dashed through the bridge: one in a wheel-chair and another pushing her. They were laughing very loud, they were so happy. It struck me like a lightning: the buildings do need to be accessible for everyone. Now, after some time has passed since my visit and the understanding has settled-in deeply. The understanding and idea behind accessibility seems natural now, but was not up to this scale until that afternoon in Nagasaki.

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The building is open and truly accessible to everyone (at the time the opening hours were already over)

Girls on the bridge came back and forth at least 5 times giving me plenty of opportunity to photograph them. The joyful laughter still rings in my ears up to this day.

Often people (even designers) do not take this seriously at all, even public and important buildings do not have ramps, or any means of getting there at all. But someone needs to understand, that not every handicapped person is an old drunkard who got in to such state due to his own actions (a very common assumption in the region where I live now). I must admit may times the regulations concerning handicapped people used to be seen just as a nuisance. Who has ever seen a handicapped around, but maybe THAT is the reason they are not visible? I will never be frowning again for making an accessible building; to the contrary I have since became an active advocate of accessibility!

Some more images from and around the museum:

I would like to dedicate this article as a tribute to the architect with whose work I fell in love with – Akio Okumura (1928 – 2012 December 27th2012 ).

The University is located in a hilly area on the eastern outskirts of Nagoya. Established in 1966 the campus covers a large area of approximately 410,000 square meters, with University facilities blending harmoniously with the surrounding nature and greenery.  It is a third public art school build after the war in Japan.

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View from the Faculty of Fine Arts drawing room to the Faculty of Music

The main architects who worked on the design were Junzō Yoshimura (1908-1997) who was credited for the design and  Akio Okumura who was a young assistant professor at the time and who actually did the main work.

I actually visited the site before the death of Akio Okumura. Upon retuning to the Europe I collected the facts and the details of the University and it’s design process. Back then, just a few weeks ago, there was scarcely any information about the works of Akio Okumura or the architect himself. Now, however the articles, stories and photos to be found on the web have at least tripled.

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Lecture Building

Discovering the modernist gem:

Strange ways lead me to this place: one nice afternoon, when I was visiting Nagoya city, I decided to visit the most recommended tourist attraction in the region: the Toyota Automobile Museum. The means of getting there was on a specially made MAGLEV train, what is elevated from the ground on special tracks. When I got out of a train and took few shots of the tracks, that was it: a battery of a camera got flat. It automatically meant that we will not be going to the museum as what is the point of being there if you cannot take any pictures (a bit shallow, I know). Since the Toyota Automobile Museum is outside the city limits and it already took long time to get there, I started looking around maybe there is something else to see nearby. There was a sign on a street to an art university (university was the trigger word). As I had my research of architecture in Nagoya done prior going there, I assumed that this must be the Nagoya University, designed by the famous modernist Fumihiko Maki, a winner of Pritzker Prize. So without much hesitation off we went, in the back of my head I knew this was not the university I mentioned before, but I though “well you cannot go wrong, universities are always interesting”. And it resulted into the best unintended architectural finding ever! This university that I am showing to you now definitely is not the one I originally wanted to see, but latter-on I did visit and photograph the University of Nagoya (so please come back to check out my posts!).

The fist visit to Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music left a deep impression on me. I had plenty of time to wander around the campus and enjoy the atmosphere. Being without a camera actually helped me to really be there. The day was cloudy, and in such weather modernist buildings look even more attractive than in perfect sunny conditions. I fell in love, understood and saw the ideas behind the buildings. The designer must have loved this design, something that architects know from their experience. There are sometimes designs that may not be perfect, but you just happen to feel unreasonably passionate about them. That night, before falling asleep, I was still walking around and seeing the Art University buildings with my eyes closed. I even do not think that has ever happened to me before, not with a building at least. I am not even sure that prior discovering these buildings I even liked modernist architecture at all…

Fragile moment in time or to be saved and appreciated?

Few weeks passed and I came back, and took the photos. No matter how much I photographed, it still feels it was not enough and I do not have enough shots of the wonderful details. I have a fear that the beauty and uniqueness might disappear forever, next renovation and all might be gone. All the wonderful tiles in interior, original furniture, handles, the spirit just might be gone soon. A state of the buildings is the best described as neglect, however this and assumingly a lack of money were the main factors that all has survived until this day.

At the time of my visit there were new buildings constructed next to the old campus. The new buildings were designed with the respect of the old style. As much as I could understand from different resources, the whole original campus will be renovated as well. But the renovation is not carried-on respectfully: the bathrooms that I first saw in Lecture Building were intact original ones (and yes pretty disgusting – squatting ones form the 60′s), later-on they were being renovated. However I could bet, that the process was done by just regular plumbers with no involvement or  advices from an architect. What if the management just changes all: little by little, first  “better” flooring, then “better” insulated windows, then, of course more “comfortable” seating, etc…

Some of the smaller buildings in the campus have been just left to decay on purpose, a tactic, described by local magazines as “sneak attack”. That means when the buildings become too unsafe and too expensive to renovate – there will be the easy way out as demolition strongly encouraged.

I can only hope that the death of the architect, albeit very sad, will be the trigger raising public awareness of the state of these buildings and the need to preserve them.

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Original furniture and finishes in Lecture Building

Some facts behind the concrete, bricks and wood:

This campus has been designed with a view of nature conservation. Some endangered species live in this campus ground. Certain insects and flowers can be found what are listed in the Red Book of Japan. (I saw a huge green praying-mantis, surely not rare, but a first time for me to see this insect)

Akio Okumura was struggling a lot at the time and the design, he drew a tremendous number of drawings until he came to the final version of design.

Akio Okumura envisioned Aphrodite from “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, standing on top of a large shell when he designed the Odeum, or concert hall. However the usage of such symbols was very unusual for this architect, otherwise very scientific man.

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Odeum or concert hall

The Lecture Building is lifted into the air, carrying a reminiscent of a museum, a linear building covered with white louvers, the building also is very symbolic.

The level of concrete detailing on Lecture Building is a piece of art, I do not think that anyone today could be bothered in making something like those elegantly curved columns.

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Lecture Building of Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, view from the North

The Lecture Building acts as a central axis between the Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Music on the west to the east. The different disciplines are connected with covered passage and one can gaze upon music faculty from plaster room or drawing room.

Plenty of traditional elements incorporated into the design, especially the overall landscaping and specific details.

To get a “perfect” perspective in photos I had to bend my knees slightly.

Full slide-show here (please enjoy!):

Koban or small Police Station designed by  Klein Dytham Architecture, located in Kumamoto, in the southern most island of Japan. Year of execution: 2011. Possibly the friendliest and most cheerful police station in the world (by it’s looks, at least).

After a new bullet train station was built in city of Kumamoto, the area around the station was made into a sand box for architects. The program is called Artpolis and is lead  by Toyo Ito, who was the one that commissioned this police station.

Big white circles on the top part of the façade allow pastel rainbow colours painted on the inner shell to shine through:

Koban police station in Kumamoto 1 Koban police station in Kumamoto 2

The external colour-coding of the station is a part of architect’s interesting ideas. For anyone living in Japan it looks like a Japanese police car: white top, black bottom and red lamps. Very clever design move.

Koban police station in Kumamoto 3 Koban police station in Kumamoto 4

Maybe the friendliness and playfulness of the Koban’s façade was that attracted a group of very friendly  school-kids, who really wanted to talk with me (I wish I knew about what) and photo-bombed some shots:

Koban police station in Kumamoto 5

Different colours of different shades are visible when you move around the station, that makes this building very dynamic.

Koban police station in Kumamoto 6

This part of the town has buried the power-lines and the sky of this whole area is power-line free.

Koban police station in Kumamoto 7

Good path to take and a perfect example for an institutional architecture.

A renovation project from Kyoto, Japan. Located in a tiny Kiya-machi Dori street, in the most narrow spot between of two rivers: small, but fast flowing Takasegawa canal and main river for Kyoto Yatsuyanagicho. It is the only place that you can see the both rivers from the street  (not visible in pictures though).

Originally the building was from 60′s (a guess by looking at older photographs) and it was renovated in 2010. It stands out due to an unusual burnt wood façade and a huge tree in front of it.

This building combines both worlds: the contemporary and the traditional one.

Kyoto Kiya-machi Dori shrine black house3

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I like this area of Kyoto a lot, in fact I just love it! In April 2012 I had participated in an architectural/urban planning competition of Takasegawa river (or canal) and it’s surroundings. So to keep long story short, during my last visit to Japan I decided to stop by Kyoto just to have a stroll in the area I spent so many hours working on,  all from a huge distance. And the walk was definitely worth the stop: I walked on foot the whole stretch of Takesagawa river (about 4 km) and the atmosphere was just magical. This little black building was a pleasant discovery as the particular spot is not covered by the google street-view (to prepare myself for the competition I virtually walked a lot in this area).

Kyoto Kiya-machi Dori shrine black house2

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This particular spot has a has a long history and plenty of stories to be told about. From 8th century it used to be an imperial garden with a mansion in this area. Nothing remains of the palace, but this tree, named Enoki is the only remain of the huge forest that once stood here. Enoki is revered as the sacred tree and it was selected as the “tree of pride for residents,” the city of Kyoto in 2000. That is reflected in the torii Daimyojin Enoki is enshrined in the back.

The tree is full of life: tiny green (and loud) parakeets were dashing in and out of the canopy, some huge mushrooms grow on it. Here, it feels as if the time has stopped.

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Kyoto Kiya-machi Dori shrine black house

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This building is not only a shrine, but also an atellier apartment/artist residence. I had a quick glance at the interior: hight ceilings, exposed structure, contemporary lighting.

Kyoto Kiya-machi Dori shrine black house1

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This is the only perspective that pitched roof is visible. Approaching the house from the south it looks completely like a contemporary box (in contrast to very traditional or 80′s buildings in this area).

Designed byJun Mitsui & Associates Inc. Architects in 2008, the Glass Cubes shopping center is one of the most architecturally exiting shopping centers I’ve seen.

Apparently the client (the H&M) desired the building to be open, but the architects chose colder and more “classic” look, a building with certain attitude in an ever-changing fashion district of Harajuku.

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Event thought it is not extremely hight building (by definition mid-rise only), in my opinion it is shaped as a perfect skyscraper. I see it as something from the early visions of Metropolis, very urbane, cold, but fresh and clean at the same time. Well (pardon the pun), it is cool.

The Ice Cubes does stand out with its seemingly feather light enamelled glass façade. The fritted or enamelled glass façade also prevents overheating, making the building more environment friendly (it’s even labelled as eco-building).

Also the solution applied to the façade is not very common: to avoid greenish looks of the glass the enamel pattern was used on the exterior of the glass.

I do believe it is one of the better designs(and implementations) to be seen around in the area.

This time I am sharing with all of you my impressions of CO2Works architectural office in Nagoya, Japan. Designed by Koji Nakawatase, 4 stories high, finished in 2012.

Nagoya is the kind of city I could get lost in an instant as most of the buildings around look alike (see the backdrop of this building), but this one I find to be a contemporary hidden gem. Surely the form of the building was the first thing that attracted my attention. That is a great and smart move for an architectural office to have a building that celebrates the profession. A wonderful architectural piece to show the style of the office, to show their capabilities and to inspire the team while they work in it everyday. And surely everyone in the neighbourhood knows: that’s the architect’s office. Also I can suspect that the building by itself filters the clients: the ones who come want contemporary and fresh houses and they know what kind of architecture to expect.

The purity of materials and the details in this building truly amaze and perplex me. There is no difference between inside and outside, all is concrete and the transition from the outside to the inside is incredibly smooth. The window details fit very nicely and I can only wonder what happens during earthquakes (minor ones happen 2-3 times a year). And what about the cold bridges as Japan is not that warm (is it even possible to dream of such building in let’s say Finland) and how do the other systems in the building function?

Additionally I like the little bits of landscaping elements: grass on cantilever terrace, little flowers and  decorative tree pots.

When I walked up to the building to photograph it, I had a chance to meet two people from CO2 office. We exchanged our details and latter, after coming back to Europe, I corresponded with the main architect Koji Nakawatase. I asked him for a permission to write about his creation and kindly, to my joy, he said yes. Also I asked if he could tell me some some additional stories (the wonderful rare opportunity), but I think our good intentions got lost in translation. So, I still feel curious what are the stories that this building has to tell, what was the path to get there, what were the quarrels about that the design team had (supposedly), what was the vision and what was the main challenge?…

This post leaves me curious and I take it as a sign of encounter with great design.

This is a second architect’s residence, that I visited and photographed. This time a classic modernist project form Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. This wonderful building is built in 1966 (!) and it is designed by Takamitsu Azuma. He called this project  “Tower House” (“Tou no Ie” jpn.).
Built only on 20 square meters site this architectural masterpiece consists of 5 stories above ground and one level of basement. The ground level is garage, basement is a storage space, second level is living and kitchen, third level is a toilet and a bathroom, fourth floor is a bedroom and top room originally was designed as a child’s room.

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In the bottom right photo of the collage, you can see me hugging a corner of the building to show the scale of it (I have been there and it still bends my mind).

Inside all the levels are connected by one volume, shared by an inner “tower”. The idea behind it is about sharing the space, feeling one with everyone in the house, possibility for unverbal communication; one can easily hear, smell and feel what other people do in the house.

At the moment a grown-up child, who also became an architect,  Rie Azuma a daughter of Takamitsu Azuma and her family is living in the house. In the past she left her parents to live in the United States and after she came back her parents moved out. My personal guess is that for ageing parents it was becoming difficult to move up and down the number of stairs everyday. However out of respect to her father the name plate on the house still bears the name of Takamitsu Azuma.
The building is kept as original as much a possible. Some of the fixed furniture was replaced, but has been rebuild to the original design.

This amazing building is very well know in Japan, architecture students go thought this project, study it and make it’s models. Every month a number of visitors visit the house on a scheduled tour. I feel lucky to have dashed by this building and when seeing it my hands almost involuntarily grabbed the camera to photograph it.

Interesting design from 60′s, on Ise-Shima Skyline – picturesque privately owned mountain top road. The Rest House is closed for quite a while now and used to be a restaurant.

Building and some of the surrounding views:

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The shape of the building is designed after shrines nearby Ise city (most important Shinto shrines).  However to my western eye the roof shape reminds fish!

Stone steps in front of the building are reused stones from tramway line what was running in Ise city until 1961.

One of the most famous feature used to be sitting outside with the feet soaked in naturally warm water, gazing into the Pacific Ocean (supposedly on an extremely clear day you could see mount Fuji).

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