We were treated to an unnerving 2:00am wakeup call courtesy the rumbling earth, which was timely as yesterday's lecture by Dr. Nakai Norihiro at the Tokyo Institute of Technology was all about earthquakes and seismic activity.
Our day of education began with an engaging lecture by Dr. Julian Worrall, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies in the Institute for Advanced Study at Waseda University, Tokyo. In his presentation, titled "Tokyo: Architecture as Performance", Dr. Worrall explained his interest in using buildings as lenses to understand the character of individual cities as well as the values of the inhabitants. In Tokyo, he feels the buildings serve as a 'skin'--temporarily decorating the city until one by one they fall out of fashion and are torn down to be replaced by the next new style. The average lifespan of a building in Tokyo is twenty-six years, which means the vast majority of the city's population is older than the structures. This reflects a deep-rooted tradition of finding beauty in transience, as with the Sakura (cherry) blossom, which lasts a short time and then falls but is celebrated with picnics and a festival during its brief lifespan.
Dr. Worrall led us on a walking tour of the Shiodome Shiosite (2005), a complex of thirteen sleek towers designed by a series of renowned international architects.
Tucked along the outer edge is the Nakagin Capsule Tower, designed by Kisho Kurokawa (built 1972), which is a unique residential tower. This building serves as the first implementation of capsule living, in which tiny spaces just large enough for a bed are rented to businesspeople. Highly significant for the role it played in the history of architecture, this building is slated for demolition due to its aging facade and nearness to high-rent Shiodome.
Nakagin Capsule Tower
We took the elevated monorail to Odaiba, a part of the city situated on Tokyo Bay, which felt completely different from any other parts of the city we've visited. Akin to a kind of futuristic play land, it is filled with raised walkways, expansive vistas, paved plazas, lush plantings, and oversized structures. Fuji Television Building, designed by Kenzo Tange (built 1996) was our first stop, and after walking along an elevated plaza we climbed an enormous outdoor staircase of 135 steps (according to my count) just to reach the lobby level. The scale of this area combined with the unusual spatiality of heights was awe-inspiring. It felt like the ground didn't exist, or was so far below as to be out of one's conscious mind.
Fuji Television Building
View of Tokyo Bay from Fuji TV
Tokyo Big Sight (built 1996) was a short monorail ride away, and we were again overwhelmed by the monumentality and futuristic design of this convention center (annual host to 50,000 manga fans) made up of four upside-down golden triangles overlooking Claes Oldenburg's gigantic "Saw Sawing" (1996).
Tokyo Big Sight
Our final stop was Canal Court, designed by Toyo Ito (built 2005). This is the highly successful multi-family housing project in Shinonome. The buildings are constructed of high-quality materials, are well-landscaped and each has a slightly different design. The units include wall-size windows, and the complex boasts several daycare centers, cafes, and small shops. This model of providing high quality housing to low income families was financed by selling the outer lots to developers who built luxury condos on the land.
Whether massive or tiny, Tokyo's buildings present us with constant contrasts.