TAKOTRON, JAPAN EPISODE III (continued)
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Topic 3: Aoyama Apartments / Tod's Omotesando / Yoku Moku
We continue with another installment of our architecture/food theme.
It begins with the Doujunkai apartments. The great Kantou earthquake in 1923 left the region in ruins, but also opened up a unique opportunity for the nation to push forward their ongoing process of modernization. A variety of European-influenced building styles were being employed since the Meiji restoration, and the results often look like strained attempts at old Europe--heavy masonry, sometimes with a Japanese-style roof plopped on top, or with some traditional detailing. On the other side of the design spectrum emerged the Doujunkai, a design division for the government's Public Housing department. The Doujunkai foundation was responsible for building a number of mid-rise, reinforced concrete, Modernist apartment buildings throughout the 20s, among them the famous Aoyama Apartments on Ometesando near Harajuku, completed in 1927 (see my photo from 2002, right). At the time the Doujunkai apartments were state-of-the-art, fitted with trash chutes, electricity, modern plumbing, and toilets. They were also adaptable for a variety of middle-class tenants, and sometimes contained tatami rooms, sunrooms, communal courtyards, and even public cafes and restaurants.
By the 1990s demolition of the numerous Doujunkai complexes began amid much protest, and today only 2 remain. The Aoyama Apartments were destroyed about 2 years ago. In their place "Ometesando Hills," an apartment/retail comlex designed by world-famous architect Ando Tadao, is in the midst of construction. It is exciting that Ando has been granted this opportunity, and I'm sure the completed project will be as thoughtful and elegant as his previous work.
From what one can see so far, it looks as thought the new design makes a conscious effort to memorialize the buildings it displaced, with it's similar proportions and the preservation of the zelkova trees. 75 years is a long time for a building to last in Tokyo, no matter how beloved it becomes, but we can hope that the style and functionality of the Doujunkai apartments will be remembered historically and remain influential.
Here's a link to some multimedia:NTV Documentary
Item 2 on the agenda is Ito Toyo's building for Tod's Omotesando, an upscale Italian shoe company (left). Before we departed I discussed visiting it a mission. Consider that mission accomplished [report to base: Takotron mis012667 code 034 affirmative]. When you walk down Omotesando away from Harajuku and past Aoyamadori, you will come across a district of upscale boutiques and classy brand shops with things you can't afford. But often the retail spaces are designed by high-profile architects and are of notable quality. Herzog & DeMeuron designed the Prada store, Ando built Collezione which houses a number of small showrooms, there's a new Dior store(right) with a big star on top by SANAA (Sejima Kazuyo and Nishizawa Ryue), and now Ito has the Tod's.
The structure is based on the abstracted sillhoute of a tree-line, folded several times to create an L-shaped floor plan. The tree branches are cast in concrete, and the 270 openings between them paneled with glass or, in some places, opaque aluminum. The facades are structurally striking, and the irregular polygonal spaces continue throughout the interior, which also contains furnishings by Zaha Hadid. That said, some of the interior details were a little if-y; seams that weren't quite matched up on some pexiglass light panels, some cracks in the concrete over the stairs, a rough corner, etc. All forgivable, but paired with the no-longer-working Tower of Winds outside Yokohama station's west exit, I'm still waiting for realized, long-lasting perfection.
About that tower, (see Takotron News 22 June 2005) we asked at the koban (police box) right in front of it if it still lights up. The officer there said it glows blue at night around 10 or so once in a while. He said he had trained to become an architect before he began his cop career, and was a friendly guy considering we were bugging him about something sort of irrelevant to police duties. Though people always ask them for directions and use them as a lost and found, so I guess it wasn't bad. But we checked that Tower of Winds a million times at all times of the day and night, and it didn't do a damn thing.
Past Tod's is the Yoku Moku Confectionary Headquarters, featuring a fancy dessert cafe, home of the ¥1000 coffee. We went there with Miss Jenny Wu and Brian and ate exquisite cakes. Mine had genuine gold flakes on it (Tranche Champenoise
). Then we bought some more Yoku Moku cookies in the store, and Kei got a couple little tarts. Their Double Chocolate au Lait sandwich cookies are incredible, and possibly even more addictive than the $1 variety pack of sugar wafers. In the US you might find them at Neiman Marcus. YOKU MOKU HQ DREAMLAND EAT THESE COOKIES