Japan is a hotbed for contemporary architecture with lots of attractive creations mainly in the leading cities, especially the city, Tokyo. The growth of big cities has led to the appearances of skyscrapers and a variety of buildings exhibiting artistic imagination. Let us have a look at the places one shouldn’t miss when they go for an architectural tour in this wonderful city!
1. Shibuya Subway Station
Architect: Tadao Ando
Type: Underground subway station
Constructed in: 2008
The idea behind this specific shape, according to Tadao Ando, was ‘to make travelling fun again’. The shell was constructed using glass fibre reinforced concrete skin. The building is essentially an underground building, shaped like a spaceship. The 3rd floor is at the ground level, with a hole in the roof, for light to travel downwards. The design allows fresh air and light to circulate via the atrium and a ventilation shaft, and the glass-fibre reinforced concrete skin of the “spaceship” incorporates a water-cooling system.
2. Yoyogi National Gymnasium
Architect: Kenzo Tange
Type: International arena for sports and fashion
Constructed in: 1964
One look at the building and the first thing you realise is the dramatic sweeping curves, which appear to effortlessly drape from two large, central supporting cables. The building is built using R.C.C as it is the perfect way to seamlessly attain this dramatic shape at this massive magnitude. The dynamically suspended roof is one of the key USPs of the design as well.
The smaller pavilion which holds approximately 5,300 people is used for various small Olympic events, whereas the national gymnasium was designed to be occupied by 10,500 people primarily for the Olympic swimming and diving competitions
3. Nakagin Capsule Tower
Architect: Kisho Kurokawa
Type: Housing complex
Constructed in: 1972
A fun looking building; this is a prototype for the architecture of sustainability and recyclability, as each module can be plugged into the central core and replaced or exchanged when necessary. Designed using R.C.C again, the form appears to be like that of a giant Lego tower, with interchangeable units.
Each unit is installed to the concrete core with only 4 high-tension bolts, which keeps the units replaceable. Each capsule measures 4 x 2.5 meters, permitting enough room for one person to live comfortably. The interior space of each module can be manipulated by connecting the capsule to other capsules.
4. St. Mary’s Cathedral
Architect: Kenzo Tange
Type: Religious building
Constructed in: 1964
This building was built to replace the earlier old wooden cathedral, in gothic style, burnt during wartime. Here, the prayers are reflected in the flight of a bird, from where the architect derived his concept. The building was built using reinforced concrete and stainless steel. The idea behind the form was to replicate the lightness of a bird and its wings, hence you see that the building is simple in concept but complex in shape.
The effect of the light on the curved walls, changing at every hour, makes the interior atmosphere extremely involving: direct sunlight and diffused reflections accompany the bending surfaces, and the visitor can immediately see and understand the curving of the concrete walls. The light passes through the glazed gaps, four vertical in between the walls, and four as roof light – the cross at the top. It is a rather dark space, but the contrast dark/enlightened enhance the symbolism of the church as a religious space.
5. Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium
The building was originally built in 1954 for the World Wrestling Championship. It was rebuilt and designed by Architect Fumihiko Maki in a futuristic style. The building was built using R.C.C and glass. It looks like a cross between a spaceship and a samurai helmet.
Each building (main arena, sub arena, and indoor pool) maintains its integrity as a large volume, while simultaneously establishing humane exterior spaces for the public. Together, these elements constitute an expression of ‘collective form.’ As one’s viewpoint shifts, the overlapping of these volumes creates unexpected silhouettes.
6. Nicolas G Hayek Centre
Architect: Shigeru Ban
Type: Commercial building (Headquarters of the Swatch group, Japan)
Constructed in: 2007
Also referred to as an Urban Oasis, with plants covering the whole wall up to the top floor and forming a hanging garden within the atrium spaces. The greenery provides a stark contrast to the urban surroundings, rightly justifying the phrase ‘Urban Oasis’ which is crowned upon it. Built using R.C.C, glass and rubber bearings; the building is a boxy shape, with free-form floating roof specially developed using various form-finding techniques using a lot of R&D.
The hydraulic elevators inside, are in fact are showrooms taking visitors to the boutiques for each Swatch brand and providing the pleasant sensation of floating across the atrium. The structural system is inspired by the pendulum movement of an antique clock, involving a series of self-mass dampers (SMD) that can be tuned (like a pendulum clock!) to reduce seismic excitation.
7.TOD’s Omotesando Building
Architect: Toyo Ito
Type: Commercial building (office for Tod, an Italian shoe and bag brand)
Constructed in: 2004
This design falls under a term “luxutecture”, which means using the exterior architectural design in order to promote a brand.
The building makes use of reinforced concrete, glass and aluminium to attain its abstract facade and stability of the structure. The façade design essentially mimics an integrated structure by overlapping silhouettes of elm trees which are surrounding the site
The seven-storey building at the Toyo Ito continues with the exploration of their ideas surface. Inside, hidden opaque glass rear view so buyers are attracted to the front of the store in which play an important role in the animation of the construction. At night and internal lighting are best organic forms of its design. To avoid glass breakage, for a possible earthquake, the structure is supported on a cushion placed on the foundation, which is common in Japanese buildings. Also, due to its narrow L-shaped façade, the designed branched structure unifies the volume. This outer surface serves as both a graphic pattern and structural system. It is built with reinforced concrete 30cm thick and embedded therein frameless glasses. The resulting surface supports the floor slabs that extend between 10 to 15 meters without any internal column.
8. Maison Hermes
Architect: Renzo Piano
Type: Commercial building (Flagship store for Hermes )
Constructed in: 2001
The concept of the “Magic lantern” inspired by traditional Japanese lanterns is carried out beautifully using materials like glass bricks, vetrocemento and flexible steel. In the front, during the day, it gives a translucent idea of what lies beyond, fuzzy objects and events through the thickness of the glass block. At night, the entire building is glowing from within.
The building is built on a metallic skeleton, which is flexible and moves in case of an earthquake. The glass blocks hide this metallic frame which would look pretty distracting, otherwise. The outer shell is composed of more than 13,000 glass blocks measuring 42.8 x 42.8 inches, equipped with a smooth face and a wavy disposed toward the street. These blocks specially designed and developed to create an effect of light curtain or veil that protects the interior spaces of the confusion of the city were developed by Renzo Piano and Vetroarredo glass factory in Florence. In the first three levels of the store, the architect placed the ladders against the glass blocks that make up the outer curtain, making daylight become an orientation device. From the outside, the customer moves up and down the stairs, animating the facade with its activities as well as the differences between commercial floors and offices that are above.
9. Suntory Museum of Art
Architect: Kengo Kuma and Associates
Type: Art Museum
Constructed in: 2007
One of the most tastefully done and true to its concept is THIS building which is built as a Japanese style room, where people can relax. As organic as the concept sounds, it is even built in the same fashion using materials like reinforced ceramic, white oak, rice paper screens, Paulownia wood along with concrete and aluminium. This simple cube-shaped building is less of a form dominating pretentious bluff, and truer to its materials. The building is constructed by being honest to the materials cherished in our daily lives. White porcelain is kind to the skin, Paulownia maintains humidity whereas white oak is a natural material also used for barrels.
The ceramic panels offer climatic control. They have holes and they are joined to the aluminium with pins and some grooves to give flexibility. The galleries are kept simple using few materials not to obstruct the view. The lighting, controlled from above and below, replicates traditional Japanese lighting where the light entering over the “shoji” screen and from the “Andon” (paper enclosed oil light) circulates around the floor. The top floor lounge, reserved for premium members, has a roof terrace with magnificent views of the city.
10. Tokyo International Forum
Architect: Rafael Viñoly Architects
Type: Multipurpose exhibition centre
Constructed in: 1997
The idea was to build a complex dedicated to contribute and emphasize the Japanese opening to the world during the booming Japanese economy. It is a large independent crystal structure, like a gracefully expressive great curving ship shape in glass and steel, set off across its plaza. It is built using laminated glass, a steel mega-truss and obviously, concrete.
Although there are technically four different block-like units, each with a different purpose, the structures are united behind one monolithic granite facade at the west end of the complex. The atrium and other structures are linked by two levels of underground space as well as several above ground glass encased catwalks. At night the Glass Hall actually glows and it has been described as resembling a boat sailing on the foam of the ocean. The Glass Hall facade uses approximately 20,000 square meters of 17.5mm laminated, heat-strengthened glass.
So when you are lost in the beautiful cherry blossom or are purely amazed by the legacy of the samurais and ninjas; the architectural marvels of the iconic city of Tokyo will not fail to stun you. These are the top 10 buildings which will take you on an architectural roller coaster ride, and leave you craving for the next trip to Japan.
About the author:
Tejashri Deshpande, an Architect by profession and an animal lover by obsession, has her own design practice in Pune by the name of Design Doobki.