Diamonds in the Rough

Diamonds in the Rough

While Tokyo won’t make any architectural top 10 lists, the city boasts gems that would shine anywhere.

Tokyo’s urban landscape is barren of architectural heritage when compared to European capitals or cities like New York. That’s the belief of Club Member and architect Riccardo Tossani.

“[Tokyo] is a city of banal construction, punctuated by examples of globally spectacular and world-class architectural masterpieces,” he says. “It has the best and the most mundane.”

Ahead of the Women’s Group’s Urban Architectural Tour of Tokyo this month, Tossani highlights five architectural jewels from the Tokyo cityscape.

National Gymnasium, Yoyogi
(Kenzo Tange)
The building is a lead tent suspended from cables strung between two columns and restrained at the perimeter by a great concrete bond beam. Kenzo Tange was able to use that structure and respond to it through form in such a way that he created this poetic masterpiece of architecture, which, incidentally, has the motif of a samurai warrior’s helmet. The net result is a timeless building that—unusually for Japan—is still here, even though it was built in 1964.

Prada Store, Aoyama
(Herzog & De Meuron)
Herzog & De Meuron created a building of tremendous object quality by giving it crystalline form through an exciting structural carapace. Most buildings have a core, then a curtain wall which is just that: a curtain attached to the structure. In the case of Prada, the glass curtain frame is the structure. Very clever and all done with a sense of style and grace, with subtle curves and beautiful forms.

Tokyo International Forum, Marunouchi
(Rafael Viñoly)
Rafael Viñoly had a moment of genius. Look at that building and try to find any flaws. Try to find a flaw in the connection between a window and the ground or a stair tread and its supporting structure. It’s such a beautifully integrated and detailed work of architecture. A classic example is the enormous fish-scale structure supported by two massive pillars, creating an extraordinary, free-form open space, enclosed by a relatively diaphanous glass curtain [and] unencumbered by structure.

Tokyo National Museum Horyuji Treasures Hall, Ueno
(Yoshio Taniguchi)
Taniguchi has created an example of refined, modern, minimalist Japanese architecture, which few Japanese architects have been able to match. It is beautiful and substantial because of the attention to detail, but also because of the minimalist approach to form and structure, where excess is banished, where the building and all its elements exist in order to serve the mission. And the mission, of course, is to display art.

R Residence, Daikanyama
(Riccardo Tossani)
No architect is a stranger to cost parameters or construction realities. One of the more unusual parameters in this residence was a requirement to abide by feng shui principles. I don’t want to suggest I am of the same competence as Taniguchi or the other architects I revere, but I was given an opportunity to do my best. Thanks to the client’s confidence, the contractor’s competence and my staff’s dedication, we were able to create a meaningful piece of architecture, which, judged harshly, will pass.

Words: Nick Narigon
Image: Cédric Diradourian

Urban Architectural Tour of Tokyo
October 18 | 9:50am