Flight of fantasy
In a surprisingly European-feeling Neo-Classical building in the Daikanyama area of Tokyo, Block Architecture has gutted the existing shop to create two open retail floors. Client Hussein Chalayan has been very much a part of this process, not just a brief-giver; someone with a strong feel for building design from his own varied design experience, which includes fashion, cars (for Honda) and film. And his wish to draw on narrative elements in developing a user experience is a meeting of minds; this is an approach Block also likes to take in its architecture generally.
The building's exterior is largely ignored in creating a new inner world. One of the three adjacent former entrances remains; the other two have become display windows. Other windows are backed with blinds - inside there are complete 'walls' of backlit blinds, the fenestration pattern behind invisible. And the entrance ramp in coloured triangular ceramic tiles is a hint of the strangeness to come within, rather than an attempt to create an outdoor-indoor architectural transition.
Cypriot outdoor life in shaded squares and courtyards is taken as one theme; another is the widespread playing of backgammon there (Block assures us). The shop's entrance ramp takes up the marking of the backgammon board in its triangular red, black and white tiles. Then, passing through a doubleheight entrance transition, you enter the womenswear area on the ground floor - a domestic olive garden with five live olive trees on a rectangular grid. The other grid nodes are sockets where clothes posts can be planted with the clothes displayed on washing lines between. A bit of fun, though this aspect might be lost in Cyprus where gender differences can leave women working at home while the men sit in the square, which is what happens upstairs. In the heart of the menswear sales floor a central square is finished in the same triangular backgammon tiles, and in it rows of Cypriot chairs face a screen showing some of Chalayan's films - it is a Cypriot 'outdoor' cinema. Around this, and on the ground floor, ply floorboarding is laid like oversized parquet.
Away from the Cypriot ethnicity, aircraft references take over, offering the cool of modern materials. Some of the walls are panelled like aircraft bodies; here, some hinge down like wing-flaps as display shelves. On the menswear floor the hanging rails are suspended with seatbelt webbing. Display shelves are provided on open-sided airline trolleys.
Chalayan's wares include airmail T-shirts, ready to be packed for airmailing to a friend.
The packaging instructions are engraved on a nearby wall, one of the contributions from Chalayan's New York-based graphic designer Work-in-Progress. Another is engraving instructions for folding and wrapping - a big Japanese retail ritual - in the sales countertop. The well-mannered graphics are bilingual. With clothes displays changing frequently, flexibility to say what is now available is provided by an elegant version of the blackboard.
Block is a small practice, introduced to Chalayan by a mutual friend. Engaged in October for its first Japanese project, Block worked up designs for two months without seeing the site except through photographs.
The architect took a model as well as drawings to Japan to explain the scheme. Block employed a Japanese-speaking architect in its office. The project was carried through by a Japanese contractor, which, typically in Japan, has its own architects' department, though Block did more of its own detailing than is the Japanese norm. Block was very impressed both by the Japanese architects' response and the 'phenomenal' build quality provided by the contractor. (Block did source the backgammon floor tiles and the oversized parquet from the UK. ) As narrative - in which globalisation through high-energy, high-tech air travel meets the naturalistic eco-local - without resolution, you wonder what the Japanese reading will be. Perhaps nothing more specific than foreign/exotic, as with other architectures that have been parachuted into Tokyo, such as Herzog & de Meuron's Prada. There is deliberately no Japanese reference in this design.
As a piece of design execution, this is stylish and well-made with witty touches. Block demonstrates again that a non-adversarial construction culture like Japan's, even when working at a distance, can buy into an adventurous design and deliver the original vision.
START ON SITE DATE January 2004 CONTRACT DURATION Eight weeks GROSS INTERNAL AREA 275m 2FORM OF CONTRACT Local Japanese contract form TOTAL COST £325,000 MAIN CLIENT Hussein Chalayan TOKYO CLIENT (PREMISES OWNER) Bus Stop Co ARCHITECT Block Architecture: Zoe Smith, Graeme Williamson, Max Beckenbauer, Kayoko Ohtsuki LIGHTING CONSULTANT Campbell Design Lighting Consultants GRAPHIC DESIGNER Work-in-Progress TOKYO CONSTRUCTION TEAM Onward Creative Centre Co UK SUPPLIERS Engineered plywood flooring Ardern Hodges; triangular (backgammon) floor tiles Happell
Block Architecture www. blockarchitecture. com