By Jakob Harry Hybel
Situated at the exit of Osaka’s main train station in an area teeming with tall glass buildings, Fukoku Tower designed by French superstar architect Dominique Perrault for a Japanese insurance firm might seem inconspicuous at first. Just one out of many. When approaching from street level, however, you will see it slowly dissolving into fragments smaller and smaller still, like a giant tree taking its roots.
More than anything, Osaka is a city defined by commerce. It is and has always been Japan’s economic catalyst and houses the headquarters for many of the country’s chief tech-companies. So, in this city of innumerous skyscrapers with hardly any public space, the Fukoku Tower stands out as a welcome anomaly: a highrise entering into a dialogue with the surrounding urban texture.
The tower was conceived as a tree trunk, but the facade of the building’s lower levels have been broken up into what appears to be wood chips, implying that the building has been partly uprooted. The tower’s asymptotic profile and the fact that it almost dissolves as it meets the ground mitigates the building’s otherwise monolithic presence. Aside from what was probably the reason for doing so – to break down the scale – it also hints at a emotional content within the towering glass structure. You sense an element of human chaos which stands directly opposed to the strict logic on which the entire concept of a highrise relies.
Incidentally, it is not the first time, Perrault has drawn on nature for inspiration. In his housing, office and commercial building in Lille, for example, he decorated the facades with flowery imagery. In Fukoku Tower, however, the reference is slightly more subtle and certainly more elicited. The notion that something so inherently artificial as a skyscraper conceptually and geometrically could be a representation of something natural and organic makes the project intriguing and quite inspired.
A Considerate, Playful Highrise
The base of the Fukoku Tower, where the structure interacts with public life, is arguably the most interesting. It is also the most noticeable, as one of Perrault’s most recognizable signature traits is dominant here: the vertically stretched metal grid framing the plate glass, as can also be seen in the project that made him world-famous, the National Library of France or in Ewha Women’s University in Seoul.
Just inside the building at ground level, on top of a three-leveled underground shopping mall, the architect had intended to place a botanical garden, which was meant to represent the living heart of the building and serve as the cardinal point of social interaction. Regrettably, this otherwise appealing concept had to make way for an airy atrium in the planning phase. A shame indeed, as it would have added a second layer to the nature-inspired motives that dictated the building’s overall design.
Regardless, the semi-deconstructed building is playfully disruptive and it has a transparency and imaginative vividness not often seen in highrise design. It is a generous design, thoughtfully drawing in the public and embracing its urban context.