Travel Blog: Arcspace In Japan

by | 12. Jun 2013


Nanzen-ji with cherry flowers in Kyoto.  Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

By Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

Wooden architecture with beautiful carpentry details, futuristic mega structures, visionary residential architecture, a round museum and trees with flowers everywhere. Arcspace just returned from a trip around Japan, perfectly timed with the sakura/cherry blossom season. Below is a report with images from our visit.

Japan has a long tradition of building with wood. Carpentry skills have been developed over the years to an extremely high technical and aesthetic level, and their joinery work without the use of any nails or screws are very inspiring. On our walks around Kyoto and Tokyo we noticed many beautiful wooden buildings – from old temples to everyday architecture and modern buildings.


The main gate of Nanzen-ji. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Facade with wood details. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


It is easy to spend hours inside the Kyoto Station, designed by the Japanese architect Hara Hiroshi. The building opened in 1997 and is one of the largest in Japan. Besides being a transportation hub it also contains many shops, a hotel, a movie theater, restaurants and several local government facilities. It has 15 different levels, and you get the best overview of the architectural complexity in themain hall covered by a giant exposed steel beamed roof. A long series of escalators take you away from the busy main hall to the peaceful roof terrace and observation deck on top of the station.


The main hall of Kyoto Station. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Roof terrasse on top of the Kyoto Station. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


In 2004 The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA opened in Kanazawa. Kanazawa is a few hours train ride away from Kyoto. The museum is located in the center of Kanazawa. The strong impression of openness is striking – a circular building on a grass lawn with integrated artwork. There is no main entrance; the round building and park are accessible from multiple directions. A large part of the museum and permanent art installations like Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool” and James Turrell’s “Blue Planet Sky” have free public access. Inside the open circular plan, white cubes of various dimensions create galleries, rooms, courtyards and corridors – almost like a cityleaving the visitor to decide a route through the museum.


Cherry blossom season in Kanazawa – a visit at the 21st  Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


The Rabbit chair designed by SANAA. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Interior space of 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

Wood bench design in 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

A tower structure of concrete capsules with circular windows stacked on top of each other. Our first stop in Tokyo was  The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Shimbashi – an example of Japanese Metabolism. This first example of capsule architecture was completed in 1972 and designed by  Kisho Kurokawa. It was designed to house businessmen and women – who either missed their trains or needed to remain close by their work – in small but functional capsule units. The building has sadly not been well maintained, during our visit it was covered by a safety net – and its future is uncertain.


Nakagin Capsule Hotel covered by safety net. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Nakagin Capsule Hotel. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

The artificial island Odaiba was originally made for defensive purposes in Tokyo Bay in the 1950s. Later in the 1990s it was redeveloped as a city for futuristic living. Today Odaiba is a popular shopping and entertainment district and the futuristic feeling is still here – from arriving to the island with the automated elevated monorail, Yurikamome to walking around the mega structure of the Fuji TV building by Kenzo Tange Associates. The headquarters of Fuji Television moved into the new Fuji TV building in 1996. The building is a mega grid structure with towers connected by pedestrian bridges or “sky corridors” and an observation deck shaped as a giant sphere fixed 123 meters above ground with public access and views over the Tokyo Bay area.


Fuji TV building in the background. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Under the architectural mega structure of the Fuji TV building. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Both Japanese architects Ryue Nishizawa and Sou Fujimoto Architects worked with new architectural ideas of a home for the design of respectively Moriyama House and House NA. The 2 houses are located in two different dense residential districts of Tokyo, but with the same context of narrow streets and normal low-rise Japanese houses.

Ryue Nishizawa worked with the vision of “house as a city” for the home of Yasuo Moriyama in 2005. Moriyama house is actually not one single house but a multi-building. It consists of 10 white prefab steel cubes of individual proportions in a garden located in a corner lot. Each room or function has its own little building – bathroom, living room, bedroom, study, rental units etc. Walls are only 6 cm thick to maximize the interior space on the small site. The buildings are like a small community, where the separated functions strengthen the connections between the inside and outside.

The idea of living in a tree inspired Sou Fujimoto Architects in their design of a home for a young couple. House NA is surprisingly open and bright compared to the surrounding houses. The interior is spread on 21 individual floor plates at various heights linked by stairs or ladders and with very few walls.


House NA by Sou Fujimoto Architects. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


House NA. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

House NA detail. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Moriyama House by Office of Ryue Nishizawa. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Moriyama House by Office of Ryue Nishizawa. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Moriyama House by Office of Ryue Nishizawa. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen

Our last architecture stop in Japan is The Yoyogi National Gymnasium by Kenzo Tange – a classic site to visit if you are interested in architecture and close to the Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. The sculptural complex consists of two large curving buildings – a main and a minor gym both with a roof that seem to rise from the park landscape.

The roof of the main gym had the world’s largest suspended roof span when it was built in 1964 for the swimming and diving events at that year’s summer Olympics in Tokyo. Today it is still used as a venue for music concerts and sports like ice hockey, futsal and basketball.


Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen


Façade detail – Yoyogi National Gymnasium.  Photo by Vibeke Hjortskov Knudsen