La Tour Eiffel – Paris is an old romantic man. Two things distinguish him as french: a baguette under the arm and a revolutionary spirit in the chest. A bit Bohemian, a bit Jacobin, but with one motto: liberté, egualité, fraternité. Like all men – or all lovers I should say – he has two weaknesses: absinth and women. But it is known that every Casanova has one true love. Paris’ everlasting one is a lanky old lady with an iron soul.
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Garden House. A Vertical Forest
2 February 2018
words: Natalie Donat-Cattin
photos: Jian Yong Khoo
Exit the metro station at Hatchobori and walk along the main road towards the Kamejima River. Just before the bridge take a right turn, you might end up in a narrow street where you will stumble upon a curious object – squashed between two housing blocks: an urban vertical forest.
It is the Garden House, designed by Ryue Nishizawa. It persists not unlike a plant in a pavement crack. Like all his projects it transmits a sense of lightness: a series of floating elements sandwiched between two solid blocks. Its porous green facade contrasts with the compactness of the surrounding tiles, complementing the orange and white colours by enhancing its luminosity. In the deserted street, it stands out as an unusual, lively metropolitan component, willing to question the traditional house typology.
Due to the narrowness of the street, the only way to experience the edifice is to promenade up the stairs of the opposite building (luckily in Japan most building’s circulation is public). From here it is possible to observe the building at different levels: a journey culminating with a striking aerial view. From the top, the house is experienced in its essence: the thick concrete slabs mark the facade rhythm, while allowing for exterior activities (outdoor eating table, sitting space and roof-terrace).
Square and circle geometries alternate each other in a game of shapes. Sharp edges and curves give life to unexpected spaces: rigid (minimal living interior) and flexible (outdoor terraces) at the same time. From this interaction arises architecture: basic needs versus pleasure. The aged, rough and rudimental concrete slabs, confined to their materiality and form, welcome the greenery as an element able to break out of the grid and geometry.
At the ground floor level, the house is accessed through a tiny path between the gravel and greenery. A series of stones mark the transition from the horizontal streetscape to the vertical living habitat. Reminiscent of old Japanese tea houses, they welcome the owner into a familiar environment, inviting him to abandon all burdens and sorrows, before entering the place of rest, shielded by a veil of plants and fabric.
The curtains fully protect the interior from public view. The living spaces are pushed to the back in order to provide a higher level of privacy. They are incredibly small, reduced to the minimum, and well picturing the need for space of the Japanese lifestyle. Despite this, the house allows for a fluid flow between interior and exterior, creating a dreamy atmosphere: a magical vertical forest in Tokyo’s urban greyness.
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In the far east of London, stands majestic and solitary the London Aquatics Centre. In an almost inexistent context, it emerges from the flatness of the surroundings, like a solitary wave in the middle of the ocean. At first sight, its dynamic form amazes but then the question arises: would it be as beautiful within a context? Or is it this emptiness that enhances the building? “Space is meaningless without scale, containment, boundaries and direction”, writes Huxtable – so is the aquatic centre just a meaningless wonder?
Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels frame 3312 triangular slices of sky. This is the heart of the British Museum.
Tokyo – Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden. Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas.
What is the best house for an art museum if not art itself? With an open heart and bones of steel, the Pompidou Centre towers naked above the French roofs of the 4th arrondissement. Among them it stands out, an alien surrounded by mortals. A myriad of pipes wraps the back of the building: not to protect it but to make it work.