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IDEAS / travel

Tokyo. Time To Return

30 January 2018

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

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. If you are willing to get lost in the city, do not stay on wider avenues. Follow less traced paths: you might find yourself turning the corner of a glass building to then end up on a narrow paved street, guarded by a series of human-animal-shaped sculptures. Suddenly everything is peaceful. Time has stalled. The only tinkle is that of the go-(y)en thrown in the name of hope (and luck!).

Close your eyes tighter, breath in. Tell yourself that you are still in Tokyo. Or tell yourself that you will be there again soon: the day after tomorrow. It is midnight and the city shines more than in the midday sun. The streets still teem with life and the karaoke windows come alive. If you dare to bike at 2am, you can watch them from the streets of Okubo, but be aware of the police. They might stop you if you appear suspicious: even bikes in Japan have to be registered like cars.
Close your eyes tighter, breath in and let your imagination out. In this far away world, people wear funny checkered raincoats and funky socks on their bikes. The washing machines are outside the doors and the smoke of the cigarettes inside. On the street, smoking is only allowed within some designated areas.
This is the country where metabolism meets traditionalism. Where la dureté of the béton brut learns from the fragility of timber, becoming ethereal and ephemeral in its mass. Where the tatami, as Ando teaches us, is still the unit of measurement. A reality where the notion of architects still comes alongside the one of carpenter. An archipelagos of islands where emptiness and light shape space, giving it meaning and plasticity.

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FURTHER READING / essays, ideas, photography and more!

In Praise Of Shadows.

In Praise Of Shadows – “…what strikes the eye is the massive roof of tile or thatch and the heavy darkness that hangs beneath the eaves. Even at midday cavernous darkness spreads over all beneath the roof’s edge, making entryway, doors, walls, and pillars all but invisible.”

La Tourette. In Search Of The Ineffable Space

“La Tourette is in-situ cast concrete, and it reads as a singular structure in spite of its volumetric and formal complexities and apparently tectonic language. The monastery is suspended between earth and sky; it echoes the dark depths and gravity of the earth while reaching towards the sky, hovering weightlessly on its dense system of piloti. This building merges the opposing human dreams of flying and being buried in the earth…

Rolex Learning Centre. SANAA

The Rolex Learning Centre sprawls itself across a vast expanse of the EPFL campus, its striking undulations reminiscent of the nearby alps. The interior is a visual delight where artificial hills and valleys replace traditional partitions – prompting different kinds of occupation and spatial interactions.

Grace Farms. SANAA

The Grace Farms building, designed by SANAA nestles itself nicely into its context, offering various programmes for the community- all playfully placed under a long sinous roof.

architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.