Exploring the city with the baby of a visiting friend, one of our trips led us to Yebisu Garden Place in Ebisu. Built in the mid-90s, this is a city-within-the-city complex quite typical of Tokyo (think Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown, etc.): A large hotel, an office tower, complemented by shopping as well as residential units. Yet, at the end of the ensemble, something rather unexpected: a French chateau.
Philosopher David Kolb describes on his website how his Tokyo students react to it:
The Chateau bothers students. Yet they don’t balk at seeing modern International Style office buildings in Tokyo, perhaps because that style is not felt to be the property of any one group. They don’t even mind the pomo classicism on some buildings at Ebisu, perhaps because it’s so smoothed out that they don’t read it as Western. The Chateau is not as large or irregular as a real chateau, but it looks like it might be on a postcard from France. It’s as much a symbol as the folly they made out of the old brewery building, but it feels more real, and more out of place. My students laugh nervously and protest that the Chateau doesn’t belong there.
I think this is an interesting discussion about context. There are quite many of these places in Tokyo – perhaps St. Grace Cathedral in Omotesando is another example.
The problem I have with places like Yebisu Garden Place is not so much the presence of architectural blunders here and there, but perhaps the existence of these complexes in general.
Living in a Mori Living complex myself, I have no illusion as to where I am living – a long-term serviced apartment with all the related benefits – exceptional gyms, hotel-like services such as cleaning, etc.
These places must by nature feel transitory, even for those living in them (short or medium term). It is not the place to arrive, it is a place for transit. It is, in some way, a non-place like described by the French anthropologist Marc Auge, devoid of real context.
From a urban development point of view, these complexes are interesting for they break with the Tokyo tradition of unplanned neighbourhoods. This process started roughly with the building of the Kasumigaseki Building and the rewriting of zoning laws.
This piece by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, architect and partner of Atelier Bow-Wow, and Jorge Almazán is worth reading on the subject of corporate redevelopment of Tokyo, and how the city looses its soul through these new mega projects.
Meanwhile, while the vertical growth of Tokyo’s skyline appears limited due to the 2011 earthquake, a new zoning plan is currently being drawn for Minato, one of the Japanese capital’s central wards.
Mori will no doubt build more cities within the city here and elsewhere despite its CEO and owner Minoru Mori’s death last year.