Archive for May, 2010

Tokyo International Forum

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

When one finds an amazing building amidst mediocrity it’s a joy. The Tokyo International Forum building by Rafeel Vinoly is such a building.

The Japanese are proud of wonderful craft. This can be seen in every aspect of this building. It was built in 1996 as the result of an international design competition. The amazing thing about this building is its above-ground component, which is relatively small compared to the underground area, but is a jewel of design. This portion of the building has a magnificently crafted interior: the glazing is amazing, the drama of the bridges from side to side, and the two techtonic columns holding everything up. The single piece of sculpture at the edge of the space is a traditional Japanese figure. It is engaged in dialogue with the ultra-contemporary space, creating a great contrast.

One of the best details is the canopy that leads to the nearby metro station. It is a curvaceous canopy made almost entirely of glass.

Although it’s very well done, I’m not sure how one can justify such a dramatic unusable space. The last time I saw such a space was Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum, which is also a public space bathed in light and unusable for nothing other then social events. I suppose this forum is more appropriate since it’s houses the prefunction registration area for events, while Milwaukee is for social events in an art museum only. The Tokyo International Forum links form with function much better.

As I mentioned, the forum sits adjacent to the Tokyo station (currently under renovation), which is being brought back to resemble the pre-WWII train station that was destroyed in a bombing. And nearby is a buttoned-up corporate district, filled with public art and wonderful streetscape.

There are many videos of the buiding and the architect. Here’s one.

Look down

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Last month I gave a talk at Hong Ik University in Seoul. Prior to going to the venue I noticed that this relatively non descript campus–architecturally speaking–had a great series of paving experiments up to the design building. The materials were wood, rough granite, cut granite, hewn wood, and more.

The next time that you go somewhere look down to see if they are having a good time with paving patterns. I would say what you find may not even compare to the level of attention and detail I saw here.

My friend Mark Painter Pariani shared with me this quotation by JRR Tolkein in respect to the importance of where we walk:

“It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off too.”

Besides what was on the ground, the arrow sculpture (pictured with me below) was the most dramatic piece in the environment.

Dominique Perrault’s EWHA Women’s University

Friday, May 7th, 2010

EWHA Women’s University in Seoul invited me to speak to their design students last month. This treat was made doubly sweet because their new student center building by Domenique Perrault was recently completed.

It’s essentially two subterranean buildings split by the stairs and ramp (the landscape above ground was left as-is). One side appeared to be  for classrooms, and the other with food services, theatre, etc.  One side has air ducts that form a canyon-like space with a fountain. This lets light into the lowest levels.

Like elsewhere in Korea, the biggest thing I enjoyed is the play with the paving materials. The ramp uses a soft edge rock, which transitions into tightly cut stone for the stairs. The upper level has softer shaped stones and seating rocks that appear like petrified wood. The variety of paving materials adds texture to the campus.

It’s a joy to see such beautifully designed modern buildings.

Texture in Korea

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

I went to a great traditional Korean restaurant in Seoul a couple weeks ago. It was ultra yummy in addition to being very textural in its visuals.

From the entrance one sees the ground plane, the kimchee jars all over the front and the hidden wonderful restaurant beyond. The sign entering the space would be the only thing that I think cries out for new design since it’s just too commercial compared to the rest.

They make all of their food in house, including the pickled kimchee. The paving was made of mill stones and was a great contrast with the rather generic sidewalk on the street. One of the things I appreciate about the landscapes in Asia is the attention to the paving materials inside and out.

The lighting was great inside. The jars being all the same color brown is a good compliment. The limiting of colors in Korea and Japan allow you to appreciate the form of the jar and not concentrate on the graphics on it. The meal was amazingly presented and delicious.

Modernism, Nature and Markets

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Hong Kong is a confluence of modernism, nature, and markets. I was there a few weeks ago to give a talk at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s graduate program in design. I was absolutely blown away by the energy, excitement, and, although I should have expected it, the sheer number of people.

As I descended into the city I saw the hills of the mainland. I pass the cranes at the harbors, which are some of the busiest in the world. It’s amazing how many cranes there are.

Hong Kong proper is an island that is packed tightly with high-rises, including iconic builidings by IM PEI, Cesar Pelli, Norman Foster (HSBC), and the Bank of China. The other buildings are just “filler.”

I took the tram to the top of the mountain to look over Hong Kong and over towards Kowloon (a mainland area of Hong Kong), which, at this time, was overcast and there wasn’t much to be seen. However, I did see a magical light being thrown on Kowloon iconic KPF tower. It was dramatic and inspiring.

The metro system in Hong Kong is quite good, but many stand in line to catch the ferry instead since the metro is so packed. That’s where I probably caught my bronchitis. Serves me right, too, since I was making fun of the folks with masks walking around the city.

Hong Kong has always been a center for commerce, an island both literally and figuratively, seated next to the People’s Republic of China. The signs are the most amazing feature as their light projects off buildings and over the road to brighten up the streetscape during the night. New LED technology sits on buildings while the original neon sign continues to be part of the vibrant streetscape.

The entertainment hub of Hollywood Avenue has many new restaurants with great interiors facing the pedestrian streets. This area has many galleries and some unique shows. The shops are filled with shark fins and other unfamiliar fish parts packaged or dried. There are many tranditional Chinese medicine shops and just about anything is available in the other stores.

I’ll post more thoughts about my latest trip as time allows, but for now, enjoy the pictures.