City Greenery 町の緑 

Sometimes we are impressed by people’s respect for trees. These photos were taken on Park Avenue in New York City. Scaffolding like this is often seen in Manhattan to create a safe walkway for pedestrians during construction. There are often trees taller than the scaffolding which peak out above the roof but this is different. The branches are sticking out from the advertisement for this new construction.  The trees look like they are around 10 years old or so and the panel is arranged to wrap the branches so carefully.  It looks like an art piece. The simple feeling that they do not want to cut down a tree resulted to the creation of this “ art”. Is it witty, and nice?  This reminded me of IKEBANA or “ flower arranging ” where the flowers are supposed to be cut and stand artificially on KENZAN or hundreds of spikes to keep the flower straight. But these trees are all alive so in fact you cannot call it Ikebana.



On the contrary sometimes, we are shocked by how easily trees are cut down only because it is going to be an obstacle in the way. The photos below are taken when we were walking in front of Oji shrine (this is a different shrine from the Oji Inari Shrine we did a post for, but located nearby). Probably the age of this tree is more than 100 years, so the city could have registered it as a restoration tree. This reminds me of UNESCO’s world heritage cities. Many local bodies are applying to obtain this registration because they will have a totally different future than those that are not registered as world heritage sites . Registered trees will get people’s attention, for this tree though it does not matter if  it was registered or not.

反対に、邪魔になった木が、すっぱり切られるのを見つけてアッとなることがある。下の写真は東京の王子神社( 前に載せた王子稲荷神社とは全然別、でもすぐ近く ) の前を通り過ぎたときに、たまたま見かけて撮ったもの。樹齢は100年以上だろうか、これだけ大きなクスなのだから、区の保存樹とかなんとかに指定されていなかったのだろうか?世界遺産を思い出した。指定されると、されないでその遺産のある町の運命が決まるので、各地で指名獲得運動が盛んらしい。指定される前と後で、その大切さは、変わらないはずなのだが、指定されてないと全然気に留められることがない。


after  アフター


after !  アフター !


before !!  ビフォー !!

The photo above was taken a year ago when the tree was still alive. The neighborhood still had a relaxed atmosphere despite it being a major node at Oji Station and the city ward hall. Probably these woods of the shrine contributed to the atmosphere, not just that there is less traffic and building density. Using a small path from inside the shrine you can walk down to the promenade posted in this blog. You will see Oji station right there. Luckily this ginkgo tree seems to be registered.


Transform to Duplex メゾネットに変える

We have just finished a project to combine upper and lower floors of adjacent apartments using a void and staircase in an east midtown Manhattan apartment. The biggest challenge was the staircase which connects the two floors. We thought this might be a good application of ORIGAMI. The folds are 3 dimensional and turn back and forth to create the treads. This is quite different from the typical idea of folding to form of a staircase, where the steps and treads are all continuous to create a zigzag shape when viewed from the side. That is structurally rigid but there is no visibility through the staircase when you move up the stairs. Our design of a folded ribbon allows more transparency as you traverse the stair.

ニューヨークのミッドタウン、アパートの11階と12階をつなげてメゾネットにするプロジェクトを最近終えた。中でもチャレンジだったのは床を抜いた後につける階段のデザイン。何とかオリガミのようにしたいと思っていた。良く見かけるのはイナズマ型階段と呼ばれ、 踏板と蹴込板(登るときにつま先が当たりそうになる板)が繋がり、これが上から下まですべての段が繋がっていて、横から見るとイナズマが走っているような恰好をしている。でもこれはもう使い古された形で、面白くない。自分が上っているときは蹴込板に遮られて視界ゼロ、透明感がない。

Our idea was to bend a long strip of steel plate into zigzags that are in the opposite direction from the typical ones. As the result all the verticals are eliminated and it is very transparent. The continuous ribbon of steel is like the fabric streamers that gymnasts use. It is completely cantilevered from the wall so the support is a mystery. How to support the load? It will be up to the readers imagination. It is heavy steel.


Spatial continuity is everywhere, there are no partition walls. Frosted glass divides the bathroom from the bedroom, bringing abundant sunlight from the east windows. The staircase and void provide a continuous connection between the bedroom at the upper floor and the living space downstairs.


It used to be that New York families moved out to the suburbs when they expanded, but these days many families try to keep living in an urban setting. Their lifestyles are changing. This market requires multi-bedroom apartments that are very expensive. Re-selling concerns require architects to combine two adjoining apartments into one large apartment with more bedrooms. As a matter of the fact the owner of this apartment just wants to keep living here not because of accommodating family members, but because of the amazing view, the terrace and the location. This combination is not the adjacent apartment but the one above… very special.


Women’s March (an entire gender against Trump) 反トランプのマーチ


Today a march was organized by women against Trump’s policies. Many people gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza to start the march. The UN is located nearby and it is the location for the start of many protests but also our local park where Japanese traditional Noh performances are held by the Japan Society a neighbor facing the park. But today it is quite different, the park is packed with people. Many pink hats and posters advocating feminine issues. We arrived just after 11:00 as we were told the march would start at noon, but very soon we were totally stuck, it was impossible to move, like in a fully packed subway car at peak of a really heavy rush-hour, but nobody is leaving the train. Tired and irritated people were getting into a bad mood, making nasty quarrels and needed to be reminded that we were all there for a great cause. It was a bit scary as there was a constant chorus of voices asking to let us start marching, but the police would not allow it.



The route started at the park, went south on 2nd Ave. turned west on 42nd and then headed north on Fifth to the Trump Tower. We found out later that so many people had filled 42nd street after arriving at Grand Central Station that the streets were are already packed. The front of the march had started a long time ago without us.



Every time a fire engine or the police passed there were huge cheers. So different from other protests- there was a sense that the everyone was supporting the same thing. 2nd Ave. was filled with people very far downstream. The avenue was getting narrower and narrower to limit the car traffic. We were standing for almost 2 hours, but no one started moving- so we decided to get out this crowd. All the streets beside the route were full of people.



When we managed to join the march again at 5th Ave, it is was a huge movement. We could not see the tail end. The empty lane in the street is for emergency vehicles and egress. The police warned me not to stop here when I tried to take this picture. No one is allowed to stop near the Trump tower. Everyone who passed had to keep going and then disperse- which they did very peacefully. It was around 4:00.

行進に合流すべく フィフスアベニューまで出てきたら、この状況。遥か先まで行進する人で埋まっている、行列の最尾がどこなのか見えない。一車線が空いているのは緊急車両と非難経路の確保のため。この写真を撮るために脚が止まっただけで警官に注意された。トランプタワーの近くでは立ち止まることが許されない。ここに到着した人は、そのまま行き過ぎて、逐次散会することになっている。我々がここに達したのは すでに4時ごろ。


After working at our office I came back across 5th Ave, on the way home in the dark. Surprisingly the march is still going on. It is after 6:00 and people are still joining next to next at the tail end of the march. So many people!! where did they come out?  I got a view of St. Patrick’s cathedral wonderfully lit, reminding me of when we had the Easter parade with our origami hats in front of it.

Mr. Trump missed this spectacle because he was staying in Washington. DC for the inauguration parties. It was one of the best uses of our public space-our streets- so many people wanted to make a statement.



City Trees 紅葉

They have raised the giant Christmas tree (doing to die) at Rockefeller Center. Every year a huge tree is cut down and carried here and then thrown away after the celebration. It is a waste. It is not against environmental ethics?  because it is a part of a rite in which sacrifice is allowed, why not? “the world” is an object to exploit values from! For strict Hindus, according to our staff, they are not allowed to kill vegetables by eating the roots.



I was very impressed with how New Yorker’s respect live trees in their city.  At interviews with potential owners applying to buy an apartment, they often say the reason why they want to move in is that there are many trees on the facing street. There may an idea that higher density of trees = higher end residential area.  A friend who loves greenery and landscape bought a house in a not very high end area and advocated planting trees on the street but his neighbors were not excited by the idea because they did not want to be bothered to clean up after the trees.



from the summer

There may be a correlation between density of trees in your neighborhood and your social standing. It seems that the more expensive residential areas have a higher density of trees. You see fewer trees in poorer areas in New York too. It does not depend on the size of the property. This theory is functionalistic but sometimes it does not explain everything. Sometimes it feels like pantheism exists here.

By the way this theory suggests that many people are too busy just surviving to improve their living environment or to worry about trees. That may be why all the trees in Japanese cities are miserably thinned by the city government like poor bonsai.




These pictures were taken near the south west corner of Central Park. At winter the leaves have all fallen and warm light reaches the ground. In the summer the leaves prevent the hot light from baking the ground and also provide diffuse light shading the sun. Probably the only negative thing is that you have to take care of the leaves that fall in autumn. We believe the easiest way to transform the street, make it beautiful and graceful is to plant trees. In these apartments they have a breath taking space filled with shining golden light filtered through the yellow leaves.



Is there a practical reason why tall trees are so disliked in Japanese cities? It is believed that the frequent typhoons fell big trees, although a gardener hired by the city of Tokyo said that the constant thinning prevents trees from growing strong roots which would anchor them. If that is so then both small trees and big trees often fall and it doesn’t make sense to trim the trees almost obsessively. The next theory is that they are trying to minimize the damage caused when a tree falls. This explanation seems to make sense to me, as it explains why cherry trees are the exception and never trimmed. Enjoying the yearly cherry blossoms is a ritual in which people are crazy for. They probably prefer to be sacrificed under a fallen cherry tree to giving up a cherry blossom party under its beautifully spreading canopy!


Grace Farm グレースファーム


A one hour train ride and another half hour drive by our friend brought us here to Grace Farm, designed by one of the most well-known architectural firms SANNA. The construction was recently completed.  It is located in the wooded country side after a scattering of large, expensive houses gradually disappears.  The building follows the terrain of the gentle hills accommodating a restaurant, library, gymnasium and auditorium under a sinuous roof shaped like  a stream. There are no solid walls except at the restrooms and support spaces such as machine rooms.  Their almost crazy idea of architecture in this natural setting was why they were selected as the architects.  Despite this grand gesture, the interior area is quite small. I am very curious how this unusual idea was accepted by the client.




The roof is extremely thin and the columns are extremely slim with the structure and drain system packed within the thin roof.  There is no bracing or diagonal members to work against the lateral forces and there are no roof top machines which normally take care of  the air conditioning. The building looks so simple, but in fact a huge effort was poured into it to achieve this simple impression. It is SAANA’s methodology to set a simple concept then the challenge is to solve the many technical obstacles that this creates since the typical strategies do not work; but this effort is not visible.

屋根は極限にまで薄く、柱は極限にまでに細い。構造体と雨の面倒見がこの薄い屋根の中に押し込まれてい る。雨水の面倒は全く見てないようにみえるが、ぎりぎりにまで目立たない、それでいて機能するように工夫されている。ちょっとしたアクロバットといってもいい。 機械類が屋根の上に載らないように、冷暖房は地下水と地熱が使われている。全体の印象はとてもシンプルで、一見何も特別なことはないように見えるけれど、その裏で、巨大な努力がはらわれている。大胆で単純なコンセプトを樹立して、それを実現するために問題となる技術的障害は何が何でも解決される、しかしその苦労は表には出てこない。この設計事務所の方法論が良く読み取れる。



The project was designed and built for a religions group, although everyone can come and enjoy the space. The construction was financed by donations from local people who were the founders of the church. One of the major elements that required funding was the curved glass. There are no areas of repetition which is a way you can save money, instead every part is custom made. On the contrary the finishes are not expensive high end materials. The combination of suppleness and lightness with the inexpensive finishes  reminds me of the typical house construction in Japan. The building is set within a natural environment, rain, wind, sun…and human use. How will this treatment of finishes age? Thinking about visiting here again in a few years we left this beautiful building.



Dezeen ディジーン掲載

Our project the Photographer’s Loft was published in Dezeen.  It is the most popular internet web site which publishes architectural and interior design work, currently probably the most influential site. Several of our projects were published  in the past and this time they selected the Photographer’s Loft. Right after Dezeen published this work several other internet publishers approached us. For example;

私たちの仕事、「写真家のロフト」がディジーン Dezeen に掲載された。ディジーンはインターーネット上で建築作品を出版するサイトで、世界中で一番ポピュラーなサイト。今や最も影響力があるかもしれない。私たちの作品も何回かこれまで掲載されたことがあるけれど、今回は「写真家のロフト」。以前このブログにも載せた作品。面白いことにそれが掲載されると即座に、他のよく似た数社から引き合いが来た。例えば、

Thisispaper  with very sophisticated graphics.  グラフィックが素晴らしい。

Journal Du Design   a French publisher. フランスのインターーネット出版社。

Before the internet age came, new architectural ideas were informed to a limited number of readers through a few hard copy magazines, but now each day they reach huge numbers of people, more people have more information.



When one of our projects was published in a hard copy paper magazine, they sent their own photographer and an architect to write the criticism of the building. Internet publishers  do not do this. They digitally copy photographs which are published by another publisher.  Many hard copy publishers do not dispatch photographers anymore but they do show drawings and documents such as plans and sections which help you to understand the space. That is a big difference. Internet publishers evaluate the project from several photographs. It is like your music composition is evaluated from just a phrase, and only that part is performed. It is as if your novel is evaluated from several excerpts and just that part is published.



But this analogy is not really accurate. That excerpt is still a but genuine part of your work in music or literature, not like architecture in which you cannot cut out some part from the real building and publish it.  Musical and literary excerpts are still a representation of the original work but can photographs be a representation of architecture? It may be said you see architecture through your eyes but also with your back, I mean you feel the space. Though after seeing the real building we say “Oh the photographs are better than the real building”…..quite often.



We go and visit real buildings, but some day we may stop doing so. Everyday new works are published and it goes into the archive the next day. Web sites are updated every few minutes, and it is all about the impression of the moment. People no longer care if the image is from the real thing or if it is a super realistic rendering. There is no way to distinguish between the movie set and the real space—-the image no longer needs to a representation of the real space — this is a different art form fro architecture.

In fact current technology has the ability to create images which you cannot tell if they are “real” or not. There is no developed architectural space, but instead a cool image. The images do not even have to be consistent. Being cool is everything, catching your attention-it is the culture of internet.




Manhattan Outdoor Life 緑のテラス


We have a project which is under construction in Midtown Manhattan located near the top floor of the building that has a 180 degree panorama. The client loves this view and decided to keep it but make his apartment larger by making it into a duplex instead of moving somewhere else. He waited until the apartment above was for sale and available to buy.  A big opening was made in the concrete floor and a new stair case will be inserted to connect the two floors. From his apartment you can see the woods  of the United Nations grounds, the East River, Roosevelt Island and Long Island. It is understandable why he wants to keep living here.




In a previous post we wrote that many people enjoy outdoor life on their roofs. The photos that we showed were all looking up from the street, but now we can see the terraces at the same level. For his close view you see so many roof terraces with many plants.  The neighborhood is almost all residential even in this commercial area. The old zoning regulated the height of the buildings and dictated their shape which required set backs to allow light into the streets, ending up with a lot of setbacks. Terraces were a lucky byproduct of that setback.



The current zoning regulations  no longer  lead to this. Mid Manhattan is getting taller and taller, filled with straight-up extruded high-rises. Terraces are disappearing and roof tops are no longer habitable instead filled with tons of air-conditioning machines. Someday in the future this area may be packed with super high-rises and setback terraces with trees may extinct; they were a by product.  Now almost every street is narrowed by on going construction of high-rises, creating traffic congestion.

かつては意図せずともそうなっていたものが、現在、新しい規制になってからは生まれづらくなっている。ミッドマンハッタンはますます筒状の超高層になって いる。段状のテラスは姿がなくなり、屋上も、もう人の行ける場所ではなくなりつつある。空調の機械で占領されつつある。いつかこの地域は超高層ビルでギシ ギシに充填されて、このような副産物で生まれた緑化されたテラスはどこにも見られなくなるかもしれない。その未来に向けて、ミッドマンハッタンはどの通りも超高層ビルの建設で活気ついている。工事現場の前の車線が半分になり、交通渋滞が至る所。



We found a building which has a big trees downtown where we have another project. They  look to be more than 10m tall when you compare them with the steel handrails which are around 1 m high. The trunks seems to be 30 cm in diameter. How did they grow there? The pots must be huge and heavy. How can the roof structure hold it?  How strong is the wind pressure on the trees at this height? How are they prevented from falling?….. It is beyond our imagination.