A city of many paradoxes—the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary, the minimal and the over-the-top—Tokyo is a metropolis unlike any other, with an ever-evolving cultural and urban character that gives it an almost enigmatic substance. At once fiercely protective of its cultural heritage but forward-thinking in pushing the creative boundaries in architecture and design, Tokyo has cultivated an identity characterized by its acceptance and adaptability of various–sometimes opposing–influences. Inarguably, it is Tokyo’s heterogeneous identity that has been so attractive to some of today’s top tastemakers in architecture and design, transforming the city in the most unexpected and exciting ways in the process.
The mammoth retail industry of the city has elevated shopping in Tokyo to a status of high art, with prominent high-end fashion labels and local boutiques alike hiring architects like Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas and Tadao Ando to design their flagship stores. With Herzog & de Meuron recently completing Italian high fashion brand Miu Miu’s deliberately demure store in the Aoyama neighborhood, brand-name architects are continuing to one-up each other with retail experiences that are hard to forget. Within the MOMOM store by Moriyuki Ochiai Architects, designed for a company running its own dairy farm, the interior features organic shapes and energetic patterns to communicate the vitality and dynamism of its products, while Nendo’s revamp of the Seibu Shibuya department store evokes images of mobile amusement parks, with whimsically patterned surfaces, circus tent-like sales areas, and playful textures setting a lively tone for the store’s “Key to Style” and “Hat Cloud” fashion floors.
Creative adaptation of existing spaces for new purposes has created a fertile ground for architectural experimentation and innovation within Tokyo’s tightly knit urban fabric. Kengo Kuma & Associates’ Tetchan yakitori bar features a tapestry of tangled colored cables and recycled acrylic by-products, alongside some manga wall illustrations, to create an other-worldly environment. Meanwhile, Schemata Architects’ renovation of an old steel building into a studio and office for renowned artist Hiroko Takahashi transforms the imperfections of an old factory into unique and unexpected workspaces. Other recently completed projects include another renovation of a former storage building into Blue Bottle Coffee roastery and a café by Schemata Architects, a warehouse-club-cum-office with floating walls and pillars by Ryuichi Sasaki/Sasaki Architecture and La Kagu—a former warehouse converted into a lifestyle store, café and public space—by Kengo Kuma & Associates.
Looking into the future, Tokyo’s architecture and design scene shows no signs of scaling back or toning down its unique sense of exploration and self-evaluation. With the 2020 Olympic Games looming on the horizon, mega-projects like the new Olympic stadium by Kengo Kuma & Associates and the Olympic Aquatics Centre by Yamashita Sekkei continue to attract worldwide attention. Jumping further ahead, Kohn Pederson Fox Associates’ recently unveiled proposal titled Next Tokyo envisions a high density, mega-city of the future, built on resilient infrastructure and adaptable to climate change, offering solutions for low-lying coastal areas around Tokyo Bay.