Page D1.2 . 11 September 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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    Piano's Hermès Tokyo


    In height and proportion, the main volume of Hermès is similar to the nearby Sony building. The alley between them gives the two structures an appropriate distance from each other. They appear like two adult relatives, each with its own maturity in structure and aesthetics.

    Engineering Innovation

    Along one side of Hermès is a cold and massive structural core. This core houses an escalator to the subway, elevators, storage, cashier booths, toilets, and fitting rooms. A wall the full height of the tower makes a sharp break with the neighboring building.

    The optical wall, by contrast, is not massive. It is a flexible steel structure, made to resist high seismic loads. The floors span from the core to a second row of columns then cantilever to support the suspended glass block facade.

    Axial loading from earthquakes is minimized by seismic dampers under the column bases. Damping is incorporated in the rear line of columns in the form of sheets of visco-elastic material clamped between steel plates. Thus it is possible to limit displacements and reduce the risk of damage to the facade.

    The entire building moves during an earthquake, and any deformation is uniformly distributed throughout the structure. Each part of the construction absorbs a share of the movement.

    The engineering firm Arup developed this system and modeled it after the traditional Japanese construction technique used in pagodas. In Hermès, the principles were applied for the first time in a modern structure.

    Illumination through Glass Blocks

    A "glass veil" made of a curtain wall of glass blocks enclose the main volume. About 13,000 pieces of 17 by 17-inch (428 by 428-millimeter) blocks were specially designed and manufactured in Italy for this building. Each block is uniquely handcrafted, with imperfections and differing flow-lines. The glass was poured by hand into single-sided moulds.

    The building's curved corners are made of quarter blocks. The innovative joints between each glass block, supported individually between slender steel bars, allow movement in both directions of up to 0.16 inches (4 millimeters) during an earthquake.

    During the day, the building looks like an iceberg with its silvery hue derived from the massive glass. At night, it transforms into a huge lantern, glowing from within and giving tranquil, mild lighting to the busy street.

    The facade effectively shuts out the buzz of the city through the acoustic insulation and the semitransparency of the glass block. Well placed transitions between transparent and semitransparent areas give the visitor a sense of direction and sometimes a view other than the retail displays.

    Because sound from the street is completely shut out, the only reference to the outside is the light that penetrates the glass. The few glimpses one can catch of the lively district emphasize the pure atmosphere of luxury and exclusiveness inside.

    In addition, an air of technology and tradition fills the space. The predominantly glass and steel structure contrasts with the heavy dark wood of the furniture and display desks. Rena Dumas, responsible for the company's interiors world wide, arranged the lower five floors corresponding to the company's image of conservative elegance and tradition.

    A recess in the long face of the building forms a small forecourt and divides the building in two parts, with separate entrances and elevator access to the subway. In the middle hangs a mobile sculpture by artist Susumu Shingo, that, due to its reflective, moving surfaces, reinforces the play of light, city, and sky with the facade.

    The Hermès headquarters building in Tokyo is a felicitous model for a modern building. It applies knowledge from the past, used by carpenters for centuries, combined with today's high precision engineering. It is architecture appropriate for a family enterprise proud of its history of craft.   >>>

    Mahoko Hoffmann is a German-born and educated architectural intern who works through a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service in Japan. She has worked in the office of Shigeru Ban Architects and has written for ARCH+ and Design News.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...


    ArchWeek Image

    The Hermès Japon headquarters by Renzo Piano Building Workshop opened in Tokyo in 2001.
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    The structural core forms a break between the Hermès and the adjacent building.
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    A recess in the long face of the building forms a small forecourt with a mobile sculpture by artist Susumu Shingo.
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    The building creates a "magic lantern," softly illuminating the business district.
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    The curtain wall contains about 13,000 glass blocks, each 17 by 17 inches (428 by 428 millimeters).
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    Interior designer Rena Dumas gave the building an image of conservative elegance and tradition.
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    Each glass block was handcrafted, allowing imperfections and differing flow-lines.
    Photo: Michel Denancé

    ArchWeek Image

    With sound from the street shut out, the only reference to the outside is the light that penetrates the glass.
    Photo: Michel Denancé


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