Page D1.2 . 18 February 2009                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Tokyo Swatch by Shigeru Ban


It's hard to believe that among the high-rent offices, posh boutiques, and exclusive restaurants of Ginza, in a forest of buildings mostly ten stories high and taller, Ban was able to design a little bit of semi-public space. The airy interior spaces, unconventional interior-exterior treatment, simple materials, and fragrant green lobby create an oasis of unusual calm.

Inspired by the pocket parks in New York City, Ban says he was trying to create "a small garden in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, where one can relax, look at some greenery and hear water splashing."

"As we have no space for the garden on the ground floor, we are just suspending it instead," he adds.

Ban is best known for his innovative paper-tube structures and experimental conceptual houses, such as the Metal Shutter Houses, a building currently in progress in New York City that also boasts large folding glass doors.

Other Tokyo projects include his linear Naked House (2000), with its translucent facade and moving interior rooms, and his Curtain Wall House (1995), which uses actual curtains, in combination with glazed screens in winter, to open and enclose the house with minimal privacy.

Shopping by Elevator

"Where are we?" a confused tourist asks his companion as we enter the Swatch store, snapping photos. Although the crowd seems more like day-trippers than serious consumers looking for big-ticket pieces of jewelry, we are all in awe of the space.

Despite the playful green wall, the lobby is quiet and feels like a formal environment. The planted trees among the glass elevators pleasantly enhance the feeling that this is an indoor-outdoor space.

The design allows visitors to pass though the building to the narrow alley behind — that is, if they can complete the rather intimidating journey across the minimalist three-story lobby, and past the vertical catwalk of the elevators, which double as mini-showrooms. It is difficult to browse around unnoticed, or to compare various brands or watches, or to chat with a companion while shopping.

There are seven elevators leading to seven showrooms — one for each of seven Swatch Group watch brands — so each brand gets a fair amount of coveted lobby exposure. Walking into an elevator magically summons a salesperson, who is then on hand to advise about the collection. Inside the intimate elevator space, the visitor is surrounded by low glass cases displaying select timepieces.

At the touch of a button, the salesperson can whisk the customer to a spacious dedicated showroom for more selection or to purchase an item, traveling either up or down, depending on the brand's location in the building. With the Swatch showroom in the basement, the hierarchy of the brands is unofficially organized by price, with longer rides to the showrooms of the higher-priced brands.

On a busy day, after waiting to enter the elevator for Swatch's Glashütte line, it felt like a bit of a commitment to ask to go upstairs. The elevators seem a little too small for strangers to mingle, and people seem to prefer to just wait until an elevator is free; this is best as a solo experience.

Riding slowly to the fourth-floor Glashütte showroom was a novel way of reaching the sales area. But consumers who want to see all the brands could end up riding a lot of elevators.

Sun, Air, and Complex Space

In addition to the four floors of retail showrooms, there are also three floors of administrative offices for Swatch Group Japan, as well as spaces for repairs, cleaning and after-sales services, and basement parking. On the top floor, the multipurpose hall and exhibit space seems an ideal venue for concerts and events, with a sculptural steel space-frame structure and views out over the Tokyo skyline.

Landscape architect Toru Mitani worked with Ban to create the Swatch building's interior living wall, a series of stacked planters that extends through to the top floor and has its own vertical watering system. The garden seems healthy and thriving, perhaps helped by the cross breeze and natural ventilation allowed by the steel-and-glass shutters.

At upper levels, the ability for users to control the ventilation by opening the shutters, like giant folding garage doors, decreases the reliance on the mechanical ventilation systems.

Ventilation and daylight were key concerns of Ban's and helped inform the design of cutouts in the floor plates to create atriums. When the steel-and-glass shutters are open, open-air decks are revealed at every level as the floor plates are pulled back to allow multilevel spaces, or pulled forward as semi-outdoor space.   >>>

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The Hayek Center's large glass-and-steel shutters retract, opening its multistory spaces to the city.
Photo: Daichi Ano Extra Large Image

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The ground floor of the Hayek Center is open to the streets in front of and behind the site, forming a public thoroughfare of sorts.
Photo: Daichi Ano Extra Large Image

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The shutters close to form a more typical glazed facade.
Photo: Tony Wu Extra Large Image

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Hayek Center site-plan drawing.
Image: Shigeru Ban Architects Extra Large Image

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Hayek Center floor-plan drawing.
Image: Shigeru Ban Architects Extra Large Image

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Hayek Center exploded axonometric drawing.
Image: Shigeru Ban Architects Extra Large Image

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At the eighth floor, an indoor-outdoor reception area offers visitors a view of the surrounding Ginza district.
Photo: Daichi Ano Extra Large Image

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Sculpture and designer furniture adorn the fifth-floor atrium.
Photo: Daichi Ano Extra Large Image


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