Tokyo Swatch by Shigeru Ban
The jagged section creates grand indoor-outdoor spaces, such as the triple-height seating area — decorated with a giraffe sculpture to emphasis its verticality — for customers waiting to collect their purchases.
Above, the office workers have similar spaces, with another triple-height staff cafe area and mezzanine overlooking the busy street. "I wanted to ensure that the employees don't just have to sit in air-conditioned rooms, but can go out into the fresh air, the light and the sunshine," says Ban.
The unusual spatial layout also posed an engineering challenge for Arup, according to Ryota Kidokoro, an engineer in the firm's Tokyo office. Charged with creating a highly seismic-resistant structure, Arup used base-isolation technology in combination with a newly developed seismic response dampening system that was inspired by the pendulum movement of an antique clock.
The self-mass damper system was implemented by disconnecting four of the upper floors from the main structure through a combination of slider and high-damping rubber bearings placed at the interface, allowing the floors to move in case of an earthquake. The floor plates themselves provide the necessary mass for the system.
While Ban did the interior design for the public areas, multipurpose hall, and the Jaquet Droz boutique, other international designers were brought in to design the dedicated showrooms for the other brands.
It's a shame the top-floor multipurpose space has no permanent or public use. It would have made a fantastic public cafe, given its near-panoramic view. And surely a less formal environment would be welcome by some consumers, to sip a coffee and contemplate the purchase of a new watch. There are, of course, reception spaces and waiting areas in connection with the individual brand showrooms, but these are quite formal.
Betting the House
In Ginza, the novelty of ornate facades and luxury experiences inside the fashion boutiques is as important as the merchandise; the more eye-catching the building material and unusual the form, the better. A tour of the neighborhood reveals some elegant examples: the glittery new Swarovski flagship store designed by Tokujin Yoshioka to resemble a crystal forest, the pixelated-looking Hermès building designed by Renzo Piano, and Toyo Ito's Swiss-cheese-like Mikimoto building.
Swatch Group knew this was the neighborhood to be in — and they realized that taking a chance with Ban's innovative, minimalist competition entry could make the Swatch store stand out from its surroundings.
Ban acknowledges the gamble: "The sales area is four stories high; it has lots of air and not much space. Subscribing to this concept is a courageous step by the Swatch Group."
In this district of notoriously expensive real estate, Swatch Group paid an estimated 150 million Swiss francs for the tiny 475-square-meter (5,110-square-foot) site in 2004. Swatch cofounder Nicolas Hayek, the building's namesake, calls the project "a good investment in the long run."
The three-year construction project, completed in late 2007, involved the demolition of an existing 1960s building. Swatch was granted special permission to have construction continue seven days a week and 24 hours a day.
The result was worth the gamble. This bold approach is certainly not for everyone, but here it seems innovative, alluring to shoppers while allowing the building to respond to its environment.
Terri Peters is a writer and designer based in London. More by Terri Peters
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