a little guide to ten tokyo voids

(Edited by S. Mirti with texts by P. Arroyo, A. Barbara, A. Barrie, R. Choochuey, G. Frigo, I. Istek, S. Mirti, M. Pompili, first published on Hunch n. 1, Rotterdam, 1999

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Talking about Tokyo, another way to go around is to define a theme and to organize our observation around it.


At the beginning of the year 1999, the master students of Berlage Institute came to Tokyo for their field trip. The research theme set by prof. S. Boeri was: “Tokyo city of voids”. A full week spent around the city, searching for voids, ways to see it, to think about it, designing it.
It has been a very nice exercise (not only for the students, for all). Afterward,
Hunch (a Dutch magazine) asked us an article on the experience.

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Omotesando
voids

Now that you’ve been all over the city, you might want to see some fancy architecture – the stuff that gets published in magazines. OK, then we’ll go. First, get to Omotesando Subway Station, Exit Bl. Now you are near the Spiral Building by Fumihiko Maki. Go through it, to the toplit void at the rear. Now climb the spiral up to the shop and take a look at the city from above. After Maki’s void, it’s time to feel one by Tadao Ando. Go north then east from the Spiral: the place is “Collezione” – you can’t miss it: huge build¬ing, huge void. From here, it’s a short walk to Rurururu Abou, by Saito. Please, after noting the closed exterior, put your nose to the glass door and observe the internal atrium filled with bamboo plants.

Another short walk brings you to Senden Kaigi by Kitagawara: a four-story void with four-story-high doors that open every morning and close every night.
After seeing these buildings, we may begin to think of void as an oxymoron that links aesthetic perception of life and fragmentation of existence.

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Old Canals system

Tokyo used to be a city built upon a canal structure – something like Venice. But Tokyo is in continuous flux: buildings are transformed, structures are changed, nothing remains as it was. So, if you want to understand the city’s original structure, rent a car and get up on the freeway system. The canal voids have been transformed into freeway voids.

Where there were canals, we now have suspended motorways. Void becomes an alternative notion of space, a chronic phenomenon, structural and generic, a force that rules the city as a whole, in a centrifugal way. If you do this at night, it is an experience you will never forget – it’s like being in Akira’s world.

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Residential areas

Tokyo is not like New York; Tokyo is a low-rise city with hectares and hectares of residential areas. Japanese law says that if you want to buy a car, you must have a parking place. It is not permitted to park cars along the street. The result? Hectares and hectares of city without any cars. Cars are gone; they’ve disappeared.

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Kuwait Embassy, (Kenzo Tange)

In Tokyo, whatever is built is already predicted to be destroyed; whatever is cut from the void of the city is meant to be returned for the sake of a bigger project. That is why Tokyo is a forest of construction sites. Even award-winning architecture has a life span of a decade. Hidden rules constitute the temporary invasion of voids. Chaos is a result of order. The scale of the invasion is enormous, yet with no casualties.
Given this frame, go and see the Kuwait Embassy, near Tamachi Station on Yamanote Line. It is a work by Kenzo Tange from the sixties. It is a jewel, a precious stone, an encyclopedia of voids condensed in a single building.
Most people don’t know about it. Too bad for them. Some other architectural master-pieces have already disappeared in Tokyo: so, hurry up before it’s gone!

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Lower City Suburbs: Threads of Silence

Go to one of the suburbs of the lower city (Shitamachi). Gentle narrow streets, no cars, green everywhere – a Tokyo that is much more real and alive than the skyscrapers of Shinjuku. Once there, try this experiment: follow a void of sound. It seems difficult, but it is not. First, choose a sound. Then walk in the places where you can’t hear this sound, in the bubble full of sound-void. If you encounter the sound, stop until it disappears. Only then, during its absence, may you start again.
During this game, your path and your pace are decided by the city, the miles from the sounds, the directions from the voids. In Tokyo, there is a sort of sound net in the secondary streets interwoven with noises of primary ones. There are cities with channels to be sailed, towns with catacombs in which to hide, villages with sloped roofs to be flown over…

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Image on top: Kenzo Tange, Kuwait Embassy, Tokyo, 1970.

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