A defining characteristic of the Tokyo cityscape is that it is always changing. Stay away from any given neighborhood for a few months, and you may not recognize it when you go back. I was reminded of this for the 9,000th time a few days ago when I walked along the Omotesando shopping street for the first time in quite a while and saw what was happening around the Tod’s building.
Since its completion in 2004, the Tod’s building has been a major landmark of the area, and a darling of architectural critics. It was the designed for the precise spot on which it stands, but that spot is now changing around it.
As the Tokyo flagship store for a luxury Italian shoe brand, this building had a mission to be eye-catching, but the facade had to be squeezed into a narrow sliver of street frontage. Architect Toyo Ito’s design, however, doesn’t look squeezed at all. The building’s exterior is more window than wall, especially near ground level.
The building is criscrossed by seemingly random strips of concrete that, at second glance, turn out not to be random at all. A few thick pieces at ground level branch out and become thinner as they climb skyward, just like the trunk and branches of the zelkova trees that famously line the boulevard out front. (In Tokyo, a tree-lined street is something of a novelty, and Omotesando is by far the most famous one.)
Watch this video I quickly shot the other day and see if you think the design works for you.
When the Tod’s building was new, a video with these views would have been impossible. The building sits on an L-shaped peice of land, with most of its bulk set back from the street. Until recently, an unrelated building standing in the crook of the L (which you can see on the second page of this presentation) prevented Omotesando pedestrians from seeing much of Tod’s sides.
But now that other building has been torn down.
With its neighbor out of the way, you can now see two more of Tod’s walls — each bigger than the front — and thus appreciate an otherwise hard-to-discern aspect of Ito’s design. He took one silhouette of one tree and repeated it at irregular intervals to create a forest motif that wraps all the way around the building in one continous pattern.
But these views won’t last. According to signs posted on construction barriers, a new 8-story retail building is set to go up in the crook of the L. The planned completion date is April of 2013. And right next door, on an even larger lot that is slightly uphill, work has begun to build a 9-story office and retail building. In a further sign of how quickly Tokyo changes, there is another active construction site right across the street, and even the famous Kiddy Land toy store nearby has been demolished to make way for a new incarnation of itself.
So if you want to see the Tod’s building’s wraparound design with your own eyes, don’t wait too long. This chance may never come again.