MIID & ADF SPECIAL AWARD 2018 - Research Trip
Day 6 - Tuesday 7 March 2019
ADF Day 3 – Toraya Flagship Store & ADF Interview
The last day of the ADF (NPO Aoyama Design Forum) started off in the morning with a visit to the Toraya Flagship Store in Akasaka, which had recently been renovated by Japanese architect Hiroshi Naito. Founded in Kyoto in the early 16th century, Toraya is known for making traditional Japanese confections known as wagashi. The original building that stood on the same site had been Toraya’s headquarters in Tokyo since 1964, and after 50 years the company decided to rebuild the store from ground up. I would imagine that this would have been a bold move for a company so steeped in tradition to completely refashion its headquarters to steer its way into the future.
The building strikes an elegant form as we walked towards it from the street - with its glass and wood exterior crowned with a black lacquer roof made using a traditional plastering technique called shikkui. At the top of the roof the Toraya’s tora 虎 (tiger) logo is emblazoned in a bold white - in stark contrast with the black roof that fans around the building, following the same curved gesture of the glass and wood facade that wraps around the street. The four storey building sits intimately between two taller office buildings, but the slope of the pitched roof rises upwards to make the building appear taller than it is. From across the street, the building is a beautiful vision - the glass facade is merely a see-through veil for the rich wood interiors that exudes warmth and casts a subtle glow that creates an inviting mood for anyone walking past the building.
There is a small entrance foyer as you enter the building with white noren curtain panels above the timber-framed glass automatic sliding doors. Once we stepped inside, the warm tones of hinoki cypress wood used abundantly in the space welcomed us. The scent of the wood filled our senses gently as we walked up the central staircase to the second floor where the main shop area is located. The stairs wrap and follow the curve of the glass facade, and we admired the fine craftsmanship of the double timber handrails at different heights supported by slim metal rods with layers of vertical timber strips.
On the top floor, there is an open ‘tea room’ or cafe where one can enjoy tea with the Japanese confectionaries. One can either dine in the open space, or in the dining booths for more privacy. The sloped ceiling follows the gradient of the pitched roof as it fans around dramatically above the space, supported by slim steel frames that taper at the ends. Natural light streams through the glass windows, creating a bright and warm atmosphere inside where minimal artificial lighting is used. Spotlights are used predominantly for highlighting the confections on display in the retail area on the second floor.
The building is a testament to the success of the Toraya brand, embodying its values by blending traditional and modern architecture to create a distinct and unique design that is contemporary, but at the same time familiar to those who experience it. It is also an example where conservation of building tradition doesn’t mean that it has to replicate what was there before. Although the new Toraya store is a completely new structure, it has successfully paid tribute to its past by referencing and retaining elements and ideas that are central to the Toraya brand.
After the Toraya Store, we took a quick detour to the Tokyo Station in Marunouchi, where we visited the Gallery where there was an exhibition on the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The station is an interesting mix of old and new styles, and the tower inside the gallery is especially interesting with its old brick walls still intact.
After lunch with Mr Yoshiyuki Okada, director of ADF, we proceeded back to the Park Hotel where Yukiyo and Isabella conducted a short interview with me. We discussed a wide range of topics - namely our project The Granary and the process it took to re-adapt the existing warehouse structure for a new purpose. I described how we approach a new project - that lately we have been exploring concepts that re-interpret past stories or memories inherent to the site or design brief. How we aim to create a design language that engages the end user in unexpected ways in order to create memorable and unique designs. We also spoke at length about renovation projects in Malaysia that seek to recycle and rejuvenate existing structures - how that they are becoming quite common in Malaysia. We also compare that to projects in Japan, where renovating old buildings are challenging due to a myriad of factors. I was also asked to describe my impression of Japanese designs, and what I thought were intriguing. After spending a few days in Tokyo and visiting the places we did, I admire the thoughtfulness of Japanese designers in their work - how the projects where the designers seek to blend traditional ideas with modern elements are quite often the most memorable and unique.
In conclusion, I would like to thank everyone who was involved in organising this trip, especially ADF for providing such a wonderful opportunity for designers and architects to further improve and expand their horizons. I would like to thank the CEO and founder of ADF and the Board of Directors for their generosity, Mr Yoshiyuki Okada for providing the opportunity, and especially to Yukiyo Izuta and Isabella Pozo for their time in taking me around and taking great care of us during our stay.