MIID & ADF SPECIAL AWARD 2018 - Research Trip
Day 3 - Tuesday 4 March 2019
Just before we left for Tokyo, we looked up some old contacts to arrange a visit to the Aman Tokyo, designed by Kerry Hill Architects. Located in a prestigious financial district in Tokyo, the Aman occupies the top 6 levels of the Otemachi Tower. The hotel shares the building with a prominent financial group, and the ground and lower basement levels consist of food and beverage retail shops that connect to subway lines. The configuration of the building is a hybrid of different typologies and programs; typical of urban buildings in Tokyo to make economic sense of the prime site.
Riding up the small, softly-lit lift to the lobby, this prolonged the sense of compression before we arrived to the thirty-third level into an intimate reception space. As we walked past the reception table, we were released into a huge space that soared at least 6 storeys high.
Nothing prepared us for the sheer vastness of the space - it was truly breathtaking as our eyes were drawn upwards to the giant lantern made out of washi paper that wrapped the top half of the huge space. This transition from an intimate space to a majestic scale played with our expectations on scale, proportion and light in a theatrical fashion.
In the centre of this space there is a traditional stone garden and a water pond with cherry blossoms in bloom. We walked 3 steps up a raised platform to walk around the lobby, similar to that of a verandah that wraps around a house or a courtyard, so that we could walk around the lobby and enjoy the beauty of the gardens. It was only later that I discovered that the architects had created an egawa - a verandah-like strip around a house found in traditional Japanese houses. The lounge and restaurant sits on this raised platform, overlooking the lobby on one side and facing the panoramic view of the Imperial Palace Gardens and the rest of the city. The lounge is open to the public, however it has been cleverly arranged so that there are zones for quiet and confidential conversation through screens that help to define and frame the space. Ultimately, it is a space when one can enjoy solitude as well watching people come and go in the lobby - adding to the theatrical feel of the lobby and lounge.
The hotel rooms and suites are equally as comfortable and elegantly designed inspired by traditional Japanese residential design. At 71 square metres, the rooms are Tokyo’s largest entry-level hotel rooms in the city and they overlook the city’s skyline or the Imperial Palace Gardens. There is a small foyer when you enter the room, where one has to turn to enter the bedroom which is a small luxury for typical hotel rooms. The material palette is kept simple - wood, washi paper for sliding shoji screens and stone. The bathroom is large and has a traditional soaking tub.
I was impressed by the interior design of this hotel - it was a carefully detailed exercise in blending traditional Japanese designs with modern sensibilities. There was nothing ostentatious or pretentious about the spaces - even in the huge lobby with the soaring ceiling height. There seemed to be a purpose for each element, and everything had been thought through in detail - such as the way a visitor or hotel guest would approach or walk around the lobby; what they would see, experience and savour.
In the afternoon, we visited Omotesando, Aoyama where we walked along the famous street known as the Tokyo's Champs-Élysées. There are endless boutiques of large brand names lining the street and it was bustling with people. We came here to visit Omotesando Hills in particular, a large shopping and residential complex designed by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates. It occupies a long stretch of Omotesando Avenue, however the facade is quite simple considering that the site it sits on occupies some of the most famous luxury brands in the world. There are two levels of apartments above the retail levels - the only indication that they are residences is the repeated rows of balconies that face the street. The facade is composed of glass and concrete, typical of the materials used by Tadao Ando in his architecture. As the site slopes upwards, the shops on the ground floor follow the slope as well. By the time one has finished walked to one end of the building, one would have in fact reached half a storey above in the building.
When we entered the building, it became clear that the building was purposely designed to create an inwards-looking mall. Rather than focusing on the external facade, most of the design attempts had been directed at creating an inner street lined with shops on both sides of the atrium. Natural light falls through the atrium from above, and the shopping centre actually goes several levels below ground. The most impressive thing about the interior space is that it has been laid out in a spiral arrangement - the open corridors that one uses to pass by shops are actually ramps. This is where it connects with the outside by following the natural slope of the street, and one can walk through the entire shopping centre without the use of an escalator (although there are escalators scattered throughout the mall). In the atrium, there is a large grand staircase that fills the void and connects three stories from the lowest level.
Internally, Omotesando Hills does have a feeling reminiscent of Parisian iron-and-glass covered arcades and attempts to create ‘streets’ through the winding spiral ramps finished in stone.
There are sounds of water and nature over the mall’s speakers, and artificial lighting has been kept to the minimum in order not to overpower the natural light streaming through the atrium. However, it doesn’t disguise the fact that one is still inside a shopping centre even though the experience is pleasantly different from other typical shopping malls.