The outdoor square – in the sense of a place for gathering, trading or informing – does not belong to the Japanese tradition of spaces. Even in the recent past, when Japan was importing knowledge and technology from the West, and attempts were made to establish western-style piazzas in Japanese cities, they wound up being spaces that the people of Japan found difficult to comprehend and were therefore destined to be unused.
Fortunately this is not the case for T-Site, a recent project by Klein Dytham Architects (KDa). Located in the fashion district of Daikanyama, this scheme has been developed as a multi-functional urban site and has been a great success. T-Site is based on the Japanese definition of the public place intended for transit with the sense of taking a break and socialising just like the western piazza, the result being a new cosmopolitan idea of space that the people of Tokyo can understand.
The T-Site is situated alongside the Hillside Terrace Complex. This is an unusual scheme: its designer Fumihiko Maki, approached it as if it were a garden rather than a work of architecture. It is a rare case of construction for progressive growth – with space given over to housing, commercial activities, areas for art galleries, cafes and restaurants – a collective form developed over seven different phases, which Maki has worked on since 1969.
Undoubtedly, the spirit of the Hillside Terrace Complex can also be found in the T-Site. KDa in fact created a notion of urban environmental comfort that could be assimilated into Maki's project, designing outdoor spaces that are public, yet discreet and secluded, establishing visual links between spaces of different depths, exploiting, rather than altering, the subtle changes of level in the site.
KDa's design for Mr Masuda — the client and president of Tsutaya, a wealthy company that rents films, DVDs and video games — is comprised of various buildings, the three most important of which are set along the main street. Two storeys high and white in colour, the three buildings are connected by a raised corridor, which facilitates circulation between the various spaces of the T-Site, as well as the passage from inside and outside in an easy and natural way.
The "T" as design generator
The appearance of the external elevation is directly derived from a play on the letter "T", of Tsutaya. The large "T" inscribed on the main and side elevations defines the solid and void of the building; while the voids are treated with large areas of glazing, the solid parts are decorated with a continuous pattern made up of many small Ts. The complex — along with a hotel, veterinary clinic and restaurants — strongly promotes the reinstatement of the book as an object and paper, and as such houses one of the biggest bookshops in Tokyo.
Here can be found vintage collections of art, design and fashion magazines at prices that are altogether reasonable: a 1980s Domus costs around 14 euros. The inside of the bookshop — though various openings — enables extensive views into the various rooms that are positioned in such a way as to give a sense of fluidity. The result is a pleasant urban space that connects the outdoor piazza and transforms the interiors into an extended living room, the ideal place for having a coffee, reading a book or listening to music.
KDa have been working in Tokyo for more than twenty years and are famous throughout the world for inventing the Pecha Kucha Night — an event and meeting revolving around the communication of creative projects and ideas — that has become so popular that it has been adopted in almost 200 cities around the world. Astrid Klein was born in Italy of German parents, studied in France, graduated in the UK in 1988 and lives and works in Japan: an international woman to the core. Mark Dytham was born in the UK in a new town near Milton Keynes. He grew up with the idea that the "new" had great potential to improve peoples' lives.
The pair — who met at the Royal College of Art where they studied for their MA before moving to Tokyo together — are pop-art style interpreters of an architecture with a rarefied atmosphere: expressing an idea of space linked to architecture intended not only as a material work but also as a mark. This has often led them to make use of images and graphic motifs as the substance — and not only image — of the surfaces that they design. With the T-Site, they have developed to the full their passion for the sign as a generator of space and express a spatial articulation that is essentially cosmopolitan.
Klein Dytham Architects: T-Site Tsutaya Books
Architects: Klein Dytham Architects
Location: Daikanyama, Tokyo
Main use: Multifucntion, Book Store, Restaurant
Total floor area: 4,300 square metres
Structure: Glass, Steel and RC
Completion date: February 2012