Japanese architect Hiroshi Nakamura's Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Project (TPOP) sits on the corner of Omotesando and Meiji avenues, one of the busiest crossroads in the shopping district of Harajuku, an area that offers an interesting combination and superimposition of consumerist and traditional rituals. It can be hard to believe that Omotesando Avenue — lined with big luxury brand stores designed by Kengo Kuma, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, MVRV, SANAA — is in fact a processional road that leads to Meiji Jingu, the oldest and biggest Shinto temple in Tokyo.
Inspired by Japanese tradition, Nakamura reinterprets the aesthetics of the roof — often the most prominent visual element in traditional Japanese buildings — and has designed a building where a crown-shaped volume dominates the composition of the façade.
The TPOP has a dual identity: it is light and transparent at the base, solid and opaque at the top. The shops in the lower part of the TPOP face the street, and the large windows create a visual connection with Omotesando avenue. The upper floors are accessed via a large staircase with an organic form. This is undoubtedly the key element of the overall design, the magnet that draws passer-bys into the TPOP. The walls that wrap around the staircase are covered entirely with triangular-shaped mirrors, creating an impactful, kaleidoscopic effect inside the building. Refracted light connects the inside with the outside in an original and dizzying way. Here is a kinetic collector that reflects the conditions of the surrounding environment: once inside you can see how the areas for retail, refreshment and relaxation are articulated simply around the ascending space of the staircase, that crosses the five floors of the main body of TPOP enabling efficient circulation.
Fragments of green in an urban discourse
The TPOP has been deliberately conceived and designed to offer an experience aimed not just at shopping but offering a range of attractions. One that stands out in particular is the garden and landscape on the roof of the building. This green island — 34 trees and 50 different kinds of plants — momentarily gives one the impression of being elsewhere. It presents various areas for temporarily isolation from the intense pace of Tokyo, forgetting for a moment the ultra-urban setting that the building sits in — the heart of the biggest metropolis in the world. The verdant roof-garden — that Nakamura calls the "roof-forest" — features innovative technological systems for purifying the air. Built to underline the importance of being in harmony with nature, the roof forest should not be regarded as a way of being "green and cool", but appreciated as a decision that the young Japanese architect felt strongly about. Nakamura believes that Japanese society — so strongly orientated towards the economy — needs to return once more to seeing nature as a moment of inspiration and reconciliation with what already exists. It is not an ordinary landscape like the ones found in resorts, but rather a landscape that invites one to look both inwards and outwards, especially following the events of 11 March 2011.
Image and matter
Nakamura — author of Loving Architecture, an essay on the need to bring architecture and nature back to the centre of the social debate — combines new technology with natural materials in an uninhibited, consistent way. He has won various awards, including the DETAIL prize in 2007 and the Young Architect Award in 2011. From the beginning, Nakamura designed intelligent and out-of-the-ordinary works of commercial architecture where light diffraction has revealed itself to be one of the central themes. Each time Nakamura has aimed to contextualise his work with the site, regardless of whether these are urban or remote locations. The young Japanese architect has a particular sensibility when it comes to capturing the spirit of places and placing his design proposal in harmony with the site itself.
With the TPOP, Nakamura's intention is to augment the consumers' experience of desire and seduce them with a building that also has cultural value. While the ephemeral nature of commercial architecture is interpreted in the proliferation of images of the vortex created by the Japanese architect, the roof-forest is a reminder of the importance of nature. Choosing his materials carefully, Hiroshi Nakamura offers a critical vision of the way in which consumerist society radicalises the role of the image at the expense of a healthy sensation given by corporeality. Salvator-John A. Liotta
Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects: Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Project
Design: Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects
Location: Shibuya, Tokyo
Main use: Shopping Mall, Urban Park
Total floor area: 10,063 square metres
Structure: reinforced concrete
Completion date: June 2012