MVRDV has added to the shiny parade of contemporary architecture lining Omotesando, Tokyo’s best-known shopping street. Rather than seeking to outdo what it sees as the “intimidating beauty” of the surrounding “architectural supermodels” (SANAA’s angelic Dior hovers right next door), the Dutch practice has adopted an approach at once more modest and more ambitious. “Is it possible,” ask the architects, “to combine the more public and less exclusive tradition of an older Omotesando with the iconic exteriors of the fashionable ‘name-brand’ buildings?”
The answer appears to be a qualified yes. The site’s positioning was key. The development packs a carefully curated collection of shops, restaurants and galleries on a tight plot blessed with frontages on three sides. This asset has been adroitly exploited by the architects, conceiving the building as a series of five stacked layers independently rotated around a small open core.
This simple manoeuvre does many things. It establishes terraces and cantilevered overhangs at the perimeter of the building, which are then connected by a sequence of stairways climbing from the sidestreets – a distant echo of MVRDV’s Dutch Pavilion at the Hannover Expo of 2000. By creating an alternate path of public movement to the restaurants on the upper levels, it stitches the building to the pedestrian bustle of the street and animates its exteriors. In addition, it opens the volume and invigorates its silhouette.
A subdued external palette of dark and crumpled ceramic tiles and artificial wood adds a trademark Dutch astringency to the usual luxury formula of gloss and polish (of which there is plenty inside).
images Rob’T Hart