2024 Dulux Study Tour – Day 1, Tokyo: The poetry of concrete and the elegance of the roof plane

By Simona Falvo

Our first day in Tokyo has been an incredible whirlwind filled with visiting significant projects that, over the years, have influenced my own architectural practice. It is such a pleasure and privilege to now see these in person, and it’s only day one.

The urban character of Tokyo is truly fascinating. A multitude of layers of civic, infrastructural and domestic spaces overlap, stack and intersect with one another, appearing inextricably complex yet equally effortless and systematic. While walking through the streets of Shibuya, we visited Tadao Ando’s expansive intervention at Shibuya Station which seamlessly integrates a poetic response to the surrounding built environment, natural ventilation for cooling and tremendous water storage capability, with generous atrium spaces. This is expertly crafted through highly considered detailing, within one of Tokyo’s largest train stations.

Shibuya, Tokyo. Photo by Simona Falvo

Having visited Ando’s first and only built work in Australia, MPavilion 10 in Melbourne, in Tokyo it seemed as though around every corner is another Ando project to experience. Over several hours, we visit the small-scale Tokyo Toilet Project at Jingu-Dori Park, the Omotesando Hills complex and 21_21 Design Sight; a personal favourite with its triangular roof planes elegantly folding towards the ground, signifying entry and situating building within a public landscape. This speaks to the exceptional way in which Ando, and his office, have established an enduring body of work that transcends location yet is also perfectly balanced within its respective surroundings. The best way I can summarise my thoughts after visiting these projects, is through placing an awareness of the importance of continuity in practice, combined with a sensibility to adapt to an ever-changing environment.

Yoyogi Stadium by Kenzo Tange. Photo by Simona Falvo.

Walking a little further, we visited Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi Stadium and I am in complete awe of this outstanding project. The complexity of the building is difficult to describe as the scale of an individual is completely engulfed in the industrial proportions of steel cables, anchors and curved concrete base. There is an inherent tension to this scale, further amplified by the dramatic, draped roof, achieving a sense of improbable lightness for a building of this size.

Meiji Jingu Museum by Kengo Kuma. Photo by Simona Falvo.
The roofline of Meiji Jingu Museum by Kengo Kuma. Photo by Simona Falvo

We also visit Kengo Kuma’s Meji Jingu Museum and Nezu Museum where the roof plane for both projects is exaggerated to celebrate a dissolved relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces. Kisho Kurakawa’s National Art Centre is an exercise in true experimentation and innovation, where the uncompromising architect’s vision is clear in almost every part of the building.

National Art Centre Tokyo by Kisho Kurokawa. Photo by Simona Falvo.
Interior of National Art Centre Tokyo by Kisho Kurokawa. Photo by Simona Falvo

Finally, a visit to Archi-Depot to view their unparalleled collection of architectural models prompted me to consider the importance of physical model-making in architectural pursuits of all stages during study and practice.

In my own practice, we are fascinated with the ground plane and all that emerges from it however, being in Tokyo and experiencing what we have throughout the day, I am critically reminded of the importance of also looking up.

Simona Falvo is director of Trower Falvo Architects.

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