After our relaxed stroll along the architectural chic of Omotesando Street, it’s time to turn our attention to that other great center of unashamed consumption: Ginza! There was a time when this district was passé. Its former glamour had migrated across town to said Omotesando. Ginza was filling up with discount stores and chain stores in the 90′s. But Tokyo boasts an inexhaustible appetite for luxury, and for the past eight years Ginza has been building itself up again to rival the fashionable west side of town. And fancy brands demand fancy architecture. Here’s PingMag’s pick of the best. Note that many of these buildings develop their true glamour when lit at night — it’s glitzy Ginza, after all. So go for an evening walk after your shopping frenzy! And see the Google Map below for more.
Written by Jessica Niles DeHoff
Photos by Tim Rudder
The Peninsula Tokyo by day… Photo by Jessica Niles DeHoff
To begin with, many of Ginza’s buildings fall into the category of clean and glossy design. Beautiful and innovative curtain-wall systems line the main streets of this part of town, all perfectly finished thanks to Japan’s peerless construction techniques. They may be differentiated by fritted or patterned glass, or translucent materials instead of transparent, but together they make the backdrop against which the unusual buildings stand out.
Now, let’s take the train to Hibiya Station for:
1. The Peninsula Tokyo
OK, this example of gaudiness isn’t actually in Ginza, but it is worthwhile to see Tokyo’s first new freestanding luxury hotel in nearly a decade. How practical that it is directly connected to the Hibiya subway station below (and Yurakucho is nearby)! It’s situated on a wedge-shaped piece of land just a stone’s throw from both Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace. Though The Peninsula’s exterior is unassuming, its interior features a dramatic atrium reaching all the way up to the 24th floor bar, which commands a dramatic view of the central city. Architect Kazukiyo Sato may have intended this as a nod to the Peninsula in Hong Kong.
Then, come back down to earth, step outside and look around: Behind the hotel, the skyline of the Marunouchi district is prickling with construction cranes…
Heading east on Harumi Street, you’ll approach Ginza proper. As soon as you pass under the Yamanote Line train tracks, you’ll immediately feel a shift: Buildings are more crowded, people are in a hurry, everything is for sale (and not cheap). On the left, you can spot one of the temples of consumerism: the Sony Building, whose interior flows along a spiral pathway inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. Now you know!
On the right, you’ll find:
2. Maison Hermès
Maison Hermès’ glass façade.
The Maison Hermès Tokyo was built by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 2001. Actually, this was the project that supposedly sparked Ginza’s rejuvenation. The slender tower is built entirely of translucent glass blocks, but approach its flank at street level and you’ll be treated to a few clever windows that are like peepholes displaying luxury watches and scarves. Atop the building sits a horse and rider carrying a flag: a sculptural interpretation of the Hermès logo. How fancy!
Walk a block further down and on the right:
A hipster couple: Dior and Armani Ginza.
Though it’s bold and glamourous like the brand, the twelve-story Armani Ginza tower that opened nearly a year ago is one of the few structures in Ginza that has a local flavour. Designed by Italian Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, its façade uses bamboo-like forms to create a pattern that evokes traditional Japanese fabrics while at the same time creating a privacy screen for the interior.
A few steps farther along the street you’ll stumble across J’adore Dior on the right:
The Dior building was constructed in 2004, and though Ricardo Bofill was the architect for the base building, the real star here is the exterior skin. The white perforated screen, designed by Kumiko Inui, is particularly lovely at night when its embedded fibre optics are lit. Touch the surface!
Just across the street from Dior, take a look at:
Still freestanding: Gucci Ginza.
Gucci’s two-year-old flagship store was the luxury brand’s first venture into creating new freestanding architecture. The eight-story tower is clad in bronze and silvery glass panels in an elongated checkerboard pattern, designed by architect James Carpenter. And don’t forget that the overall branding concept is by Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini. See the building’s layered structure in 3D by Brooklyn Digital Foundry.
Now, walk further down Harumi Street to the next crossing and turn left onto Ginza Street for three more glittering buildings.
After two blocks, on the left there is this mysterious cube:
… and in action!
During the day, the Chanel tower opposite the Matsuya department store looks like a simple black box. Look closer, however, and you can see that the materials chosen for the building’s exterior evoke the brand’s iconic designs: The boxy pattern of the curtain wall resembles the quilted leather of a handbag, for example, and the checked white frit pattern on the ground-level glass evokes the nubby tweed of a Chanel suit.
Right after the Chanel extravaganza, turn left in a small side street. Then on the right, first comes a curved line:
7. De Beers
One of the newest additions to Ginza is the De Beers headquarters, which opened this spring. The glass and steel tower squiggles up towards the sky, a remarkable contortion in such a confined space. In fact, this alley is so narrow it’s hard to get a good look at the structure, but its claw-like top can be spotted from all over the neighbourhood.
Designer Jun Mitsui was also the brain behind Omotesando’s Jewels of Aoyama, and there are many similarities between the two projects: an interest in breaking up volume three-dimensionally, a contrast between materials, and most of all a strong vertical orientation.
Further down on the right again, we arrive at:
8. Mikimoto Ginza2
As if there were shining holes in the wall… Photo by by Jessica Niles DeHoff
A few steps away is Toyo Ito’s Mikimoto Ginza2, a pink confection with amoeba-shaped windows that were intended to recall girly things such as pearls, petals and bubbles. Despite the rainy and humid Tokyo weather lately, the façade’s glossy surface has been only slightly stained in its two-year life.
Like Jun Mitsui, Ito has done work both here and on Omotesando, where his Tod’s boutique uses a similar strategy of irregular openings in a solid façade.
Evidently it’s not just the names of the boutiques that repeat in Ginza and Omotesando; the architects, too, tend to pop up in both places and the fun thing is to look for the differences. Want to see more? You have to go back to the Chanel cube and turn right onto Ginza Street.
The hanging Swatch gardens.
Follow Ginza Street for several blocks, until you spot the hanging gardens of the Nicholas G. Hayek Center, also called the Swatch Building, on the left:
This boxy white building opened last summer right on Ginza’s main drag, where it breaks up the monotony of storefronts with its open, park-like ground level full of live plants. Architect Shigeru Ban often makes use of paper tubes and other recycled materials in his designs for refugee housing and disaster-relief projects; the Swatch building translates his interest in ecology into a more polished and corporate look.
And finally, a map to help your excursion:
Very warm thanks once again to Tim Rudder for his hyper-stylish photographs!