Commercial Architecture is a Balance of Constants and Variables


Ginza Stories

On the Significance of Eaves and Noren

"Architecture is meant to be a vessel to house human beings."
The architecture of GINZA SIX was designed by the renowned Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, who has strived throughout his distinguished career to imbue his vessels with the kind of architectural beauty that elevates its contents. Taniguchi values two things above all else: the history and vestiges of memory that persist at a particular building site, and the relationship between a building and its intended users. For GINZA SIX, he has designed the building's exterior and prepared the initial urban plan. In both cases, his main challenge was to present a vision that went beyond a single building and embraced GINZA SIX's full scope as a redevelopment project on the grandest scale. At the same time, the new building was not to disturb the existing flow of pedestrian traffic through the surrounding streets of Ginza.
To meet these goals, Taniguchi proposed using eaves to make an architectural statement that captured GINZA SIX's scale. Due to its size, the building would be visible from practically any street in Ginza, and needed an element that would make it instantly recognizable. The stainless steel eaves run around the upper levels where the offices are located to create horizontal uniformity. For the shopping mall that occupies the lower levels, Taniguchi proposed that the six brands on the ground floor facing out onto Ginza's main shopping thoroughfare Chuo-dori put up unique facades with designs inspired by the Japanese tradition of stores putting up noren, entrance curtains decorated with low-key motifs like the store's logo or crest. In contrast to the horizontal lines of the eaves, the facades divide the building into smaller segments that are more inviting and reminiscent of the world that lies in Ginza's intricate network of side streets and back alleys.
"In a perfect world, the value of a building would remain unchanged over time. But in the case of commercial architecture such as GINZA SIX, it's ideal that the exterior elements and any signs can be easily modified or replaced to keep up with the times and changing trends. In commercial architecture, there needs to be a balance of constant elements and variable elements. So the eaves are a constant that ties the architecture together, and the 'noren' being put up are variables that are meant to be changed. Architecturally speaking, I see the stainless steel eaves as the backbone of GINZA SIX, which will be a permanent fixture of the Ginza skyline, while the 'noren' will change along with the times."

Incidentally, GINZA SIX's grand scale is due to the fact that it is a redevelopment project that will integrate a two-block area originally bisected by Azuma-dori into one, bordered by Chuo-dori in the front and Mihara-dori in the back. In the initial urban plan Taniguchi contributed to, a strip of land the size of the displaced segment of Azuma-dori was to be made a park along Mihara-dori. Later it was decided that the strip would be made an above-ground terminal for tourist buses, with a deck built over it envisioned as a garden in the sky.
Historically, the Mihara-dori area was lined with willows and served as a dock for boats coming into Tokyo Bay. "It is my obligation as designer to meet the various demands of the client, but I also believe that it is my duty to be sensitive to the neighborhood surroundings." The garden deck is meant to draw the crowds on Chuo-dori towards Mihara-dori, dispersing pedestrian traffic into the surrounding streets, but it is also an answer to local requests for "a local oasis with some nature and water."
On the Mihara-dori side we've set up an entrance for the offices on the upper floors. While the people that come to GINZA SIX from Chuo-dori will be looking to enjoy shopping and experience something out of the ordinary, office workers will come to GINZA SIX as part of their day-to-day lives. "It's important to recognize that there may be some people who work in the offices that have nothing to do with the shopping mall. At the same time, the area along Chuo-dori is Japan's most prized commercial real estate. So I felt that we needed separate entrances along Mihara-dori and Chuo-dori."

Then there's the word gin-bura, a contraction of a phrase that means "to enjoy a stroll through Ginza." The term has special significance for Taniguchi, who believes it speaks to Ginza's timeless potential. "When I was finally able to return to Tokyo after the war ended, Yurakucho Station had been destroyed by the firebombing of Tokyo, and the streets of Ginza were lined with makeshift street stalls that were called 'barracks'. But even amid the disarray, there were things to keep us entertained, a different energy about town. GINZA SIX may be opening its doors 72 years after the end of the war, but Ginza's legacy as a commercial hub has been celebrated and passed down through the generations to this day—and gin-bura has always been a part of that. Architecture is the creation of new environments, but it is also important that it carries history and heritage to the future."
The heroes whom Taniguchi has tasked with looking after the vessel's contents are you and me; the memories that each of us make at GINZA SIX will carry Ginza's legacy into the future.


Yoshio Taniguchi

Born in Tokyo in 1937, Yoshio Taniguchi studied architecture at Harvard University before working for several years under architect Kenzo Tange. His best-known designs include Tokyo Sea Life Park, Gallery of Horyuji Treasures at Tokyo National Museum, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Heisei Chishinkan Wing of Kyoto National Museum. His current projects include the design for the new Hotel Okura Tokyo, and an architectural museum in Kanazawa—the birthplace of his father, architect Yoshiro Taniguchi.

Interview and Text by Yuka Okada / Photograph by Toshiharu Kitajima