The Past as the Way to the Future: A Novel Premium Lounge


Ginza Stories

Hiroshi Sugimoto and Tomoyuki Sakakida Join Forces at New Material Research Laboratory

Japan has specific materials and construction techniques that have been cultivated over a millennium, but in this day and age, you can't help but notice that the architectural zeitgeist is shifting towards the contemporary practice of methodically browsing through a catalogue for materials that are as maintenance-free and long-lasting as possible.
Amid this shift, in 2008, artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and I established the New Material Research Laboratory (NMRL) with the philosophy that "The materials of the past provide a breath of fresh air today". So "New Material" is used ironically, as our focus is on researching and imagining novel uses for the materials that were used in ancient and medieval times. But that does not mean our designs are directly based on sukiya-style or the architecture of shrines and temples. We live in a contemporary age, after all, so while our techniques and materials may be from a past age, the design solutions that ultimately result consist of contemporary ideas and details.
I had the privilege of working under the Kyoto-based architect Waro Kishi for most of my twenties, an environment that undoubtedly forged my instincts and my disposition as an architect. Kishi taught me about modern architectural styles, the role of an architect within society, and what an architect ought to be. And then meeting Sugimoto, an artist and someone who has had a distinguished career as a dealer of Japanese antique and folk art, has brought a new dimension to my work and showed me how to incorporate the essence of Japanese culture into what I do.
Sugimoto himself, prior to creating NMRL with me, had already been dabbling in a number of architectural and interior design projects. Like his art work, his designs have a clear concept. With GINZA SIX, however, we were on a timeline and a budget. It was my job as Sugimoto's partner to interpret his themes and approach, and then translate them into interior design. At NMRL, we each have a clearly defined role to play in the projects we take on.

LOUNGE SIX, Where the Materials Take Center Stage

For GINZA SIX, we designed not the architecture, but the interior of its premium lounge, LOUNGE SIX, which allowed us to explore a central theme of NMRL: "reimagining Japanese-ness for a modern world". It all comes down to the materials, plain and simple.
Guests will be welcomed at the entrance by a ten-meter wide facade with a kuro-shikkui [black shikkui plaster] finish. Everything up to and including the undercoat plaster was done by multiple craftsmen, but the finishing coat had to be applied at once by a master plasterer. With kuro-shikkui, differences in pressure applied with the trowel create a mottled appearance not unlike abstract painting—this display of craftsmanship at the entrance is the first highlight.
From there, guests enter through a door plated with tin previously used for what they called "signboard architecture" [where traditional wooden townhouses were given a facelift by erecting western-style facades that resembled signboards] and the like during the Taisho Era [1912-1926], and find themselves in the reception area. At their feet is stone flooring comprised of denseki [literally, "tram-stones"] that were originally used to pave the ground beneath the tracks of Kyoto's municipal tram, which operated between 1912 and 1978. These stones are essentially antiques that we had to seek out and buy on the spot in order to put together the number we needed—we have to keep an eye out for this kind of stuff at all times. As I said, our methods and techniques can be unorthodox, but this is what sets us apart from other architectural firms.
Beyond the reception area is the main room, which we designed to let in as much natural light as possible to provide our shopping guests with a sanctuary of sorts, away from the retail floor, which has less natural light in comparison. For the wall-spanning window, we've added one of NMRL's signature designs: a special type of shoji screen with framework composed of vertical bars.
Sliding doors separate LOUNGE SIX from a number of private rooms. We added hegi-ita detailing using thin strips of Japanese arborvitae—an evergreen tree belonging to the conifer family that includes cedar and Japanese cypress—held down with gomadake bamboo. Hegi-ita is made by splitting lumber along the grain using an edged tool, and was traditionally used in the ceilings of tea ceremony rooms and the like, but nowadays there barely exists a market for such a material, and consequently there are only a few craftsmen left who can do this kind of woodworking. Gomadake bamboo is a material that is used mainly for the nijiriguchi [a small, crawl-in entrance to a tea ceremony room]. In both cases we've taken a material used in traditional Japanese proportions and adapted them on a modern scale.

A Unique Arrangement of Custom-Designed Furniture

As for the furniture, we decided to custom design practically all of it. When you picture a luxury lounge, you usually think of luxury Italian furniture, you know, deep-seated sofas with feather-stuffed cushions and so forth. But for GINZA SIX, we wanted to go for a more unique approach.
In the main room are Helicoid Sofas, which are direct cousins of the Helicoid Chairs we designed for the Sahsya Kanetanaka cafe in Omotesando. The Helicoid Chair is a chair with a helix-shaped backrest that takes its inspiration from a series of photographs taken by Sugimoto of "stereometric exemplars", that is, mechanical models and sculptural renderings of mathematical models purchased from the West during the Meiji Era [1868-1912]—specifically, the spiral-shaped "helicoid" sculpture. The Helicoid Sofa is a slightly larger, more inviting lounge chair version of that.
We also took inspiration from the round tables and chairs that graced the main lobby of the regrettably demolished Hotel Okura in Tokyo. When seen from above, the round table and the chairs surrounding it were arranged to resemble a plum blossom in full bloom. Similarly, the round tables and Helicoid Sofas in the GINZA SIX lounge were designed to evoke the image of a flower when arranged together. Of course, we've adjusted the seat heights to accommodate a variety of statures, made the leg area less bulky, made the seat cushions more plush, and gave the overall proportions a modern update. We've applied sentoku plating to the legs—sentoku is a kind of yellow bronze used for fusuma handles [typical fixtures in traditional Japanese-style houses used as sliding doors or room dividers]. At NMRL we affectionately refer to this material and its aged texture as "kobishoku plating" [literally, "beautifully aged color"]. Yet another example of a technique with an ever-dwindling number of master practitioners.
All in all, we've taken a much different approach than your standard airport-style VIP lounge. It is our sincere hope that we have created a novel space for our guests to sit and relax.

Interview and Text by Yuka Okada / Photographs by Daisuke Akita

A View over Ginza

Before the war our family home was in Ginza 2-chome where we had a beauty products wholesale business called Ginza Beauty Trading. The business moved to Okachimachi after the war, but I was still very familiar with Ginza from childhood. Now and again my mother took me to Fujiya for Western food, while at the weekend the whole family would get dressed up and go to the New Tokyo for a Chinese meal. The gleaming neon reflections on the water beneath the Sukiyabashi Bridge that I could see from the restaurant's windows are gone now that the canal has been covered over by the Shuto Expressway. It was also in Ginza that I achieved prominence as an artist for the first time. In my fourth year at primary school, I painted a picture looking from the roof of Matsuzakaya department store towards the Hattori watch and jewelry store and entered it into a children's art competition. To my surprise, the picture won a prize, whereupon it was sent off on a world tour—from which it never returned. The prize ceremony was held at the offices of the publisher Kodansha near the Gokokuji Temple. They presented me with a magnificent certificate, but what really impressed me was their formal Japanese garden, which seemed worthy of a feudal lord. "When I grow up, I want to make a garden like this," I thought. As a boy, I loved making models and I saw the garden as a scaled-down model of far larger nature. Later, my interest was to shift to photographs, another "modelized" version of the real world. That garden too has gone, replaced by Route 6 of the Shuto Expressway. By a twist of fate, I find myself once again involved as an artist with a piece of land that is so rich in memory for me. It feels like an atavistic reversion.
As a district, Ginza's character is that of a beautiful woman. Everyone who goes there decks themselves out in their finest clothes. Heavy makeup, however, does not become a true beauty; far better is a light dusting of face powder. GINZA SIX shares this cosmetic philosophy. Concealing luxury is the new luxury. Flaunting it was standard practice worldwide until the end of the twentieth century. According to Japan's traditional values, however, that is mere boorishness. Japanese-style iki, or chic, consists, as Sen no Rikyu said, in "tying a fine horse to a thatched house." Drinking tea from an exquisite bowl in a rustic tea house is an extension of this philosophy. The important thing is to create a pretense of coarse rusticity while deploying the most refined utensils. This esthetic, which is like a rich person trying to pass themselves off as poor, can find itself teetering on a knife-edge between the offensive and the sophisticated. Still, the master practitioners of any art are always drawn to danger and the sensibilities of a new age are invariably exposed to reaction's backlash.
Text by Hiroshi Sugimoto


Hiroshi Sugimoto

Born in Tokyo in 1948. Moved to the United States in 1970. Based in New York since 1974. Established a style based on deeply thought-out concepts photographed with a large-format view camera and 8 x 10 inch black-and-white film. His subtly expressive works feature in the permanent collections of museums worldwide. Founded the New Material Research Laboratory in 2008. Currently responsible for the renovation of the MOA Museum of Art (Atami), and the construction of the Odawara Art Foundation Enoura Observatory, both scheduled for completion in 2017. Has won numerous awards including the Praemium Imperiale (2009), the Medal with Purple Ribbon (2010) and L’Officier des Arts et des Lettres (2013).

Tomoyuki Sakakida

Born in Shiga Prefecture in 1976, Tomoyuki Sakakida studied architecture at Kyoto Institute of Technology and completed his masters at the "Waro Kishi Laboratory" in 2001 before joining Nihon Sekkei, Inc. He established Tomoyuki Sakakida Architect and Associates co.,ltd. in 2003 while also serving as director of architect Waro Kishi’s Tokyo office between 2003-2006, where he headed domestic and international projects for a number of clients including Leica Ginza. In 2008, he established the architectural firm New Material Research Laboratory alongside artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. Currently, he heads Tomoyuki Sakakida Architect and Associates co.,ltd., is partner architect of New Material Research Laboratory, and is a part-time lecturer at Kyoto University of Art and Design.

Interview and Text by Yuka Okada / Photographs by Daisuke Akita