A Japanese Story by Travis Walton

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    Six must-see sites architect Travis Walton recommends you visit in Japan.

    With its rich architectural heritage, inventive spatial solutions and integration of built and natural environments, Japan has inspired countless architects and designers from all over the world. Melbourne-based architect Travis Walton is one of them, having taken frequent trips to the country since his first visit over 15 years ago. Here he shares the six spaces that should be on any architecture aficionado’s itinerary.

    Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo

    “Built in just 30 days in 1972, this capsule tower by Kisho Kurokawa raises some interesting ideas around looking at the durability of architecture. While prefab and modular buildings have only really begun to take off here over the past fifty years, this design proves many modern Japanese architects got it right so long ago With a program of interlocking rooms that also form larger spaces, it is efficient and inspiring to my own practice. Get a tour if you can – there are a few local architectural tour groups that can organise one for you.”

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    Naoshima Island

    “While it’s a bit of a trek to get to – literally planes, trains and automobiles – it’s so worth it. Over the last couple of years this island and its wealth of museums, architecture and sculptures have become much more accessible. Alongside the instantly-recognisable Yayoi Kusama pumpkin, the Chichu Art Museum and Benesse House demonstrate wider scope, and encourage you to stay and see more. Don’t miss the Minimidera building from the Art House project, which houses a collection of large-scale James Turrell works, or Walter De Maria’s ‘Time and Timeless installation, where a giant marble ball sits atop the stairs.

    Maison Hermès, Tokyo

    “Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, this is a beautiful display of how a single material can be exploited to become a whole building facade, and how it can resonate in the internal spaces. By night, this 14-storey tower becomes a completely different building – a lantern itself – uniting the Hermès brand with an iconic place. The role of placemaking and branding is so important in architecture, and while this building debuted in 2006, it feels like it’s been a part of the city’s architecture and heritage for a long time.”

    Shibaura House Office Building, Tokyo

    “Japanese firm Sanaa do quite a lot of buildings around Tokyo, but this multipurpose building designed by one of my favourite architects, Kazuyo Sejima, is one of the most accessible. Both an office and a space for the community to use, the style is very characteristic of Seijima’s work – light with minimal detailing and structure, every element delicate and beautiful, and a sense of play with the horizontal and vertical structure. In Seijima’s work you always see space given over to light, or capturing a view – it’s never about the yield of a space, more about the quality. It’s a very different style of architecture and one I learn a lot from.”

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    Garden of Fine Arts, Kyoto

    “The number one place that comes to mind is the Garden of Fine Arts in Kyoto, designed by Tadao Ando. Kyoto has a lot of historic sites that are beautiful in their own right, but this beautiful art garden and sculpture park has to be one of the most beautiful architectural experiences ever. Imagined as a contemporary version of a stroll garden, Ando’s design draws you slowly through the space to the bottom of the man made concrete well, where an overscale water feature gives you a true sense of human scale within the built environment.”

    Saint Mary Cathedral, Tokyo

    “An awe-inspiring reminder of architecture’s ability to make you feel so insignificant in a space, this cathedral is considered the most important of architect Kenzo Tange’s works. Instead of the traditional internal columns, the building is supported by the external walls (that also act as a roof), as the structure and fabric combine as one. It’s a fascinating approach to creating these types of raw spaces, particularly as the finish of concrete over time will patina.”

    This piece originally appeared in est magazine issue 29.

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