Where Renzo Piano's modern mastery and Tokyo's Ginza converge
Beth Dunlop -- Interior Design, 1/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
THE MUTUAL CULTURAL admiration that Japanese luxury shoppers and the house of Hermès have enjoyed since 1961, the year the haute Parisian fashion house began selling through a distributor in Tokyo, reached an all-time high at the 2001 opening of the first Tokyo flagship, with 1,000 or more shoppers waiting in line just to get in. Was it the latest Birkin bag they were after—or a glimpse of Renzo Piano's $133 million architectural tour de force?
For the 11-story building, Piano drew inspiration from the Maison de Verre, the glass house Pierre Chareau built in Paris between 1928 and 1932. Piano thought that glass—in this case, 13,000 oversize silvered blocks made in Italy—would also be the right choice in Tokyo: "Japanese cities are shifting entities, totally different by day and night. Glass has that instinctive, metamorphic quality." The idea was that the building would reflect and refract the sunlight by day, becoming a luminous magic lantern by night. "It's a sensual, erotic, round, curvaceous, physical building that lets the light slide around it," the architect says. "Rationality doesn't sing. I like to transgress the limit between the rational and the sensual."
That sensuous magic was further enhanced by seismic considerations. The glass blocks are suspended so they can actually move—as can the entire building, almost as if it were a sail. "With the slight movements of the structure and the changing light, the building seems iridescent," Piano says.
The shimmering new building sits right in the middle of the Ginza, an area full of vitality day and night, and that very congestion offered Piano his central organizational metaphor. "The crowd," he says, "rustles like leaves on a tree." Hermès president Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès was also thinking in terms of tree imagery, only upside down. Material goods (the "fruit" of the tree) are sold on the building's four lower floors and a subterranean level. The upper seven are "roots," for the nourishment of ideas: offices, a workshop, laboratories, a screening room, a temporary-exhibition space, and a permanent Hermès-history museum, designed by Hilton McConnico.
A few elements from the mother store on the Faubourg St. Honoré reoccur in Tokyo, and Dumas-Hermès's wife, Rena Dumas, who has been designing Hermès stores since 1979 under the auspices of her Parisian interior architecture firm, RDAI, collaborated with Piano on the interiors. Strict merchandising relationships between object and shelf, shelf and space—an unbreakable Hermès formula—are reiterated here. The "sacred principle" of craftsmanship, Piano says, dominates with marble and wood as well as hand-stitched leather, which covers all the balustrades.
As at every location around the world, the Hermès logo appears over the entrance on the Ginza. One specifically Japanese addition to the exterior, though, is a triple mobile by sculptor Susumu Shingu. On the roof is another of his sculptures. This one is a galloping horseman flourishing two Hermès scarves.