A shrine to modernism
Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 12/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Tokyo's 7,800,000-square- foot Roppongi Hills, billionaire real-estate developer Minoru Mori's answer to Rockefeller Center, is best known for the Kohn Pedersen Fox–designed Mori Tower, with Richard Gluckman's Mori Art Museum occupying the top two floors. The complex also includes four apartment buildings by Terence Conran, a mall by the Jerde Partnership, a Virgin cineplex, and restaurateur Joël Robuchon's newest L'atelier in addition to KPF's Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel. With so much Western architecture everywhere, it's a relief to discover a Shinto shrine by Super Potato Co. on the hotel's third floor. The firm, usually associated with restaurants—including a couple at the Grand Hyatt—had never done a shrine before.
While not exactly traditional, the Super Potato shrine exudes serenity and harks back to the principles of Japan's oldest religion—one that's ' bypassed by 97 percent of people who marry at the Grand Hyatt. (That's why the hotel also hired Super Potato to design an elaborate Western-style chapel.) Ironically, suggests the firm's executive design director, Norihiko Shinya, it may be modern architecture that entices Tokyo's trendiest couples back to the ancient rites, in which the bride wears a white kimono and the groom a black one.
In a typical Shinto ceremony, which lasts 20 to 30 minutes, bride and groom sit in the middle of the space, facing a small altar, and exchange sake from a cup or dish. The ceremonies once involved only family members, but some couples now invite friends to participate as well. Indeed, the Grand Hyatt's 1,500-square-foot shrine has room for 100 guests.
Because a Shinto wedding requires a display of white, symbolizing purity, Super Potato incorporated a silk banner—splashed with red—into the shrine's design. Shintoism also stresses connections to nature, so shrines are dominated by unpainted wood. At the Hyatt, Super Potato used Australian pine for the floor. Grilles of cypress create a room within a room, forming a shoji-screen effect over walls covered in calcic Shikkui plaster white enough to compensate for the complete lack of windows or skylights.
This brightness becomes even more striking in contrast to the shrine's dark anteroom, with its black granite floor and urethane-finished rosewood ceiling, making the entry procession a transition from darkness to light. According to Fisher Marantz Stone principal Charles Stone—whose firm consulted on lighting for guest rooms and banquet areas—the juxtaposition really works. "Super Potato did a wonderful job," he says. "It's a blazing-white, totally luminous environment, with light appearing to emanate from the walls."
The shrine's contemplative atmosphere may leave guests pondering the meaning of Super Potato (a nickname for firm president Takashi Sugimoto) or how they're going to pay for their stay ($420 a night and up). If they're lucky, though, their minds will really wander. Although the shrine may have been built for business reasons, it nevertheless provides a welcome break from Roppongi Hills's cacophony of commerce.