A Window On Luxury
Toyo Ito's building lets Tokyo glimpse Mikimoto pearls in the perfect setting, an interior by Ichiro Nishiwaki
Masaaki Takahashi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Mikimoto has been a trendsetter ever since Kokichi Mikimoto—the first person ever to culture a pearl—built his original shop in Tokyo's Ginza district more than a century ago. The interior was cutting-edge for its time, with rosewood display cases overseen by handsome clerks wearing three- piece suits. Today, Mikimoto Ginza 2 proves that this world leader in pearl jewelry remains just as committed to forward-thinking design.
The hard-cornered tower is perforated, like a block of Swiss cheese, with blobby windows that seem to float across the grid-rejecting facade. At first blush, this could be a straightforward sequel to the much-praised Tod's that the same firm, Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, completed nearby just a year before. But while the exterior rings a bell, the Mikimoto venture demonstrates a significant step forward in architectural refinement. Mikimoto Ginza 2 is no Tod's.
Consider, for example, the unusual organic windows. The company poetically describes them as "bubbles drifting up from pearl-filled oysters or petals dancing as they scatter." Either way, the effect dissolves the standard relationship between windows and floor numbers, distorting the viewer's perception of scale.
The quirkiness of the windows also belies the Herculean strength of the superthin structure from which they're cut. Painted in a subtly sparkling mica-laced pale pink, the four walls are a marvel of engineering. Each comprises two 185-foot-tall steel sheets—manufactured in sections, welded together on-site, and installed barely 8 inches apart. With concrete poured between, the steel is strong enough to support nine stories.
In a rare reversal of roles, hiring Toyo Ito was partly the choice of the project's interior designer, the dexterous and astute Ichiro Nishiwaki, who has a close relationship with Mikimoto. His firm, Nishiwaki Design, first proved itself with a boutique in Osaka. Exceptional sales figures there ensured that Nishiwaki would top Mikimoto's list for its next retail endeavor.
While aware of the honor of designing the interior of an Ito building, Nishiwaki sought finishes and details that would clearly be his own. His subtle moves seem to evade the power of the windows, preventing them from overwhelming the pearl-studded goods for sale. "I constructed an interior framework without being conscious of the architecture," Nishiwaki offers.
Because Ito's 24,000-square-foot building contains a four-story spiraling staircase, Nishiwaki had to figure out how to guide clients visually from level to level. He drew attention to the soaring stairwell by hanging 60-foot lengths of crystal-studded chain through the center of the stairs, forming a shimmering column. As if that weren't dramatic enough, he installed three large pendant fixtures inside the tube—suspended from cables, the fixtures slowly glide up and down between floors. The motion adds a touch of playfulness to what would otherwise be a mere way-finding device.
The stair installation is typical Nishiwaki, bringing together delicate parts to form a robust whole. And the dichotomy serves Mikimoto well. "Most of the jewelry and other goods sold here are very small, incredibly dainty," he points out. "So I made sure that the backdrop would really announce their presence."
In recent years, cities in Japan have seen a flood of deliberately eccentric interiors. Among the truly out-there is Loveless, a dungeonlike Tokyo store with a mezzanine bar. In Osaka's Neil Barrett boutique, antique-looking belts and pulleys pull mannequins around the plain white room.
Inside Ito's idiosyncratic structure, however, Nishiwaki strove for restraint. Jewelry, after all, is hardly the exclusive preserve of the young. By steering clear of the ostentatiously avant-garde, Nishiwaki found a way to appeal both to forward-looking juniors, checking out hoop earrings with black South Sea cultured pearls, and to the well heeled older client, shopping for a classic white Akoya pearl ropes and brooches.