Retail Tree House pix
Toyo Ito gives arboreal form to Tod's new Tokyo flagship
Masaaki Takahashi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
In the seething maze of Tokyo, Omotesando Avenue is one of the very few wide boulevards shaded by zelkova trees. For decades after the war, the street was practically deserted except for members of the occupying forces out for a stroll or on the hunt for souvenirs. Then in the 1970's, the thoroughfare began to metamorphose into a stylish shopping precinct, peppered with high-end stores, housing big names in global fashion.
In recent years, the avenue's swank factor has increased further as those famous brands have called on famous architectural firms to design head-turning buildings for them. Among the notable pairings are Louis Vuitton and Jun Aoki & Associates, Prada and Herzog & de Meuron, and Christian Dior and SANAA. Now Tod's, the Italian leather-goods company, has joined their glittering ranks with a flagship store designed by Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects.
Ito was confronted with an awkward, L-shape lot that skirted around an old building on a corner; in addition, the Omotesando Avenue frontage was particularly narrow. The conventional architectural response to these constraints would have been a store with an all-glass street facade sandwiched between solid sidewalls. However, Ito's seven-story structure, whose plan conforms precisely to the right-angle site, has a uniform exterior. Each of its six elevations consists of a cast-concrete exoskeleton—an angular, asymmetrical latticework of crisscrossing braces that looks like a giant, graphic abstraction of the zelkova trees on the street below.
Right from the start, Ito envisioned a building whose skin would be pierced with multiple openings, similar to the temporary pavilion he had created in 2002 for the Serpentine Gallery in London's Kensington Gardens. But in Tokyo, the edifice's filigree exterior is structural: a 1-foot-thick framework provides all the support for the concrete-slab floors. Initially, the 270-odd glazed openings were to be circular, which would have created a Swiss-cheese effect. It took Ito several weeks to hit ' upon the final design with its suggestion of interlocking trunks and branches, but once he did, it was unmistakably appropriate. During the day, the pattern of overlapping trees—nine in all—harmonizes with the adjacent zelkovas, anchoring the store to its surroundings. At night, with the lights on, the silhouetted superstructure transforms the whole building into a stylized forest.
Tod's CEO and founder, Diego Della Valle, and his wife, architect Barbara Pistilli, were instantly taken with Ito's tree motif. They saw in it the perfect architectural expression of the company's image as a user of natural materials.
The first three levels of the 27,450-square-foot flagship house boutiques; the remaining four floors are occupied by offices, an event space, a meeting room, showroom, and penthouse roof garden. With the exception of Zaha Hadid's sofas in the shopping areas, Ito designed every aspect of the building's interior. He selected the materials—which encompass maple, walnut, stucco, stainless steel, and travertine—most of which came from Italy. The leather appointments, of which there are many, were chosen by Tod's. Throughout, the sophisticated craftsmanship reflects the artisanal quality of Tod's leather goods.
Maple-veneer display shelves on the retail levels are mounted on walls covered in Tod's vachetta leather and finished with skin-textured varnish; each pair of shoes sits neatly on a small chrome mat. The concrete walls are faced with stucco antico, and the floors are travertine. Customers lounge on Hadid's free-form sofas covered in pony skin dyed a rich burgundy, the only note of intense color in an otherwise serene sea of white, beige, and tan. Further visual interest is created by groups of polygonal maple-and-glass display cases whose acute angles echo the geometric openings in the exterior walls, through which daylight streams from every direction. The dramatic travertine and stainless-steel staircases that connect the three shopping floors lend the lower interiors a sculptural beauty. And because there are no internal columns, the spaces exhibit a poetic fluidity.
Such intricate, flowing interiors are not necessarily what you would expect to find here, given the building's cleanly graphic exterior. But the easily read, abstract symbolism of the flagship's facade proves a good foil to the pleasing diversity behind it. "Though the pursuit of simplicity seems right in today's complex age, the idea that 'less is more' isn't enough," comments Ito. "A new abstract expression is needed—elaborate and rich in nuance."
Perhaps there's a parallel here with the multiple steps involved in manufacturing Tod's classically simple, beautifully detailed shoes. After all, the architect happens to own a pair.