Amelia Curran, Art Front Gallery, Festival of Flowers, Fram Kitagawa, Hunter Hunter album, Ichihara City Japan, Itabu Station, Kominato Railway Line, Mobile Alabama, Shinjuku-ku, Six Shooter Records, Suo Fujimoto, Taiwan Tower, Tokyo
As an “outside-the-box” thinker, the Japanese architect Suo Fujimoto takes some beating. His not-so-odd looking offices are in the Shinjuku-ku District of Central Tokyo, around the corner, so to speak, from our son’s flat.
Mr. Fujimoto’s use of vast spaces covered only in glass is unusual, to say the least. Consider this house in Tokyo.
When I saw this ‘box’, I was immediately reminded of lyrics written by the Canadian singer-songwriter, Amelia Curran:
There’s a crack in my memory, Where a funeral parade,
Rolls through the doorway, That my memory made,
A funeral marches, To its funeral sounds,
And tiny glass houses, Are all tumbling down
If you are not familiar with this, enjoy a listen:
(If this link doesn’t play, my apologies. Please copy this link or click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnwUJnGeQYM
The near-literal apex of Mr. Fujimoto’s creativity is his winning the contract to build the new truly 21st Century “Taiwan Tower”.
The rooftop oasis garden rises 300m (984.25 ft) above the ground.
The interior is utterly stunning.
How many of you share my sense of, shall we say, practicality, or is it the foretelling of doom?
Is this huge building essentially bullet-proof?
Does anyone else wonder about hail storms, typhoons, tsunamis, and etc?
Practicality schmackitality. Perhaps art overcomes all, or?
So, with the Taiwan Tower deal in one’s back pocket, one naturally has to turn to… the toilet? Join me in yet another “only in Japan” exercise.
Readers who are in or know someone in Mobile, Alabama, this is all about your Twin Town. After all, Mobile’s ‘Festival of Flowers’ is one of the largest in the Southeast. Next move, so to speak, to you, Mobile!
[Private outhouse: A rendering of a birds-eye view of Sou Fujimoto Architects’ 200-sq.-meter [Ed. Note: 239.2 sq.yds] toilet in Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture. ©SOU FUJIMOTO ARCHITECTS]
With ‘world’s largest public toilet’ Ichihara City ensures its nature doesn’t go down the pan
One of the things that visitors to Japan often notice is the abundance of, and usually well-maintained, public lavatories. You’ll find them in most convenience stores and stations, in department stores, book stores, parks and along shopping streets — in fact it’s unlikely you would be caught in the city with nowhere to “go.” In 2010, P-Vine publications even picked out 20 of the most stylish rest rooms in the capital for its guide book “Tokyo Toilet Map.”
So a new women’s public toilet opening in Chiba Prefecture’s Ichihara City shouldn’t be something to be surprised about — unless, that is, it sits in a transparent booth on a 200-sq.-meter plot of land.
Last month, Ichihara City officially opened what it called “the biggest public toilet in the world.” A grand gesture that is slightly misleading — it is in fact the largest plot of land for a single toilet — but nonetheless, it’s not to be sniffed at.
The toilet, which is conveniently located in front of Itabu Station on the Kominato Railway Line, is boxed in glass and sits smack in the middle of a spacious garden of potted flowers and plants. For privacy, and to fend off any peeping Toms, there is a two-meter-high fence surrounding the garden.
It’s a bold use of a lot of space, and that made it odd enough for the press to investigate: NHK ran a video report, as did Asahi on ANN News, while several national newspapers ran articles — not to mention all the blogs that redistributed the story.
Though its strangeness has had quite a few commentators focusing on the quirkiness of the project, with some criticizing it as a waste of space and funds — it cost around ¥10 million — not so many have looked into the “why?” behind it.
“There used to be no public toilets suitable for tourists’ use (here),” said an official from Ichihara City Tourism Promotion Department, who explained that Ichihara is an area that attracts a lot of sightseers in spring because of its abundance of natural beauty, which includes flourishing cherry trees and mustard fields.
The area might be beautiful, but the only toilets available for visitors were botton benjo, unattractive pit toilets that appeared old-fashioned and unclean. Those original pit toilets were installed for train passengers at Itabu Station. But with infrequent trains and the area still being popular, many visitors now come by car. “We wanted to create toilets that drivers and their passengers could use as well,” the official said.
But why make it so unusual? According to the official, it’s hoped that the toilet will become a tourist attraction for visitors to next year’s Ichihara City Art Festival, which is currently in its planning stages. The festival is a government-led initiative to improve the area through the “renovation of public facilities with the help of arts,” which they hope will attract more tourists and boost the region’s economy.
With all this in mind, a budget of ¥10 million [Ed. Note: £77,851, $124,783, €97,578] seems less bizarre for a single toilet, as does the choice of designer — Sou Fujimoto, a globally prominent figure who recently rocketed to international fame with his company’s winning proposal for the new Taiwan Tower, the “21st Century Oasis,” a startling design inspired by the banyan tree.
Fujimoto was recommended by Fram Kitagawa, art director of Art Front Gallery, the organization that Ichihara city entrusts with the management of its arts festival.
“I thought it would be quite interesting. Public lavatories are something both private and public, so designing them can be a very motivating challenge for architects,” explained Fujimoto in an email interview. “I was also enthusiastic about the fact that Itabu Station is surrounded by such wonderful wildlife. I thought it was a great opportunity to rethink the relationship between architecture and nature.”
That relationship with nature, however, is not yet fully realized. Most of the images that have been published in the media so far were taken on April 6, the day of the toilet’s official opening ceremony. The view of numerous plant pots laid out on the ground surrounding the loo led some onlookers to question the budget and design. But the area had only just completed its first stage of construction, and the soil has yet to settle properly. Since nothing could be planted, the pots were in fact ad hoc improvisation for the opening. The city assures everyone that in the future, the garden will resemble Fujimoto’s original concept — a wild grassland area with trees lining the fence.
The fact that the toilet is only for women, which city officials say is simply to keep the number of users and queues manageable, may also change.
“I’m hoping to discuss with the city making the toilet open to both women and men in the future,” said Fujimoto. “As an architect, I’d rather prefer the toilet was used by everyone, regardless of sex. That would enable more people to share the experience.”
In the meantime, Fujimoto has designed another toilet, which is adjacent to the garden and available for both men and women to use.
The architect himself hasn’t actually used the glass-encased toilet, though he did sit on it its basin at the opening ceremony. “I could enjoy the spectacular view while still feeling protected,” he said. “No other toilet would allow you a feeling like that.”
So how many have shared that experience so far?
“We often glimpse visitors peeking inside the yard (through the door) and sometimes going in to use the toilet. We don’t know any exact numbers,” said the city official. “But the rolls of toilet paper we installed have definitely been steadily decreasing.”
The ‘in-the-garden’ experience looks like this:
As I said, ‘only in Japan’!
Mr. Sou Fujimoto http://www.sou-fujimoto.net/
Mr. Tomohiro Osaki, Staff writer, The Japan Times, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fs20120515a4.html
For more information about Ichihara City, visit www.city.ichihara.chiba.jp/070keizai/kankou/itabu-toilet.html
For (hilarious) information about the Tokyo Toilet Map, see http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~AD8Y-HYS/index_e.htm
For information on Mobile’s Festival of Flowers, please copy this link or click here, Mobile Festival of Flowers
Amelia Curran’s album “Hunter, Hunter” album is on Six Shooter Records, ASIN: B002K8EPFQ and is available on Amazon.com Please copy this link or click here: Amelia Curran’s “Hunter Hunter” album