Tod's Omotesando Building in Tokyo

Photo of Tod's Omotesando Building in Tokyo, Kanto
Photograph � Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporaiton
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Tod's Omotesando Building

5-1-15 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Japan
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In the 1990's luxury retailers worldwide were searching for new ways to promote their brands. Products placement was already common. Billboards and magazine ads were adequate, but couldn't overtly attract attention to themselves without diminishing the luxe of the brand. A few flirtations with television advertising proved that medium didn't deliver the right clientele. Eventually they realized something they had known all along -- that the product's packaging is sometimes as important as the product, itself. And when the product you're promoting is your brand, then your brand's packaging must be just as enticing as your products. Thus gave birth to the notion of luxutecture: exterior architectural design with the purpose of promoting a brand. Gucci, Prada, Burberry, and others embarked on mission to make sure their stores exterior look as good as the interior, and the products they sell.

Several prominent luxutecture buildings were already erected in Europe and Japan when Tod's opened its Omotesando store. But this store made quite a splash with its innovative design. At its heart, this is a glass curtain wall block with concrete and steel supporting members. But those members are arranged in a way that makes the building defy its own shape. Instead of the rigid right angles and mathematical curves of man-made architecture, Tod's Omotesando is braces with gentle sweeping curves and forks that emulate organic forms. The effect is particularly stunning in the colder months when the bare branches of nearby elm trees are reflected in the building. It mimics their graceful natural growth patterns. And, as luck would have it, there are several trees right outside the door that happen to lean the opposite direction as the building's majority superstructure, providing a mirror image of mother nature on man-made architecture.

One might expect to hear that since the shape of the building was derived from nature that it is naturally more resistant to earthquakes. That is not true. The unusually shaped windows fit very tightly into the branching concrete forms surrounding them, and could crack easily if the building sways too much. To prevent this, the structure rests on a shock-absorbing foundation, which is common in Japan.

The branching structures aren't merely a two-dimensional lattice on the exterior. They run through the inside, as well, serving as points of interest, section dividers, and even stairways of sometimes unusual gait. This creates numerous possibilities, but also some problems. Ceiling heights can be unpredictable as one moves toward the edges of the building. And in some places the floor is glass. It is assumed that the glass used is not strong enough to support pedestrian traffic, which is a shame, as it could have allowed the shoppers-cum-birds hopping through this building's tree branches to occasionally have the sensation of flight. Alas, these patches of glassy floor are barricaded by generic-looking metal fences.

The unity between exterior and interior form was possible because the same architect created both. Ordinarily, there is an architect for the building and another one for the interior. In this case, a single person was tasked with creating the building, and the result was worth the gamble.

Quick Facts
    > The building's top floor is reserved as a space for meetings and other events.
    > The building has 270 windows; 200 glass, 70 aluminum.
    > The building is best appreciated at night from the nearby pedestrian bridge crossing Omotesando.
    > The branching design is based on the Serpentine Gallery in London.
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  Tod's Boutique is fresh, different, irreverent and is a "rule-breaker". I assume the users will accept the short-comings with the positive aspects. However, this inspired me when I first saw it two years ago!

Jay Sweet - Monday, March 10th, 2008 @ 9:00pm