Nacasa & Partners

Column > Column Vol.04

Takeshi Nakasa with leading figures #2
Takeshi Nakasa
Representative Director of Nacása & Partners
Shoji Hayashi
Architect, Honorary advisor of Nikken Sekkei Limited

Well, the conversation is getting a bit edgy here. (Nakasa)
Unless it's edgy, the conversation would be boring. (Hayashi)

With 50 years of architectural practice, Mr. Shoji Hayashi, an honorary advisor of Nikken Sekkei Limited, overlooks the current Japanese architectural world and society. He is a rare kind of architect -- being an employee of one of the major architectural design firms in Japan for most of his career, and yet, he managed to maintain his creativity as an individual and identity, so-called a manner as a human being. He is also known for an opinionated person, having very sharp and sometimes, tough messages to the public.

On the other hand, there is Mr. Takeshi Nakasa, who has been observing the same structures from an architectural photographer's perspective. He has been waiting for this opportunity – to have a chat with Mr. Hayashi. He grabbed a copy of Mr. Hayashi's latest published work, "Architect, Shoji Hayashi Poisonous Book" and headed to his residence. (January, 2007)

Energy of a city

Poisonous Person The Final Big Project

藤巻幸夫Shoji Hayashi
Honorary advisor, Nikken Sekkei Ltd.

Born in Tokyo in 1928. After graduating from the Department of Architecture at Tokyo Institute of Technology, he joined Nikken Sekkei Limited, one of the major architectural design firms in Japan. After 50 years of the service at Nikken Sekkei, he retired in 2004.
His main works include Kakegawa City Hall, San-ai Dream Center, Palace Side Building, Pola Gotanda Building, Shinjuku NS Building, and Pola Museum of Art.
His literary works include "How to fail in architecture," "Designing the 22nd century", and the latest work "Architect, Shoji Hayashi Poisonous book."<*2>
His wife (deceased) is Ms. Masako Hayashi, a famous residential designer.

Title: Architect, Shoji Hayashi Poisonous Book
Author: Shoji Hayashi
Publisher: Shin-Kenchikusha
Price: 3,200 JPY (before tax)

Energy of a city

photoNakasa: It's been a while since I've met you before. I've just got back from an energetic city, Shanghai. So I'm a bit hyped up.

Hayashi: Shanghai has to be really exciting and stimulating now.

Nakasa: Right. It's true that the city is massive in size, but…how should I put it…Shanghai's current architecture is not the same architecture we recognize.

Hayashi: I get a feeling that this mysterious energy is wriggling in the city and our sense is being distorted by it. I've done a number of Shanghai projects at Nikken Sekkei, and I‘ve had tough times. When we point out, "This is a strange way to do it." with the Japanese standard, the locals say, "But if we don't do this, it's going to be boring." I guess the situation will be matured within some decades or so. Right now, it's a nutty city now.

Nakasa: Right. When the summit was held the city was launching excessive fireworks from between the tall buildings and the TV tower. How can I express it without a word, "nutty!" Even the searchlight the city had put out. I was nervous to calculate how many days worth of electricity was used for it.

Hayashi: Since they are building Three George Dam now, the energy supply won't be a problem.

Nakasa: Right!

Hayashi: Everything they do is in such a huge scale. With this momentum, I'm sure there're some intelligent guys as well. I'm a bit concerned about the Japanese architects who have been working in China. I'm wondering if they can function properly once they get back to Japan.

Nakasa: Speaking of the Shanghai's architectural trend, the biggest focus now is Mori Building's skyscraper, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects (KPF).

Shanghai Hills World Financial Center
A 101-story, or 492 meters, skyscraper, currently under construction in Pudong Area of Shanghai. A shopping mall, hotel (Hyatt Hotel and Resorts Group), and office will be allocated. The total project cost is expected to be 105 billion yen. The project will complete in 2008 and Mori Building, the project developer, says, "This construction will be the initiator for Shanghai to become the Asia's financial hub."


Hayashi: It's true that the representation of a trend is reflected on architecture as well. In some way, it is a poison, hidden in architecture. The World Trade Center had a potential of such a thing.

Nakasa: Your book, "Shoji Hayashi Poisonous Book" states, "9.11 was an incident that forcibly denied what I studied, architecture and aero technology."

"The collapse of The World Trade Center is the first collision accident of a jet liner and a skyscraper. In the early days, I was aspired to become an aero technology engineer and later, an architect, which I've been doing for my entire life. The accident denied my whole life. From a different perspective, a jet liner and a skyscraper could not have existed without a natural resource, called oil, so it was also an incident that denied the past 100 years of an oil-driven civilization. We came to the point where we must decide which way we are going to head to." --From Shoji Hayashi Poisonous Book

Hayashi: You're right. I really don't know what to do with my identity if both of them die.

photoNakasa: How do you see Tokyo as a city? From a cultural perspective, it's quite interesting and at the same time, the city's structure is inherited from air raids during the war. It seems that the city has no axis. Even the Supreme Court is strangely massive and the rest of the remaining buildings have already lost the purpose of their existence.

Hayashi: The era of architecture is no longer valid. Creating architecture like the Supreme Court won't surprise anyone now. It actually symbolizes trial's unfairness even further.

Nakasa: Realistically speaking, is there any way to transform this neighborhood into a fascinating one?

Hayashi: It's quite doubtful. I studied a lot about it, but in Japan, not many things work out in long-term basis. When it comes to an urban development people tend to think about it in a long-term, but once its proposal, or report is complete, the entire project finishes.

Nakasa: For instance, Paris. Paris has been carrying over the environment of 19th century to this date. Stress, generated by suppressed energy in the city, is reflected to its urban planning, which is good. But in Tokyo, energy does not accumulate. Rather, it diffuses.

Hayashi: I wonder if Tokyo itself has energy at the first place.

Nakasa: Really? That'll be a problem.

Hayashi: There is no energy to be accumulated. Everyone is like, "Let's consume as soon as possible, and live in hurry." I wonder if this is going to do any good.

Nakasa: When seeing architects from Kyoto, I can notice that they have been suppressed. And therefore, everything is over reactive.

Hayashi: Yes. They tend to be reactive.

Nakasa: It's like Coop Himmelblau in Vienna. Kyoto is a city where such architecture can be found. "It's quite good looking, but it's boring." Probably, many architects are feeling like this.

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Poisonous Person

Nakasa: Back to Shanghai's World Financial Center, designed by KPF. I wanted to ask you one thing. There is a hole on the 97th floor to 100th floor so wind can pass through. The hole's initial design was a circle, but it ended up becoming a trapezoid-like shape. The reason behind this change was that it looks like hinomaru (or the Japanese flag, which its design contains a red circle) is looking over the city of Shanghai, and some people said that it's not impressive.


Hayashi: That's a strange thing to hear.

Nakasa: Connecting the shape of a circle and rectangular, or abstract forms, with the Japanese flag's design -- I think it's a strange argument. It's not that the building is white colored and the circle is painted with red.

Hayashi: I think the officials are always scared of something. If so, why don't they make the sun to a rectangular shape?

Nakasa: When I heard this story, I remembered the story on the Place Side Building, which you designed. When you look down a canopy of a car entrance from the top, you could see a red circle on a white background. And the room directly above the structure happened to be the CEO of the Reader's Digest. Was it really hinomaru, the design of the Japanese flag?

Hayashi: That's correct. In this room, General Thompson, who build his fame during the World War 2 also came over. He must have been surprised. But no one told me to change the design to a rectangular shape.

Nakasa: What about the Pola Museum of Art, which you were in charge of? Was there any instruction like, "No circle shapes?"

Hayashi: Yes. There was one from the Environmental Agency.

Nakasa: Why does restrictions on the shape exist?

Hayashi: There is a regulation, which is enacted many years ago. It says, "A building to be built in the National Park must have a triangular-shape ceiling with dark green and brown colors." It simply states not to create a strange looking ceiling. It is a bit interesting that such a regulation is still valid now.



Nakasa: I really wanted to hear your outspoken opinions. I still remember your comment, which had so much impact on me. It was about a decade ago. When you won the Chubu Architecture Award you said, "It's nice that by copying off someone's work, I can still win the award." I thought this comment contains so much meaning to it. (Of course if they are words, spoken by an architect, it contains homage and quotations.)

Hayashi: Is that so.

Nakasa: Even Chouhachi Museum of Art in Izu. This is a museum, which has a collection of shikkui kotee, Japanese traditional plaster-made painting, by Chouhachi Irie, a skillful plasterer. The museum's design concept is based on the craftsmanship of plasters' spirit. But you commented that it's strange to have cracks right after the opening of the museum. I was really amazed that you have guts to say such a thing.

Hayashi: You know that I'm a person with a poison.

Nakasa: After reading through your book, I can understand the essence of your poison. One thing, which lies as the bedrock is, "A manner as a human being."

By the way, you also mention about the abduction of Kim Dae-jung in 1973. This year, the Korean government finally admitted that they were involved with the incident. Japanese government is pretty much the same. Even though there's a fact that North Koreans abducted Japanese citizens, they don't do much about it. It's scary to see that.

When I have a spare time and the weather is good I usually spend my time at the terrace. Reading a Japanese textbook from the early Showa era. That's the way to spend my time.

Hayashi: Japan is a country that doesn't help their citizens, just like what happened in Manchuria and Okinawa in the past. The government is not taking a responsibility of their citizens, so it's an extremely dangerous to be here. You need to be prepared.

Nakasa: On the architecture related news, a fall of a passenger deck in Toki Messe in Niigata Prefecture in 2003 was a scary incident. When the accident occurred Man Gyong Bong, a North Korean ship, was there and the press was gathering in the area.

Hayashi: That was a critical incident. If someone were walking the deck then, many people would have said that it's a conspiracy by the Japanese government, and they might have launched the Taepodong missile. It was really scary to me.

Nakasa: I wonder the Taepodong missile is going to be OK...

Hayashi: Even a huge canon, the first shot won't hit. Based on the experience from the first shot, second shot will be more accurate.

Nakasa: Once it's launched, we can't do anything about it... Well, the conversation is getting a bit edgy here.

Hayashi: Unless it's edgy, the conversation would be boring.


*This talk session was held in July 2006, a month before the Taepodong missile launch by North Korea.

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The Final Big Project

photoNakasa: Back in the old days, there was a moment, which I was getting hooked into the architectural photography. The thing, which turned out to be a momentum to think myself, "Architectural photography is my specialty," was a comment by Mr. Mukai, Interior Design Department of Nikken Sekkei. It was... I think it was the headquarter of Mitsui & Co., Ltd. With a help of the employee, I managed to sneak into the headquarter and had a photo shoot. When Mr. Mukai saw the developed image, he simply said, "It looks like an arbeit salon." Meaning, the nature of the image implies that it is a like a sexual service-related shop. "Bluishness of a mercury lamp is remaining on the image. You've got to try harder." Mr. Mukai said. I was really excited with his comment. What do I have to do to eliminate it? I had many trial-and-error and, it was my mission to take a photo that suits the environment's lightening and tone.

Hayashi: I didn't know such a thing had happened. Mr. Mukai is someone with dexterity.

Nakasa: My impression is, Nikken Sekkei is becoming stronger politically, and overwhelming the industry.

Hayashi: I don't think that's the case.

Nakasa:The fact is, wherever you go, Osaka, or Nagoya, Nikken Sekkei is all over.

Hayashi: Yes... In some way, it might be true.

Nakasa: From a younger generation of architect from Nikken Sekkei, I like the work of Mr. Tomohiko Yamanashi. In fact, I love it. From the same generation, I'm also looking into Mr. Satoshi Kuwahara and Mr. Akira Hikone. But from Nikkei Sekkei, it's got to be Mr. Yamanashi.

Hayashi: He's a wonderful guy. He was not brought up from an architect family so his design is simple and clear.

Nakasa: He seems to have no strong influence from a particular architect in a good way.

Mr. Hayashi, drinking Fuji Mineral Water, one of his favorite drinks, with his favorite glass. "It looks good, isn't it? I also drink coffee and soup with it. But I must admit that Miso-soup is not suitable."

Hayashi: That's right. Something like that.

Nakasa: One of Mr. Yamanashi's designs, Toho Orchestra Academy (which won the Chubu Architect Award) is really good. If the building was surrounded with green spaces, it could have looked even better.

Hayashi: It'll be great if there's such a work opportunity, but it rarely happens.

Nakasa: But you did it with the Pola Museum of Art. You did a great piece of work to finish up your career.

Hayashi: For the Pola Museum of Art, it took 10 years to accomplish what I wanted. It turned to be something that I wanted to achieve, but by then, I was exhausted. I thought I won't be able to complete the project while I'm alive, so I was considering an alternative method. But fortunately, I worked for a big company so I didn't have to worry about the successor.

Nakasa: But the CEO of Pola must have put so much faith on you. So surely, it was actually difficult to say that.

Hayashi: Yes. That's really important and I needed to consider that. But the CEO had passed away before its completion. This project was fateful in many perspectives.

Nakasa: One of his siblings became the following CEO.

Hayashi: Yes. He's a very interesting man. He used be a designer for HONDA and he was involved with the design of NSX.

Nakasa: Oh, I remembered one thing. What happened to your NSX? I didn't see it in your garage today.

Hayashi: I gave it to someone. From the initiate stage, the Pola Museum of Art project took a decade, and even my NSX was a decade old.

Nakasa: You gave it to someone! Wow....... I have a strong impression on you relating to NSX. That's when you and your wife drove over to Kinokuniya Supermarket in Aoyama with your NSX. I was like, "This is how this car should be ridden!"

Hayashi: A thing like that happened... I can tell you that NSX is something that is not appropriate to drive to a supermarket.

Nakasa: That was the first time I saw you with your wife. I have to admit you were really feeling good.

Hayashi: Oh really? That must have been 7 or 8 years ago.

Nakasa: Back to the work related subject. After seeing the Pola Museum of Art project, it made me think about the defying moment of the completion of a project. As a professional, you have to draw a line and define what and when is complete. That's solely your judgment.

Hayashi: Right. After becoming pretty old and having done many big projects, people may say, "You're great. You're perpetually active and professional." I feel a bit strange with that. Some people may feel that you're respected with such a remark. When you are exposed to this kind of environment you become... what is it... your senses begin wearing out.

Since you came over, why don't we open a bottle of wine?

Nakasa: Even when there's an objection, some people might say, "Do you recognize who I am?" and forcibly continue what he wants to achieve. That is what we call egoism. The work of architecture should be something, which takes in demands from a client. That's the first thing.

Hayashi: If you do that, and if you're able to create something fascinating -- that really is a good job. But I've never seen such a piece. It's important to have someone who asks for a job. If you are doing whatever you want, that's definitely an armature.

Nakasa: Nakamichi, who has been my colleague for the last 30 years, said this when he came over to Tokyo for the first time. "When you ride a Yamanote Line (a looped train line that runs the center Tokyo) for an entire journey, the Pola headquarter in Gotanda looked so white and beautiful, and I was feeling Tokyo." I, personally feel such a strong connection to your work.

Composition and Text: Nobuko Ohara(Nacasa & Partners)
English Translation: Hiroki Yanagisawa (Freelance editor)

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