Thursday, January 22, 2004

Even more on Tokyo

People who have not already read the post below this one may want to read it first. Such is the joy of blog postings being in reverse chronological order.

Brian Micklethwait has some comments on the Landmark Tower in Yokohama, which are themselves a follow up to a conversation and e-mail exchange that I had with him a couple of days ago. (This post is an expanded version of a comment I left after Brian's post).

An interesting thing about Tokyo is that although it is a city on the water, the buildings of the original city center look towards the Imperial Palace rather than the water, which is why most visitors to Tokyo practically don't see Tokyo Bay. Lost in Translation is set mostly in Shinjuku, which was built in the 1970s as an alternate city centre to take pressure off the original city centre near the palace, and which is further inland. ("1970s" might be the reason why the skyskrapers in Shinjuku look a little lacklustre to Brian. I have to say that I have been there on a number of occasions and I cannot think of one building that is memorable enough to make me think of it now). There are some interesting recent developments on reclaimed land on islands in Tokyo bay, but they tend to be aimed at Japanese people and not to be the first places tourists visit, and in any event they aren't really high rise, being more in the nature of three floor shopping malls full of posh shops and with authentic looking Italian Renaissance murals on the ceiling. (Interestingly enough though, the second largest passenger wheel in the world - the largest when it was built a couple of years before the one in London - is on one of these islands, and going on it gives a great view of Tokyo).

Yokohama is for all practical purposes part of Tokyo, although it is and has always been a separate city in a political sense. Unlike Tokyo itself, it has always been very explicitly a port - you will sometimes hear the city referred to the city as the "Port of Yokahama". (Yokohama has the best Chinatown in Japan, amongst other things). Like most ports, its traditional docks have provided a place for redevelopment after traditional shipping has gone into decline and container shipping has had to move to places where the scale of the location is bigger. So in a sense, Yokohama has provided a location for the development of another urban centre the way that Shinjuku did in the 1970s, and you have the whole area of redevelopment that you see in Brian's picture, including the Landmark Tower. (It is also no coincidence that the final of the football World Cup in 2002 was held in Yokahama and not in Tokyo proper. There was room to build a suitable stadium in Yokohama, but finding space in Tokyo would have been hard).

The development at Yokohama is 20 years younger than that at Shinjuku, and I think the quality of architecture in towers was much better in 1993 than in 1973. This shows. Also, Yokohama is a city by the water in a way that Tokyo isn't and I think this adds to the architecture. (It certainly does in the photo). I think the quality of architecture in towers today is significantly better than it was in 1993, which is why it is probably a good thing that London has held off until now on the tower front. We are actually going to get them in an era when the quality of the architecture was good and after the era of ghastly architecture has passed. New York and Chicago got many great art deco masterpieces, and then architecture went to pot for 30 years. Now I think it is good again. The great thing about London is that it is such a famous and important city that projects here will be very prestigious due to their location. And I think that means better buildings.

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