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The Japanese might be said to have elevated compactness into an art form (bonsai, origami, capsule hotels), but lack of buildable space is a perpetual and pressing issue. Such constraints do, however, continue to generate responses that, despite their often bizarre physicality, suggest alternative ways of engaging with and experiencing the city. Here, Tokyo-based architectural funsters Klein Dytham prove that they are never ones to shirk a challenge, even when confronted by the prospect of colonising a barely inhabitable sliver of land. Left over from successive developer and local authority machinations, the site, in the Moto-Azabu district, was still too valuable to waste.



The commission came from jewellery designer Masako Ban (wife of Shigeru Ban) who snapped up the tiny plot when it came up for rent. Known for her boldly contemporary pieces in silver, lacquer, acrylic and foam, Ban wanted a studio-cum-shop that reflected her penchant for strong, unconventional designs. The striking outcome is a building that is bonsai-sized, even by Japan's extreme standards, but which also adds a shot of graphic vigour to the urban realm.

Measuring 11m long and 2.5m wide (but tapering down to a mere 600mm), the main facade of the slim, two-storey wedge boldly fronts a busy road, rather like an advertising hoarding. To Klein Dytham, the relationship between the building and its surroundings seemed more like a piece of advertising than architecture, so rather than being an ultra small building, it became a large, inhabitable billboard.

This perceptual twist offered the potential to experiment with the facade which has been eagerly and inventively seized. Images of a bamboo grove are stencilled in white along the glass facade and the long back wall is painted green. By day, the bamboo graphic becomes an eye-catching and simple form of sun-shading; by night, green light dapples through the interior to create the seductive and slightly surreal optical illusion of a luminous bamboo plantation sprouting in the heart of one of the world's densest cities.

Photographs: Daici Ano
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Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
Previous Article:Diary.
Next Article:Great countries embrace the world.

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