As my visit to Japan winds down, I board a Rinkai Line subway headed to the Tokyo waterfront. Things get interesting when the train breaks the surface.
Even though it’s an overcast day headed toward dusk, the Tokyo Big Sight catches my eye.
A Sci-Fi Landmark in a Sci-Fi City
As the train zips past, I have no idea what it is. But I aim my Pentax and hope for some luck. It makes me think of a collision between Jawa sandcrawlers from Star Wars. During my post-trip research, I find out it’s part of a convention center.
I love this crazy thing. It doesn’t look like anything around it. It wouldn’t look out-of-place orbiting Vulcan. Is it functional? I have no idea.
Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for pyramids – here in the Phoenix area, I am nuts about Tempe City Hall and the Capstone Cathedral. Give me four pyramids – upside down! – and my eyes won’t move from the thing.
I’ll admit that I had no idea of the building’s purpose. The Tokyo Big Sight could’ve been anything – telecommunications center, uber-health club, Rubik’s cube manufacturing plant, theme park, habitat for giant hamsters. I felt a twinge of disappointment that it’s a convention center, which I associate with all sorts of things un-fun.
To my eye, Tokyo is a sci-fi city. And the Tokyo Big Sight … yes, it’s even more sci-fi than its surroundings. I had a blast looking at it, and I desperately wanted to wander around in it. If only I’d had time.
But I could tell this was also a polarizing example of convention center architecture. I asked someone with some actual architecture knowledge beyond “It looks cool” for some thoughts. Here’s what Nichole from ArchitectureTravelWriter.com has to say about it:
Madonna’s Cone Bra Rendered Large
Tokyo Big Sight leaves me feeling like I did when visiting contemporary buildings in China: disappointed, if not repulsed. The eight-story structure is one of several buildings within Japan’s largest convention center and contains space enough for 1,000 visitors plus a reception room. Where shall I begin to expose its flaws?
What makes this edifice different from those designed by the growth-spooged Chinese buildings is the symmetry (Wandering Justin’s note: Nichole is the first person to use the word “spooged” in a post at this site. Congrats!). Symmetry in architecture, around most of the world, is as natural as four walls. When applied in the East we come to recognize the importance of discipline. They either trade symmetry in favor of grandiose (read oversized) scale or reveal an obligatory attitude toward it by eschewing context. The result often translates as being unsure if you’re looking at a library, a government building, or a museum. This egregiousness disregard for rules doesn’t mean they’re shifting the paradigm of architecture. (Leave that the Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry and Netherlands-based LAM architects.) It just makes for projects that have the elegant sophistication of Madonna’s cone bra of the early 90s.
Many architects ruin projects by neglecting to relate ensure a building to its milieu. For instance, notice that this building seems to have been plopped down from the sky. The designers could have diminished that glaring problem and addressed another by altering picture-center’s composition.
Placing a few increasingly wider outdoor terraces or glass-roofed verandas upon every other story would gently lead the eye from the tall, blunt façade to aesthetically stepped levels that approach the ground and end in a landscape designer’s work.
Allow me to point out two more problems. The placement of the elevator at the picture-left entrance adds grace to the composition like a baseball bat to your face. It sadly brings to mind an elevator placement of real success: the Centre Pompidou.
The gold façade is brash. The last time brashness worked Mae West appeared on the silver screen.
From perfunctory to obligatory and brash to demonstrative, the Tokyo Big Sight convention center fails to satisfy.
Nichole L. Reber has been writing about architecture, interior design, urban planning, and sustainability for international publications since 2003.Catch her blog at ArchitectureTravelWriter.