Why design buffs must visit Tokyo, ‘an architectural riddle of a city’

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Prada, Tokyo
Prada, Tokyo / © Scott Norsworthy

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Prada, Tokyo
Prada, Tokyo / © Scott Norsworthy

Walking along a quiet Tokyo lane lined with low-key apartments, I suddenly spot a sight as surreal as it is unexpected. A vast abstract jigsaw puzzle of thousands of crisscrossed wooden slats rises from the pavement – a cross between an oversized bird’s nest and an about-to-tumble game of Jenga.

Stepping inside the plant-filled interior is no less extraordinary. Fractured shafts of light illuminate countless angular timber slates interlocked with such stability that there is not a single nail. Even more surprising than the fact it hasn’t fallen down is its purpose: in true abstract Tokyo style, this contemporary space is not a modern art gallery or a company HQ: it’s a pineapple cake shop. Of course it is.

Such architectural inventiveness is currently being showcased at London’s Barbican Centre, in the exhibition The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945. Nowhere is it more evident than in Tokyo, an architectural riddle of a city. Just hearing the name of the Japanese megalopolis calls to mind instant images of cloud-brushing skyscrapers and flashing neon billboards. […]

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