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Roundtable with the architects Manabu Chiba, Manuel Tardits, Yoshiyuki Yamana

“In Tokyo there is no sense of celebration, but everything is functional and punctual” Y.Y.

Yoshiyuki Yamana : Jean Nouvel pointed out that he was very impressed by the city’s infrastructure and by the amount of information it pumped out. It is an amazing feeling of constant flux that is hardly apparent in Europe. There, one feels physically celebrated by the city, but not surrounded by information. In Tokyo, you can eat in a restaurant night and day, and be continuously bombarded by a mass of information that you cannot switch off. As architects, how do you materialise these stimuli in your work?

Manuel Tardits : First of all, there is the visible: signboards, screens, city planning, flux of transport, and so forth. To attempt to block this out as an architect is worthless. During the economic bubble (1985-1992), Tokyo’s architecture, with its hard physical shapes, competed with the expressive violence of the information. It often resulted in some strange looking places and buildings. Our generation, that started building at the beginning of the 90s, did not have to fight or get involved in this kind of debate. There is no need to oppose this invasion of information. What we are creating is more concentrated, more local, compared to this general overflowing of energy and meaning. We do, however, react within our own confined dimensions.

“An architecture of small dimensions almost becomes an object. The way we relate to it changes; it becomes part of our body. It is a sensation that one has while walking the streets of Tokyo” M.C.

Manabu Chiba: Being small is an important aspect for communication. One cannot feel the same way when surrounded by large housing blocks. The existence of small houses in Tokyo allows us to maintain a human scale. I also believe that the interspersing of small houses with large apartment buildings is a good thing. It corresponds with the various phases of one’s personal life. In the past, there were landlords who rented rooms in their own house and who later built apartments for rent. It is these kinds of development which gradually lead the city to change. Once built, a building rarely changes. It is for this very reason that one moves or changes the scenery adjusting the space to the different stages of one’s life. This movement of people is connected to the urban dynamic.

Manuel Tardits: One of Tokyo’s charms is the myriad of cafés, bars, and small, dingy eateries. Some are sordid, others luxurious, theatrical, designy, etc. Architects are always on the lookout for beautiful buildings. Still, there is always the preliminary question of how one defines beauty. What are the criteria? In Tokyo, this evaluation is made more difficult simply because buildings are ephemeral, and locales are incessantly in a state of flux. This trait often leaves a lasting impression.

“Milan, Paris, and London have a stable morphology. These cities hardly change, whereas Tokyo is constantly mutating. In the end, that’s where its beauty lies” M.T.


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