Urban dwellers are accustomed to seeing plywood fences go up around construction sites. Accretions of graffiti and wheat-pasted posters tell the story of how long such buildings-to-be have gestated. In rare cases, however, the barrier is elevated to art. Designed by Klein Dytham Architecture, the 622-foot-long Green Green Screen runs the full length of Omotesando—Tokyo’s small version of the Champs Elysée—and masks the redevelopment of the all-concrete Doujunkai Apartments, the much-loved 75-year-old landmark that was razed to make way for a mixed-use complex designed by Tadao Ando.
Klein Dytham designed the construction wall to hold slotted felt pockets in which 13 different types of evergreen ivy, plants, and grass will mature over the project’s duration. These vertical strips of foliage, interspersed with eye-popping computer-generated patterns and carefully placed advertising posters, form a variegated effect that is similar to a barcode. A large-scale site plan of the new complex as well as detailed information about neighborhood stores, restaurants, and other points of interest add utility to visual sport. “It’s a very playful and Pop integration of graphics and greenery,” said Gabellini.
Jurors loved that the architects created a living system out of something as pedestrian as a construction wall. Perhaps inevitably, they compared the Green Green Screen’s upbeat and sophisticated appearance with the somber chain-link fence that surrounds the World Trade Center site in New York, which was also entered in this year’s competition (see p. 134). Most impressive to them was that the project was commissioned in the first place. “Developers in the U.S. think the whole purpose of a construction fence is to keep the public out and to provide some bare minimum of safety,” noted Berke. “To elevate it into something of beauty that can inform and entertain the public is exactly what should be happening as part of the development process.”
Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, both graduates of the Royal College of Art in London, established Klein Dytham Archicture in Tokyo in 1991. In addition to architecture, the firm specializes in interior and furniture design. In 2000, Klein Dytham was honored with the “Emerging Practice of the Year” award by Architectural Review magazine.
Q+A with Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham
Klein Dytham Architecture
How was your firm selected for this project?
The screen was a private commission; we have designed several projects for Mori Building, most recently the Mori Art Museum Cafe at the new Roppongi Hills complex.
What inspired the design concept?
The screen will be there for three years, so we were looking for something that would react to the changing seasons and weather, and would improve over time, not deteriorate. The site had been the home to the Dojunkai Apartments, which were built in the 1930s. Over the years, the apartments had become covered in ivy and creepers and formed a wonderful green oasis in the middle of Tokyo. This was certainly one of our cues. Mori Building was another cue. Mori in Japanese means forest, and the whole company has a very green ethic. On top of all this is the Omotesando. The street is lined with wonderful plane trees and, opposite our Green Green Screen, the flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, and Burberry. A standard construction fence would have destroyed the street’s image.
Did the design evolve much before it was finally constructed?
Not much. We decided to have a bar code pattern of real greenery and graphic greenery early on in the design, as we felt that an all-green hedge would be too heavy and prohibitively expensive. We always knew that when the greenery filled out, the wall, when seen obliquely, would appear like a continous hedge.
What were the challenges of executing the design?
The main challenge was to find a simple way to water it without resorting to spraying from the front, which the Tokyo authorities would not allow. The plants are in felt cups that make contact with a thin felt backing panel. Water is dribbled in from the top of each panel to moisten the backing felt. The front felt panel then absorbs this moisture, keeping the roots of the plants well watered. There was also a need to make the living part of the fence lightweight. Earth panels would have required a very heavy, and expensive, support system to be constructed. The felt paneling allows for a fairly light construction, meaning costs were kept down.
How does the screen relate to the surrounding context in terms of materials, scale, and interaction with pedestrians?
It relates very well to the plane trees lining the street. People, especially children, are fascinated by it, touching and stroking the grass and plants. The scale of the plants and graphics works very well at walking speed. In the heat of the summer, the planting naturally makes the adjacent pavement a cool place to be. There are 13 different types of evergreen plants and we were conscious to select some plants that produced nice aromas, such as mint and rosemary.
Do you envision using this design in other applications, or developing it further?
We will definitely develop the idea in future projects—it has been a really good case study and the plants continue to thrive. It is going to be a shame when we have to cut them down to make way for Tadao Ando’s finished building. Wonder if he would mind if we leave them there.
Mori Building Co., Ltd., Tokyo
Klein Dytham Architecture, Tokyo: Mark Dytham, Astrid Klein, Keisuke Inatsugu; superfuture, Tokyo (area maps); Namaiki, Tokyo (graphics)
Ivy, tamaryu, plectranthus, binka majoru, pumira, wire plants, blue grass, selaginella uncinata, pacoba, rosemary, steel pipe, aluminum panel, water supply pipe, felt, soil