Kengo Kuma’s office has recently completed a project in the Asakusa district of Tokyo that acts as a gathering space for both tourists and local people interested in the culture of this unique district. As a former resident of San Francisco, where locals often prefer to keep a safe distance from anything that could be understood as a touristic center, this project manages to merge services for locals and tourists under one roof in a way that feels very normal and humane. Referred to as the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, the eight-story building rises above most of the surrounding rooftops in an area where the city tries to preserve what little is left of the feeling of Edo period Tokyo. Somehow though, this building manages to stand tall in a way that has the feeling of a bunch of neighborhood kids scrambling together to make a human pyramid for fun, rather than the self-important new comer that you might be expecting.
The first floor space is bustling with the activity of questions, answers and explanations being given to where is what, when is that, would you like to try this? The lobby opens up to a calmer space at the 2nd level that has a convenient long wooden counter to rest your elbows and take in the activity on the street below. Free wi-fi and power outlets to recharge phones give you a chance to figure out where you are or where you want to go and check your email.
Each progressive floor takes on the shape of a house of its own as they stack vertically. Walking up through the building its clear that the project had to keep to a tight budget, but I appreciated the effort that was put into making the most of simple, affordable materials. There are spaces for exhibitions, movie screenings, community classes and meetings and on the roof level a viewing deck and a small cafe.
Accessible and free of charge, the roof deck is a great place to take in the views of Tokyo that always amaze me as they extend out in every direction as far you can see. A refreshing alternative to some of the glitzier venues that charge for access to city views and are often over crowded. I think this project captures a more human side of our role as architects in designing buildings that can serve a community in a positive way.