Since 1991, San Francisco-native Jeanie Fuji has acted as the traditional Japanese okami (land lady or female inn keeper) of the Fujiya Ryokan (traditional wooden inn) in the Ginzan Onsen (hot springs) area.
That year, she married Fuji Atsushi, the son and heir of the 350-year-old inn and started her rigorous training under her mother-in-law in the art of serving customers, true Japanese style. This included preparing all meals, washing the dishes and cleaning all rooms. The goal was to make sure every need of every customer was anticipated and met following the age-old inn tradition of providing the right amount of service at the right time.
Fuji describes the types of things she had to learn. ï¿½Sliding a fusuma door open and shut, greeting guests, bringing them meals on small o-zen tables... everything has to be done a certain way, following the old traditions. And I had to learn how to talk with the guests using polite, formal Japanese. I often wanted to give up and go home to the United States. But now I love my work here,ï¿½ she says in a Japanese publication.
By the time she had a good decade of experience behind her, Fuji had gained a celebrity okami status that she modestly and reluctantly dismisses. By 2004, she and her husband hired Tokyo-based celebrity architect Kengo Kuma to raise the personal service of the inn to even higher level. Kuma overtook a complete remodelling of the inn that reopened in July 2006. Kuma is behind many well-known buildings, including the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey headquarters in Tokyo.
The capacity of the thoroughly wooden, three-story Fujiya Inn was reduced to only eight rooms with full capacity at 16 persons. Considering the location of the inn, right in the middle of a relatively remote rural area known for its hot springs and natural beauty, the level of luxury in the inn is astonishing.
Kuma has been able to combine traditional Japanese simplicity with international tastes and needs, yet avoided the dumbed-down, westernized version of Japanese style. In fact, Fuji has written an autobiography on this subject Nipponjin ni wa, Nihon ga Tarinai (Japanese people are not Japanese enough), in which she emphasizes that it is important for modern Japanese to recognize and re-claim the value of their own millennia-old customs and history.
At Fujiya Inn, you feel that you are part of an ancient, authentic and almost organic history that seems to be seeping through every seam and screen here. Many aspects contribute to this effect. One is Kumaï¿½s brilliant use of layers, screens as thin as veils, to both hide and reveal space. The omnipresent samushiko bamboo screens by craft master Hideo Nakata (no, heï¿½s not the horror-movie director) and his son required 1.2 million four-millimetre-wide strips of bamboo. Green stained-glass panes by Masato Shida and the prolific use of the handmade, richly textured Echizen Japanese paper add to the feeling of lightness and transparency.
The organic, natural quotient of the inn is also boosted by the baths and the hand-prepared, fresh food. The inn has five beautiful private hot springs baths including an open-air bath on the top floor. The food is based on a regular washoku (Japanese cuisine) menu and features many edible plants and other local ingredients. Fujiï¿½s favourites include the sansai, mountain vegetables, including kogomi (ostrich fern fiddleheads) and urui (plantain lily petioles.) The only exception to this local-only rule is Cafe Wisteria (English for fuji), open only in the summer months, and offering international coffees and cakes.
To get to the Fujiya Inn, take the 3.5-hour trip on the Yamagata Bullet Train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo and then get a bus to the hot springs. Or fly from Tokyo to the Yamagata airport and arrange for a pick up by the inn. By Tuija Seipell
In an attempt to revolutionise the process of car design, David Hilton, founder of Motorcity Europe, along with C2P Automotive, created the MC1 Supercar in just three months. Hilton, who spent much of the formative part of his career working for Ford, believes the MC1 will be production-ready by 2011, if he finds the right client. Presently, the mid-engine, V10-powered supercar has no set identity or branding. Weï¿½re willing to bet a recognisable logo will soon sit neatly within its grill.
By quickly translating computer-based design into engineering, Motorcity Europe achieved a radically different approach to supercar design in regard to its proportions and manufacturing processes. While certain aspects of the exterior appear entirely futuristic from nearly every angle, the MC1 looks like one of those cars we always dreamed we could afford. Fortunately, all anyone can see right now is the outside - the interior will be ready this spring. By Andrew J Wiener
A house attic does not evoke images of style and chic design. Rather, we find ourselves thinking of dark, cobweb-infested, damp and dreary crawl spaces. We think of attics as leftover space under the roof where we abandon unwanted stuff - outdated clothing, old books, grandma's hat boxes, grandpa's hunting gear, coin collections and bags of seashells from that long-ago beach holiday.
But as space in our urban areas is at a premium - not a square metre can go to waste. Architects and designers are starting to see the potential of this extra space, and offer solutions that meet the needs of the most demanding style freaks. Sunlight, additional rooms, extra bathrooms - it is all possible in the attic. Starchitects around the world have made dramatic rooflines trendy, so we can all give up on our visions of the embarrassing drywalled and pine-paneled disasters that attics tended to morph into, every time we tried to make them livable.
Within very few square metres, designers are finding space for sleeping, cooking and eating, and using the sloping rooflines to create impressive skylight windows.
We can all see the delightful benefits of maximising the amount of livable and usable space ï¿½ even if it involves clearing away the precious collections of bric-a-brac we've spent generations accumulating. Ample sunlight penetrating the attic apartment means than even nocturnal arachnids are sent packing. By Andrew J Wiener and Tuija Seipell
We're looking for more attic renovations, if you spot one, send to [email protected]
We came across this clever print ad for Vespa scooters. Visually effective and well executed, it is playful, simple and gets the point across fast (no pun intended). Nice work team Vespa. By Brendan McKnight
Publicity stunts don't come on much of a larger scale than this. To celebrate the launch of the new Fiat 500 in London last night, one of the vehicles was placed into a pod on the London Eye where it will live for the next 2 weeks.
The launch of this 'time capsule' was at 8pm, exactly 500 hours into the year and as one would expect for such an event, was a star-studded affair and included a light show that lit up the river Thames, and performances by Mika and The Feeling.
The car itself is a remodel of the original version which was first presented 50 years ago, and is Fiat's go at re-releasing a retro classic, as VW (Beetle) and BMW (Mini) have arguably both done quite successfully in recent years.
The 500 was recently named the 2008 Car of the Year and has been praised in numerous auto publications. By
Here at TCH, we’ve been noticing architects around the world transforming church buildings into various types of structures including houses, retail stores, hotels, libraries, and well, cooler churches.
After successfully converting a water tower into a living space, Marnix Van Der Meer and Rolf Bruggink’s Utrecht-based architecture studio, Zecc has done it again — this time perhaps a little more controversial. Here they transformed an old chapel into a spacious house — carefully respecting and enhancing the character of the original building.
The design team chose to keep many of the original features — including the high gothic stained glass windows and the original choir organ. To allow more light to enter the space, they cut a Mondrian-inspired glass window into the front of the house facing the street — perhaps paying homage to Rietveld’s nearby infamous Schroder House. The entire living area has been whitewashed, whilst the private spaces above were painted dark.
And only 150km away in Maastricht an 800 year old Dominican church was transformed into the newest addition to the Selexyz book store chain — the Selexyz Dominicanen — housing an impressive collection of books not only in Dutch, but in English as well.
The challenge for the Amsterdam based architects Merkx + Girod was staying true to the original character and charm of the church, whilst also achieving a desirable amount of commercial space. A multi-storey steel structure that houses the majority of the books was constructed and placed along the central nave of the church under the vaulted ceiling.
Located in Finland in the Ostrobothnia region, near the campus of Helsinki University on the eastern side of the city, JKMM Architects won a national competition to design the Vikkii Urban Centre. The focal point of the Centre is a church clad in aspen shingles that have turned gray since construction was completed in 2005. Throughout Europe new church design is not synonymous with modernity, so when the Parish of Helsinki approached the architects at JKMM, they welcomed the opportunity to contribute to a newly developed urban area housing approximately 13,000 residents.
Many Scandinavian churches serve as civic spaces for the surrounding community to gather. Of course sacral characteristics are still present, and the Viikki Church’s central space and adjoining congregation hall have a light-filled cathedral-like appearance.
The architects chose timber for practically every surface of the interior space as well: oaken doors, spruce ceiling and walls, and aspen furniture allow the congregation to feel as though they are gathering within a forest. Large windows open the space even further onto the surrounding landscape of the countryside. The church does not sit in isolation, however a new market was built to the north and an urban park sits to the south.
Divisive as it may be to alter houses built for God, these architects do not need to preach to the choir about their immaculate conceptions in renovations, we’re sold. By Andrew J Wiener and Brendan McKnight.
We're looking for more church renovations, if you spot one, send [email protected]
To celebrate the 3rd annual PARK(ing) Day, San Francisco based art collective Rebar decided to take things a little further, with their pedal-powered park on wheels; the Parkcycle.
This one-day global event encourages artists, activists and everyday citizens to temporarily transform parking spots into "PARK(ing)" spaces: temporary public parks. This time around an astounding 180 parks in 47 cities were created.
"The process of rethinking the ways streets are used is an important first step in making permanent changes in our cities to improve the quality of urban human habitat," says John Bela, cofounder of Rebar.
The Parkcycle, which can be cycled by a team of three, but enjoyed by many more on it's 7m lawn, features a 5m tall tree and solar charged battery which run's the cycles breaks.
With a top speed of 5mph, it is hardy going to get a yellow jersey in the Tour de France, but makes for an incredibly scenic picnic. By Brendan McKnight
Opened in late fall 2007, Electric Birdcage at Haymarket in the heart of London's West End, has been receiving mixed reviews. One thing is certain, though, it IS getting a reaction from everyone who visits.
Electric Birdcage is a magnificently weird combination of Alice in Wonderland and Russian Aristocrat, dim sum parlor and late-night cocktail bar, sophisticated party venue and silly funhouse.
The owners, brothers Richard and Anthony Traviss, knew where to go for eccentric and totally extravagant interiors: to London's beloved venue designer Shaun Clarkson. His handiwork can be seen, for example, at La Pigalle, Covent Garden's Denim, Play Room, Profile, Power's Acoustic Room, The Bloomsbury Ballroom, Atlantic Bar & Grill and Jerusalem.
Electric Birdcage's surrealistic interior includes a Fibonacci-style patterned floor, tables made of tree roots, gigantic pink hands for chairs, lavish Vegas-style mirrors, imposing black stallions, two snarling black polymer panthers, a carousel bar and iron birdcage chandeliers dangling from a pink ceiling. Even the DJ operates from a birdcage.
Capacity crowd of 300, served by cute staff in retro airline get-up, can order Pan-Asian fare by head chef Somporn Khamsaenphan all day, and stay until 4 am enjoying cocktails by mixologist Chad Shields. You and seven friends can share the signature Electric Birdcage bowl filled with a mix of champagne, Absolut Raspberri peach schnapps, Cointreau, Absolut Citron, strawberry puree, gomme syrup, orange juice, fresh raspberries and blueberries. That should elicit a reaction, if nothing else will. By Tuija Seipell
After designing the prize winning Bergisel Ski Jump, the city of Innsbruck invited Zaha Hadid back to design four new stations and a cable-stayed suspension bridge for the Nordkettenbahn - the city's cable railway system. Continuing their global contribution to the seamlessness between computer generated design and construction, the ZH Architects studied glacial formations and ice movement and translated their ideas with similar design technologies used by the automotive and aircraft industry to achieve varying degrees of movement and circulation in structure.
Residents and visitors can now embark trains in the city's centre at the new Congress Station and reach the summit of Seegrube Mountain in 20 minutes. Each progressive station crosses the Inn River and then ascends the Nordkette Mountain terminating 863 metres high at the Hungerburg Station. Passengers then transfer to cable cars that travel to the top at 2,300 metres.
ZH Architects' signature fluidity in design was carried through here with the innovative use of doublecurvature glass in construction. The design could not be actualised without inventive production methods such as CNC milling and thermoforming. Each unique station looks at though winter melted down the mountainside flowing freely across the new suspension bridge and into the river. By Andrew J Wiener>