TOKYO – A shop for specialist tea brand Ajiroen adds the final piece to a five-part puzzle in a city 50-km west of Tokyo. The narrow plot is a dedicated commercial and cultural space and already includes a Japanese-style house, a vacant concrete building and two storehouses. Based a matter of minutes away, local firm Tyrant Inc has been renovating the buildings since the end of 2015 and the two-storey steel-framed structure which hosts the new shop completes the set.
The Ajiroen store is sandwiched between a high-rise apartment block and a row of commercial units. The building takes the place of a former timber retail space on the site, which was deconstructed due to safety concerns after the building became obsolete. The new structure plays ‘the role of the north gate’, with its gable roof and eaves giving the impression of a traditional Japanese house. The unit comprises three volumes; two at ground level – including the shop itself – and one first floor unit, which is rotated five degrees to make it parallel to the road.
The slightly-skewed arrangement of the three volumes is designed to create a tension between the two storeys (and possibly unnerve passers-by with obsessive compulsive disorder or a fear of falling objects). An external staircase provides direct access to the higher volume, separated from the building in order to eliminate its presence and emphasise the lightness of the structure.
Founding architect Kunihiko Matsuba describes the ‘feeling of floating’ as an important influence throughout the project’s realisation, comparing it to the ‘search for the theory of evolution in architecture.’ He continues: ‘It is about aiming to acquire a new ability by piercing the constraints in gravity; in the same way that human beings evolved from quadrupeds into upright beings walking on two feet.’ Matsuba uses the Ajiroen project to explore the possibilities of architecture as more than a static solution – more-so as a living process that will advance as it develops in the future.