Late last year the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT), Japan’s largest university of technology, held a competition to design the central courtyard of the main campus building. The competition was won by two Dutch architects, Jarrik Ouburg and Mark Veldman.
Thanks to scholarships from the Japanese government, both designers spent a year and a half as research students at Tokyo Institute of Technology. They leave behind a graceful yet emphatic mark of their sojourn with the garden, which opened at the end of May. The competition actually asked for a pavilion or meeting space on the central courtyard as part of a move to improve campus life at TIT. But the designers dismissed the idea of an architectural object and opted instead for a spatial intervention somewhere between architecture, garden design and public space design. According to the designers, their chosen approach is uncommon in Japan, despite the reputation of the country's magnificent traditional gardens. In their opinion, the design of public space is not sufficiently considered in Japanese cities, and contemporary landscape architecture does not enjoy the status it currently enjoys in the Netherlands. What's more, public space in Japan is governed by regulations relating to safety and the smooth channelling of different traffic flows.
The photographs of the completed garden show how the designers succeeded in combining the European tradition of creating places for public encounter with a Japanese sensibility for layering, transparency and precision in detailing.
The main elements of the completed space are two translucent curtains with a total length of 90 metres. The curtains hang from curved rails that enclose and cut through the existing greenery. The curtains and three circular benches – diameter: 6 metres – form a spatial intervention in the rectangular Neo-classical courtyard. A minimum of elements are used to maximum effect, and they transform the symmetric courtyard into a place where no two spaces are identical. Besides spatial intervention, flexibility of use and form is an important quality of the plan. The curtains can be opened completely for major public events that require unhindered passageway, and they can be closed completely to create partly enclosed spaces for informal gatherings. The curtains are made of white nylon stretch net with a 10-x-10-mm mesh. Degrees of translucency create a layered, spatial effect. A luminous coating emphasises the circular form of the benches and makes them glow as darkness descends. The total budget for the project was around 40,000 Euro.