Going to the source of life
Fukutoku garden, just five minutes from Tokyo Station, is a small green oasis amid one of the largest and liveliest cities in the world. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by a bright orange torii – a Shinto gate with two characteristic, parallel curved cross- beams. It symbolizes crossing over into a sacred realm. Two shrines stand here: the smaller Yakuso Jinja is dedicated to a god of medicine. Under a canopy of leaves, people find peace and shade.
Just behind the garden, a narrow office tower of glass, steel and aluminum is a recent addition to the skyline. It was built by the company Pharma Inc.*, which has owned this plot of land for over one hundred years. It lies in the heart of the Nihombashi district – the “medicine city” of Tokyo – where medicine wholesalers and producers have been based since the beginning of the Edo period in the 17th century.
Pharma Inc. is deeply rooted in Japan and nowadays does business across the globe. And for the interior design of its head- quarters, the celebrated brand architect Kashiwa Sato was given the following brief: “Draw on Japanese heritage and give it a contemporary twist.” He went for familiar, basic shapes: circles, ovals, straight lines. And he used a lot of wood – the traditional construction material in Japan – which has recently experienced a surge in popularity there once again.
It was no accident that creative director Kashiwa Sato realized his vision of a natural environment stripped back to its roots with handcrafted furniture by none other than Walter Knoll: experimenting with the elements comes as second nature to the furniture brand. All objects, their colors, shapes, materials, and even the way they are handled, are based on principles known to mankind for thousands of years. The result: in rooms with furniture by Walter Knoll, people immediately feel at home because they intuitively understand that universal, age-old language of colors and shapes right away. Kashiwa Sato knew this too when he created a Gesamtkunstwerk in the heart of Tokyo: a tale about the source of life and health.
The story begins on the ground floor, where water trickles out of a fountain over a curved black stone (see page 53). The water flows so softly that the walls of cypress wood are reflected in it, along with the geometric structure formed by the stylized Japanese characters in the wood. The ancient technique used to achieve this is called kumiki. Those who can read Japanese will be able to make out the words “water” and “light” – the foundations of life. Past the fountain, the journey continues to the reception and the characters for “earth,” which provides health and well-being, and “trees,” which symbolize growth. Here, visitors wait on a bench that looks like a gigantic wooden puzzle. Anyone who sits on it feels as though they are in a forest.
Up in the conference rooms, the walls are covered in the character for “future.” And in the places where people come together – the cafeteria and the management floors – the theme is close bonds, or kizuna. “Bonds between people bring the world together,” says Kashiwa Sato. In this way, he is creating room for encounters. The offices and open spaces radiate calm – in stark contrast to typical offices in Japan, where every nook and cranny is put to use. “A room needs an artistic focus to work well,” says Sato. This is immediately obvious on the management floor, which is dominated by a ring-shaped high table.
Spontaneous conversations started here can be continued just a few steps away in a more intimate atmosphere complete with Jaan sofas and armchairs by Walter Knoll. The characters on the wall above mean “people.” This is where they sit to discuss how to develop and improve medicinal products, or: how people can acquire more life force. The furniture by Walter Knoll makes a noticeable contribution to that – your lower back is supported, you do not sink into the seats and you can get up again very easily. The pharma managers can appreciate the ergonomics and comfortable upholstery when they sit down for conferences on the Leadchair Executive. Another plus point is that the high-quality leather is breathable. So even in the sticky Tokyo summer, it still feels pleasant.
Kashiwa Sato was told by one of his employees – sent specially to Herrenberg, the location of Walter Knoll’s headquarters – how Walter Knoll makes its furniture. The creative director loves clear-cut shapes, fine details and perfect balance in furniture. For his tale about the force of life, he deliberately chose a respected brand that was not too ostentatious. He saw in Walter Knoll the Bauhaus spirit, that mixture of self-esteem and self-effacement that is so pleasing to him. This is furniture for people.
* Pharma Inc. is a pseudonym. We have changed the name at the request of the company. It has a global presence and employs around one thousand staff at its headquarters in Tokyo.