© 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

These Colorful Tokyo Lofts are Designed to Keep You on your Toes


2022.12.20

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

© 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

Architecture fans have been mourning the loss of Tokyo’s famed Nakagin Capsule Tower, the modular apartment complex that was dismantled earlier this year, but there are still plenty of iconic residences worth seeing and exploring in the capital. One example is the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka – In Memory of Hellen Keller, a colorful jumble of geometric apartments that look like a child’s Lego building.

  • 01

    Don’t get too comfortable

    Only a small percentage of residences in Japan are custom designed instead of being built according to mass-market templates. That portion, however, is chock full of fascinating constructions and the Mitaka Lofts certainly don’t disappoint. To start, there’s a prominent concept at work here. Architectural duo and husband-and-wife team Shusaku Arakawa (1936–2010) and Madeline Gins (1941¬–2014) conceived the apartments as a manifestation of “procedural architecture.” This is a slippery term but it basically refers to architecture that challenges conventional notions of design and comfort with the aim of keeping residents stimulated, perhaps even healthier and longer-lived. For instance, their Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa) in East Hampton, New York, has a living space with steep, bumpy floors, poles to aid balance, a sunken kitchen and a mazelike basement. Obsessed with mortality, Arakawa and Gins wanted to keep residents on their toes so they could delay decrepitude and death.

    Shusaku Arakawa (1936–2010) and Madeline Gins (1941¬–2014)
© 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

    Shusaku Arakawa (1936–2010) and Madeline Gins (1941¬–2014) © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

    “Most people, in choosing a new home, look for comfort: a serene atmosphere, smooth walls and floors, a logical layout,” Arakawa said. “Nonsense. People, particularly old people, shouldn’t relax and sit back to help them decline. They should be in an environment that stimulates their senses and invigorates their lives.”

  • 02

    Your body is the main figure

    Located about 4 kilometers southwest of Kichijoji Station in the suburb of Mitaka, the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka were completed in 2005. They are dedicated to Hellen Keller, a woman who reversed her “destiny” by overcoming her vision and hearing loss and become an internationally renowned activist.

    The nine apartments are painted in 14 colors and designed in the form of three stacked shapes, a cube, a sphere and a tube, all linked by staircases and walkways; ironically enough, if you want to skip the climb to the third floor, there’s an elevator. The central room in each unit is a kitchen, again sunken and surrounded by an uneven floor and poles like the Bioscleave House, and connected to three or four other shaped rooms depending on the size of the home. The sphere rooms, for instance, amplify sound, creating a different acoustic environment.

    © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

    © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

    There are numerous elements aimed at ensuring residents keep rebalancing and reaching, and stimulating their senses. Poles can be climbed or used as support for those who have difficulty walking. Light switches are placed at different heights. The bumps in the uneven floor come in different sizes, fitting the foot arches of either adults or children. The bathrooms may have uneven floors, stretching the leg muscles of those using washbasins. Wall surfaces have smooth or rough surfaces, enhancing the tactile experience. The many bright colors on both the exterior and in the interior of the units are meant to evoke the colors of nature. There are also traditional Japanese elements in the design here, for example shoji paper screens and tatami mats, as well as the multipurpose nature of each room.

    © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

    © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

    “All these elements are calling you to participate more into this space and trying to pull out all of your senses landing to each element, each space,” Momoyo Homma, director of Reversible Destiny Foundation, Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office, says in a 2020 video tour. “Arakawa and Madeleine Gins always said your body is the main figure of this space.”

    “All the residents of the lofts are open and generous, so if there were a Reversible Destiny City, I imagine it would be a fun and peaceful city, and, for sure, there would be no war in the future, living there,” one former resident of the complex says in the video.

    For those who want to experience the lofts, two units are open to tours and short stays. For details, see the official website: www.rdloftsmitaka.com.

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