Airspace Tokyo is a collaborative design effort between Hajime Masubuchi and Thom Faulders. They worked independently from two different cities: Hajime Masubuchi in Tokyo on the design of the building, and Thom Faulders in San Francisco on the design of the exterior screen façade. Approaching the project from diverse points of view and with different design sensibilities, they kept an ongoing dialog and mutual eye towards the layering of the final combined architectural outcome.
Masubuchi initiated the project using a minimalist approach to the design of the four-story ground-up building. Receiving the original commission to create the mixed-use commercial and residential building, he established a reductive strategy for framing spaces using “zero clearance” techniques throughout all aspects of architectural design and detailing. This allowed the concrete physicality of the building to recede in favor of a perceptible spatial plasticity: programmatic use remains open-ended through the intentionally ambiguous plan layouts, and blurred distinctions between inside and outside are perpetuated through ultra-transparent walls and ceilings of glass precariously located throughout the building. From a range of interior and exterior vantage points, the architectural result is a multi-storied living and working complex that seemingly hovers within an ephemeral airspace of glass and light.
With the primary building massing and design underway, Masubuchi invited architect Thom Faulders to create an exterior screen façade that would establish the urban interface of the new building within the tightly packed fabric of the residential neighborhood. Of equal importance would be the creation of an architectural system that could provide the building’s occupants with visual privacy and filtered protection from the elements.
From photographs of the pre-demolished and razed site, Faulders was immediately taken with the jungle-like presence of lush vegetation surrounding the owner’s original residence – an anomaly amidst this concrete and asphalt neighborhood. Inspired by the biomorphic and atmospheric qualities of this 4-meter wide original green space, a new buffer zone was created – now reduced to only 20 cm wide on the new building – this time using artificial means. To achieve a protective atmosphere rich in density and complexity, a maximal deployment of uniquely differentiated voids is punctured into a two-layered system of skins separated by an airspace gap. The result is a cellular mesh that creates a transient interstitial environment between public and private – where framed views shift as one moves through the spaces, rainwater is channeled away from walkways via capillary action, and light is refracted along its glossy metallic surfaces.
Though generated through different design methodologies, the final outcome of Airspace Tokyo is not conceived as a separation between the proportionally orthogonal building and its amorphous screen façade, but as an architectural integration. The expansive living environments and irregular cellular voids infiltrate and leak into each other to create a collaborative airspace packed with possibility.