January 24, 2007
Super Legal Buildings


A marvel of information design, and a glimpse into the world of Tokyo's buiding code law.

First off, this book is in Japanese. You should still consider buying it if you're interested in any of the following:

1) Why Tokyo's buildings are so abstract
2) The visual display of data
3) Geometry

So here's the deal.

A month or two back, I picked up 2005's "Tokyo from Vancouver", a series of essays and design projects by students, faculty, and guests of the University of British Columbia's Architecture Program. I like reviewing student planning and architecture projects, I like Tokyo, and I'm somewhat familiar with UBC's program, so I bought it on sight. A few of the articles exceeded my expectations, including "De-code", by Yasutaka Yoshimura. Yoshimura is a Tokyo architect who has worked with students of the Science University of Tokyo, studying Tokyo building code law deeply, and then going out and looking for bastardized buildings that push the laws to the limits. He calls these "super legal buildings". The article was very tantilizing, but light on real details to sink your teeth in.

So browsing the city planning section at my local bookstore, "Super Legal Buildings" jumped out at me from the pink spine of his 2006 book. It really follows through on the promises of the "Tokyo from Vancouver" article.

Each two-page spread includes the photo of a building on the left and a diagram with geometric figures on the right describing how the buliding code is visible. Below is the author's impression of the building, plus a verbal description of the law's implications in construction. We're also told the building's use, what area of Tokyo it is located in, and a whimsical name in English and Japanese.

One great example is #20, "Pilotis House". For the non-architects out there (like me) Wikipedia says that pilotis was a design concept introduced by Le Corbusier, characterized by pillars below a building that raise it up off the ground. You might want to just go look at a pilotis example at Great Buildings Online if you really care and share my moderate distrust of Wikipedia.

Pilotis House is a three-story building, with open air parking on the first floor. Walking around Tokyo, you'll find many of these buildings with a short first floor, that are only tall enough for a car to fit into. The Super Legal Buildings explanation - especially easy to understand in the diagram - tells us that a certain amount of parking doesn't count against a residential building's volume. Architects reappropriate this bonus volume by making the parking half-height, and then can make tall, airy living space on the second and third floors.

An interesting flip-through, and a great reference book for any city lover.

(I should really mention that the book's layout was done by good design company.)

Written at January 24, 2007 4:52 AM
Lost Seattle
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