Monday, March 18, 2013



Grin Grin Park is a pilot project designed by Toyo Ito. It is located on Island City, in Hakata Bay, north of Fukuoka, Kyushu, in South West Japan. In this exciting and innovative project, conceived between 2002-03 and built between 2004-05, Ito combined the site and the building design by means of a multidimensional walk-through experience.


The city of Fukuoka is located in a prime position in East and South East Asia, given its proximity to major urban centers like Busan in Korea and Shanghai in China as well as connections to Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore.
Island City is an artificial island located northeast of Fukuoka, in order to reinforce the functions of the port, create a whole new industry, improve the traffic system east of Fukuoka and in turn create a comfortable urban space to house a pleasant residential environment.


Amid Island City is a park surrounding a bean-shaped pond. It is noteworthy that the location of the park is not directly on the waterfront but  landlocked, a decision perhaps influenced by the cold winds that blow over Fukuoka in winter .

The park has three areas: the pond, around which other elements are organized, the greenhouse, located west and that somehow protects against the sea breeze, and the other amenities that surround the pond, such as playgrounds , promenades, etc.

As we approach the greenhouse, the unique urban furniture indicates that we are standing in a special place. The play grounds, the restrooms and even the seats have sculptural forms in addition to their function.

Not all of them are successful, though, such as these circular seats that remain empty because they are very uncomfortable and do not favor any activity.

However the most striking structure at the Grin Grin Park is the greenhouse. Ito's project aims to integrate architecture to the park's landscape. From the pond, the architecture seems to blend with the site, generating a topography that  is a combination of the natural and built, perhaps an analogy to the mountainous character of the country.

Photo courtesy of K Ooni

Another architect, Emilio Ambasz, has a proposal not far from here that shares the idea embedding a building in a construction, using terraces to vertically extend a park along a building, the ACROS Fukuoka International Hall. However, Ito's proposal goes further by providing a kinetics experience in the visitor, modelling the park on the basis of the topological relationships generated on its surface. In any case, the visit evoked me the experience of walking though  FOA 's Passenger Terminal in Yokohama  rather than that of Ambasz's proposal .

Working in partnership with Sekkei Sougo Kenkyujo, Ito chose the image of circles (waves) radiating from the Central Park to the whole island, as the basis of his proposal. The enormous circles became craters and mounds to cover various human activities and to produce incremental topological changes to the Central Park. Therefore the architecture is shown throughout undulating sequences in spiral, integrating itself with the undulations of the ground rather than standing out as an architectural object.

In this conceptual model the genesis idea can be seen: a ribbon is twisted twice generating spaces illuminated by three elliptical skylights.

The architecture has a covered an area of approximately 5,000 m2, and it is a central facility located in the park. There are 3 spaces prepared around the gardens with flowers and plants, each with an area of 900 to 1000 m2.

It is interesting to observe how the architect uses the building to define the boundary of the park, but at the same time he makes it quite permeable, being possible to walk through it, climb it, see through it or enter inside.

These three spaces are concatenated by routes that not only remain at ground level or enter inside the building, but that are elevated forming bridges and walkways and following the surface of the roof, offering various visual experiences.

Green spaces are mixed with the built spaces in a way in which one can not only appreciate the greenery but also read books, have lunch or participate in workshops. 

Photos courtesy of K Ooni .

It is precisely this sequence that gives the user freedom to experience the building in various forms and from multiple points of view. Walkways offer views of the park connecting the interior and exterior, following the topography of the roof. (watch this sequence in the video tour at the end of the post).

The concrete slab and the skylights or glass partitions switch roles as ceiling and walls, but whereas the windows ensure visual integration with the park, the skylights help to highlight the spaces grouped around the planters under the game of light.

Photo courtesy of scarletgreen

The skylights are controlled automatically according to the ambient temperature, allowing ventilation on hot days or being closed in case of rain or cold weather. The cantilever structure also offer protection from the summer heat. By contrast, during the winter, the tropical temperature required inside the building is controlled by heaters.

Although it is a relatively small project, Toyo Ito takes the opportunity to highlight its theoretical concepts in relation to architecture and nature. This relationship is based on the conception of the natural world and the architecture and it had already been expressed by Ito previously in his Sendai Mediatheque , and also in the Library at the University of Tama , despite the formal difference between them. Their relationship with nature is not only poetic, but emphasizes its concern with the technology of our era.

But this communion between architecture and nature is it based solely on sensory and phenomenological parameters? Is it the same experience to walk around the park that Grin Grin Park than to visit the  Yoro Park, "Site Reversible Destiny" by Shusaku Arakawa , for example? Certainly not, Ito set his own rules, and followed them precisely.

The technique that enables this design is a completely unique structure, called the method of shape analysis. First, a form is chosen, whose variations are simulated on the computer so that the load of torsion, energy of tension and distortion would be minimal. Then, a structurally optimal form is obtained as an evolved form. Feedback to this process are exchanged several times between architectural and structural designs. Finally the result was an architecture with a shell of 40 cm reinforced concrete. 

One of the most important contributions of the building (beyond its architectural achievements) is its social role, particularly regarding to  education. The collection of various exotic species of flora and fauna provide opportunities for people to expand their knowledge of science while touring an enjoyable and interesting building.

In the following video you can see more photos of the park and the building as well as a sequence of the walk-through .



As usual, I arrived to the site late, just when they were about to close. After begging this gentleman, telling him that I came from the other side of the planet (which is technically true) just to see this building (which was not actually true), he agreed to let me in, and I accompanied  him as he was closing the facility. When I told him that I had a blog on architecture, he became very interested and very kindly photocopied me some literature, and made ​​me promise I would post about the Grin Grin. Well, it took some time but I finally fulfilled my promise.

Friday, March 8, 2013



Yorkville is a historic neighborhood in Toronto that has become of the city's most exclusive areas, dotted with chic cafes and expensive shops, in the heart of Canada's largest city.

Here, where renting a place can exceed $ 3,000 per sq. meter, we were surprised to find a small park  whose avant-garde, award-winning design, a project by Oleson Worland Architects represents diverse landscapes in Canada. The proposal for the Village of Yorkville Park received the award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1997, among others.

Photo courtesy of Photojunky .


In 1830, entrepreneur Joseph Bloor founded the town of Yorkville, one of the earliest residential suburbs  in Toronto, where houses surrounded two industries: a brick factory and a brewery. Its urban landscape, full of Victorian houses, were built precisely with those bricks, and subsequently were absorbed by the metropolis in the twentieth century.

In the 50s a row of these houses was demolished to carry out the construction of the Bloor Danforth subway line, which later became a parking area. In the 60s Yorkville suffered physical deterioration, although  it was a social boiling point: it was the center of hippie culture and the intellectual boheme.

From the 70's and 80's this area began its renovation by including a number of businesses located in the neighboring Bloor Street, as well as high density office buildings and condominiums began replacing the old brick houses, a tendency that continues to this day. However, a small network of alleys superimposed on the main urban layout, allowed that cultural life remained and coexisted with commercial activities. For this reason, restaurants, cafes, boutiques and art galleries also appeared in the area.

The area is a crisscrossed by  alleys, and when weather allows, they become a public space and an expansion for cafes and restaurants.

Parallel to Bloor Street, in a vacant lot that was used for parking until 1991, an architectural competition was proposed  in order to transform it into a park, despite the difficulty of being located over a subway line.


The Village of Yorkville Park is located on a long strip of land, running on the south side of Cumberland Street, between the popular Bloor and Yorkville Streets, and connected to several perpendicular alleys.


The idea for the park allowed the Village of Yorkville to recover, reinforce and extend the scale and character of the Victorian original village, while the park was linked to the existing pedestrian network. In turn, it has been a great opportunity to introduce some native plant species in the middle of a highly urban environment.

The project was designed by Oleson Worland Architects in association with Martha Schwartz / Ken Smith / David Meyer Landscape Architects. This team proposed a series of small thematic gardens, representing the varied Canadian landscape. This collection of  gardens symbolizes the divisions that used to exist between the old houses before they were demolished.

"We designed the park to reflect the Victorian style of collecting. In this case we were collecting landscapes of Canada – pine grove, prairie, marsh, rock outcropping and so on – and arranging them in the manner of the nineteenth century row houses"
From left to right: wild rocky area and maples, swamp, birch, crabapples, wild flowers and pines.
The explanation will follow the reverse order.

Starting from the west end, there is a cluster of pines, growing around circular, donut-shaped benches.

Interacting with this coniferous forest is a set of light poles which, aside of providing light they spread fog, which creates a particularly interesting effect at night.

Then, in contrast to the geometric order of the pines, there is a group of wildflowers.

It follows a garden of birch, arranged on a gravel ground. This forest is bounded by stone planters containing wild bushes.

Subsequently we found a group of wild apple trees growing on a gravel garden, patched with pink rock slabs.

Afterwards there is an arcade composed of a succession of metal frames, perhaps resembling the bridges or urban areas of the country. Here the floor becomes more regular, geometric, represented by a cobblestone pattern .

Next to it there is a metal tube that supports an artificial waterfall, a thin curtain of rain that introduces the sound element to the landscape design of the park.

The cascade freezes during Toronto's winter . Photo Courtesy of Snuffy .

It follows a wetlands area, which is traversed by wooden bridges, crisscrossing the garden at various angles.

Finally, flanked by a group of wild maples, there is a huge block of rock, a giant 1000 million year-old and 650 tons granite that was cut and transported in parts from Muskoka, in the so-called Canadian Shield near the Arctic, and then assembled at the park trying to minimize cracking. Given its weight, this huge rock is located on top of the structural elements of the underground.

A contemporary element, the entrance to the Bay Station, is located at the end of the park.

In addition on the symbolic role of this design, it is remarkable the fact that the park transmits different sensations as it is walked through, which however does not give the impression of being a collection of isolated patches but an integrated,  comprehensive proposal . Somehow it reminds me of Bernard Tschumi's thematic gardens and the promenade cinematique  for the Parc de la Villette in Paris .

A detail of design furniture for landfill

In addition to its aesthetic and landscape design, the park enjoy social success, since it is a meeting point for the population, often used by both businessmen and ordinary people who at times like to sit under a tree or lay down on a thousand million years stone .

- Parks and Landscape design