Like a modern Medici with matchingaccessories, Miuccia Prada and hereponymous fashion house have becomesynonymous with a shrewdly intrepidapproach to architectural patronage. Since1999, Prada has embarked on a programmeof new store designs and brand expansionthrough a select stellar cabal of the avant-garde (Rem Koolhaas, Kazuyo Sejima, andHerzog & de Meuron). Though the worlds of architecture and fashion have a fertile andoften colourful reciprocity, this goes beyondthe periodic tasteful fit-out into a moreserious (and big budget) exploration of theradical that aims to reinvent the simple act of clothes shopping into a singular experience – consumerism as culture or religion andshops as carefully choreographedenvironments or temples. (Perhaps not sodifferent from the Medicis after all.)The first so-called ‘Epicentre’ storedesigned by Koolhaas was unveiled on NewYork’s Broadway in 2000; three years on,
and architecture pilgrims have anew reference point on their globalcompasses with the completion of thebiggest Prada flagship store to date in Tokyo,designed by Herzog & de Meuron. At a costof £52 million, budget, it seems, is no object,despite falls in company profits (down from£36 million in 2001 to £19 million last year,though the Asian market is still apparentlybuoyant). The Swiss partnership has alsobeen charged with converting a piano factoryfor the house’s New York head office anddesigning a new production centre inTuscany. Such creative interactionrepresents an intriguing shift in the culturallandscape of architecture. Whereas ageneration ago architects’ imaginations wereexercised by helicopters and yachting wire,now it is high fashion and modern art.Prada Tokyo is in Harajuku, an area famousfor both its couture and street fashion,manifest by the parades of exotically attiredyoung Japanese who cruise up and down thebroad main drag of Otomosando, which,with its trees and cafés, is Tokyo’s closestapproximation to a Parisian boulevard. At itseast end it tapers and morphs into the city’sBond Street, an elegant ghetto of deluxeflagships clinging staidly together, like firstclass passengers in the Titanic’s lifeboats, forsuccour against the blare and dislocation of modern Tokyo. In a city with virtually nopublic space in the European sense (land isfar too precious a commodity to remainempty), Herzog & de Meuron’s first move is abold and urbanistically generous one,stacking up the shop and officeaccommodation into a stumpy five-sidedblock to create a small piazza at its base. Thepiazza is enclosed by an angular wall coveredin soft green moss that will gradually flourish,a reminder of the slow beauty of organic lifein the midst of artifice. Hemmed in on allsides by low-rise buildings, the forecourtprovides a breathing space for meeting,socializing and window shopping. It alsomakes the tower more of a distinguishableobject in its own right, like a chunky bubble-wrapped bauble on a tray.
UNDER THE NET
Wrapped in a crystalline grid, this new store in Tokyo marksthe latest step in Prada’s plans for world fashion domination.
A O Y A M A S T . 2 4 6 R O U T E
SA N DO S T.
5-2-6 Minami-Aoyama,Minato-ku,TokyoMIYUKI ST.OMOTESANDOSUBWAYSTATIONEXITOMOTESANDOSUBWAYSTATIONEXIT
121The Prada tower draws back fromthe edge of its site to create a smallpublic piazza.2Detail of the rhomboidal grid with itsglass infill panels that envelops thebuilding like a huge net or piece of bubble wrap.1The Prada tower draws back fromthe edge of its site to create a smallpublic piazza.2Detail of the rhomboidal grid with itsglass infill panels that envelops thebuilding like a huge net or piece of bubble wrap.