Gray Urban Center, Green Heart
This minimalist design won awards, but have vending machines
and rows of potted plants detracted from its integrity?
By Adrian Clarke
Peter Walker and Partners
We all know that Japan has a wonderful landscape tradition, but
who is carrying that tradition forward? A simple question, but one
that gave Japanese landscape architect Yoji Sasaki pause.
It was the late 1980s, Sasaki was a visiting scholar in the Department
of Landscape Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley,
and his questioner was Peter Walker, FASLA. If there are moments
in the career of any designer that may, with hindsight, be regarded
as pivotal, then this was surely one.
Sasaki went on to study under Walker at Harvard University’s Graduate
School of Design and, upon returning to Japan in 1989, established
Ohtori Consultants Environmental Design Institute, a firm that has
been in the vanguard of contemporary landscape architecture in Japan.
In 1994, teacher and student were reunited. The occasion was an
international design competition for a plaza that was to be the
focal point of the Saitama New Urban Center—an ambitious development
planned to take some of the strain off the nation’s capital and
to promote a regional identity for Saitama Prefecture, which is
located immediately to the northeast of Tokyo. Sasaki had invited
Walker to join with Ohtori Consultants and ntt Urban Development
Company in preparing an entry for the competition. In November of
that year, they were announced as the winners.