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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2006 Issue

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

Gray Urban Center, Green Heart
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.

    

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