Tod's is a substantial L-shaped building that needed to make the most of its narrow facade on Omotesando Avenue, Tokyo's most prestigious shopping street. Ito's innovative structure does this through concrete and glass walls in which the tree-shaped concrete limbs are structural, and wrap around the six faces of the building.
The visual effect is dramatic, and the retail facade is well used: the right hand concrete 'trunk' is actually round the corner of the building, giving as wide a glazed entry as any curtain wall would have done. The shape of the concrete limbs derive from the Zelkova trees that line Omotesando Avenue. The architectural power of the non-structural curtain wall in modern architecture was to create the "free facade". With new technologies for concrete and glass construction, Ito has found a new freedom within a structural wall. As he claims:-
"The Tod's Omotesando Building is an ambitious project embodying concepts and techniques at the forefront of contemporary architecture. With this project I am striving to transcend that architectural Modernism that characterized the twentieth century."
"Trees are natural objects that stand by themselves, and their shape has an inherent structural rationality. The pattern of overlapping tree silhouettes also generates a rational flow of forces. Having adapted the branched tree diagram, the higher up the building, the thinner and more numerous the branches become, with a higher ration of openings. Similarly, the building unfolds as interior spaces with slightly different atmospheres relating to the various intended uses.
Rejecting the obvious distinctions between walls and opening, lines and planes, two- and three dimensions, transparency and opaqueness, this building is characterized by a distinctive type of abstractness. The tree silhouette creates a new image with a constant tension generated between the building's symbolic concreteness and its abstractness. For this project, we (Ito and his staff) intended to create a building that through its architectural newness expresses both the vivid presence of a fashion brand and strength in the cityscape that will withstand the passage of time."
In the 1990's luxury retailers worldwide were searching for new ways to promote their brands. Product placement was already common. Billboards and magazine ads were adequate, but couldn't overtly attract attention to themselves without diminishing the luxe of the brand. A few flirtations with television advertising proved that medium didn't deliver the right clientele. Eventually they realized something they had known all along -- that the product's packaging is sometimes as important as the product, itself. And when the product you're promoting is your brand, then your brand's packaging must be just as enticing as your products. Thus gave birth to the notion of luxutecture: exterior architectural design with the purpose of promoting a brand. Gucci, Prada, Burberry, and others embarked on a mission to make sure their stores exterior looked as good as the interior, and the products they sell.
Several prominent luxutecture buildings were already erected in Japan (and Europe) when Tod's opened its Omotesando store. But this store made quite a splash with its innovative design. At its heart, this is a glass curtain wall block with concrete and steel supporting members. But those members are arranged in a way that makes the building defy its own shape. Instead of the rigid right angles and mathematical curves of man-made architecture, Tod's Omotesando is braced with gentle sweeping curves and forks that emulate organic forms. The effect is particularly stunning in the colder months when the bare branches of nearby elm trees are reflected in the building. It mimics their graceful natural growth patterns. And, as luck would have it, there are several trees right outside the door that happen to lean the opposite direction as the building's majority superstructure, providing a mirror image of mother nature on man-made architecture.
One might expect to hear that since the shape of the building was derived from nature that it is naturally more resistant to earthquakes. That is not true. The unusually shaped windows fit very tightly into the branching concrete forms surrounding them, and could crack easily if the building sways too much. To prevent this, the structure rests on a shock-absorbing foundation, which is common in Japan.
The branching structures aren't merely a two-dimensional lattice on the exterior. They run through the inside, as well, serving as points of interest, section dividers, and even stairways of sometimes unusual gait. This creates numerous possibilities, but also some problems. Ceiling heights can be unpredictable as one moves toward the edges of the building. And in some places the floor is glass. It is assumed that the glass used is not strong enough to support pedestrian traffic, which is a shame, as it could have allowed the shoppers-cum-birds hopping through this building's tree branches to occasionally have the sensation of flight. However these patches of glassy floor are barricaded by generic-looking metal fences.
The unity between exterior and interior form was possible because the same architect created both. Ordinarily, there is an architect for the building and another one for the interior.