Towering over Ginza, the Nicolas G Hayek Centre housing seven brands of the Swatch group, may not yet make it to the modern wonders list but it’s imposing enough to be Tokyo’s next landmark. By Mitrajit Bhattacharya
Tokyo has the fascinating and incredible capacity to switch from one era to another and demonstrate an impressive range of different faces. Tiny unchanged islands of the past rub shoulders unselfconsciously with skyscrapers. Clusters of disconcertingly shaped small buildings, full of charm and poetry, give the city an impression of creative freedom found nowhere else on earth.
At the heart of this huge carousel lies one of the most famous streets in the world, the shopping district of Ginza, meaning ‘silver mint’. The broad avenues and luxury stores on Japan’s oldest commercial thoroughfare are full of strange and enticing smells, colours, and sounds. It is indeed a destination packed with sensations. And at Ginza 7-9-18 the spirit of celebration and friendship comes together between two nations, Japan and Switzerland. A witness to this union is the Nicolas G Hayek Centre, an architectural gem supported and financed by the Swatch Group, the largest watch-making group in the world.
In 2004 the Swatch Group acquired the old 1960s vintage Pearl Building in the heart of Ginza. The purchase price amounted to around 150 million Swiss Francs. With a floor area of 475 sq metres, this equates to an impressive 316,000 Swiss Francs per square metre. The Nicolas G. Hayek Centre (NGHC) project was the subject of a competition between eight leading architect firms that was won by Shigeru Ban Architects of Tokyo.
Taking advantage of a change in local building regulations, Shigeru Ban was able to design a building of fourteen floors, going from thirty-one metres to fifty-six metres in height. A special feature of the NGHC are its hydraulic elevators that transport visitors from the ground floor to the exhibition halls for each Swatch Group brand: Brequet, Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Jaquet-Droz, Leon Hatot, Omega and, of course, Swatch. The 14th floor is devoted to an interaction between the brands and the public in the form of exhibitions, concerts, and press conferences. These platforms move at a speed of around 15 metres per minute, giving visitors the pleasant sensation of floating across the atrium.
Shigeru Ban, a genius of modern architecture, envisaged the building along the lines of a ‘hanging garden’ and devoted a considerable amount of space to greenery. However the hanging garden was conceived not as purely decorative internal greenery but as a new means of introducing a garden in the heart of a modern city. This 14 floor high wall of greenery, where nature and technology coexist in the harmony, stands out, providing a marked contrast with the surrounding urban architecture. Inside, the plants give the building’s occupants and visitors soothing splendour and freshness thanks not only to their colours and fragrances but also their aura.