Forest in the Sky
American and Japanese landscape architects–Peter Walker William Johnson Partners and OHTORI Consultants – joined to build a plaza in the midst of a huge development project in Saitama, Japan.
Peter Walker and Partners
When we see Saitama Plaza from a distance, what we see is, improbably, a forest floating above the ground, a serene square of dark branches and green leaves against a steel, glass, and concrete tangle of outsized contemporary buildings. When we look more closely, we see a bosque of 220 zelkova trees planted in a grid on top of a glass-walled post-and-beam building, each tree rising above a corresponding white concrete-clad steel post in the story below. If our first glance discovers a visual magic, the second leads us deep into a layer of myth that lurks in the collective unconscious, a myth based on mankind’s experience of construction. We look at the living tree rising from its post, and deep in some recess of the brain arises an image of... Bramante’s tree-column in the loggia of the basilica of San Ambrogio in Milan, or the peeled beams and pediment set on the living posts of Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier’s primitive hut, or a column of Philibert Delorme’s French order made from the unpeeled trunk of the tree, or Auguste Choisy’s recreation of the Doric order in wood. Or perhaps we envision the unfinished pole of the tokonoma, or the central post of the traditional Japanese house, or the gable-end post that carries the ridgepole in constructions at the Ise Shrine, or the shin-no-mi-hashira (the post that stands in the hut on the empty site at Ise), or the living cedar trees that form the posts of the torii at the Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima. Or perhaps we see none of these.