KAZUMASA YAMASHITA, Architects & Associates
( TAKEO KAMIYA, chief architect )


In my late twenties, while working for Kazumasa Yamashita Architects & Associates, I was in total charge of the design and supervision for the construction of the "From First Building" in Aoyama, Tokyo, which won the Architectural Institute of Japanfs architectural design division prize in 1976. Having completed this work, I started on my first journey to India to study its architecture for the next three months.
While recently reading Hiroyuki Suzuki's reminiscent review of this building, in the book "The 167 Masterpieces of Japanese Architecture, 1950 -2013", I recollected an article that I had written about its design process in the architectural magazine "Kenchiku Chishiki" (Architectural Knowledge) in 1976. I am recording it here now with many sketches and photos.     ( 01/ 02/ 2016 )

DATA ; Five-story and one basement steel and reinfoced concrete building / Location : South Aoyama, Tokyo / Production: Hamano Institutes of Commerce / Design : Kazumasa Yamashita Architects and Associates, September 1972 - Februaly 1974 / Structural design : Sun Structural Design / Mechanical design : Uchiyama Engineering / Electrical design : Matsumoto Engineering / Development : Taiheiyo Kohatsu / Construction : Takenaka Construction, May 1974 - October 1975 / Site area : 1,497 square meters / Total floor area : 4,905 square meters / Publications : "Shin-Kenchiku" June 1976, "Kenchiku-Bunka" June 1976, "Japan Interior Design" June 1976, etc. / Photography : Kaneaki Monma and Shin-Kenchiku

The gypsum model at the final stage

( On the November 1976 issue of "Kenchiku Chishiki" )



Tadao Umesao, a Japanese versatile scholar, wrote in his book "Techniques for Intellectual Production" how to write and integrate a manuscript, saying figuratively that a manuscript is a blueprint of a design for construction (printing). He divided the work of writing into two phases: to unify the thinking, and to express it with letters. For the sake of the technically more important former phase, he proposed a 'method of small cards'. To begin with one writes down on many pieces of paper the words, phrases, and sentences that come to mind at random concerning the subject, and then, combining them logically into many cards, one writes the manuscript fleshing them out in that order.
Expressing this architecturally, a designer has some ideas in his brain, he makes those fragments in sketches for embodiment, and then he composes them together logically into a design scheme.

However, since the architectural design depends deeply on a synthetic intuition, whatever method is applied, it would seldom proceed theoretically. Occasionally, a sole sketch reverses all previous esquisses, becoming an essential substance of the design hereafter. How to produce such sketches can be nothing but the inexpressible secrets of their creators, so it should be said that the establishment of etechniques for intellectual production in architecture eis a most difficult task. However, apart from such inspirational sketches, the change of social conditions around architecture seems to need more dynamic new ways of esquisse.


It was four years ago that I first visited the building site, a little before the Nezu Museum, on a street running south from Aoyama Avenue. Although the land of 1,500 square meters was not regarded as the best site for a commercial building, because the premises opposite, across the street, is a primary school and the neighboring area is mainly a residential district, there seemed to be a possibility to design more than a simple rectangle facade building, because of its location on the corner of an urban block and its total perimeter facing the streets is close to as long as 100 meters

The earliest sketch, taking notes of anything that comes to mind.

The thinking for this L-shaped site was to accommodate residence-cum-offices for a category of freelancers, such as designers, lawyers, doctors, writers and architects, who liked to live in a fashionable area like Aoyama, and as well as shops. It was to say a mini-town where living, working, and shopping were all harmoniously available. The program was being planned mainly by Hamano Institute of Commodity and a kind of enthusiasm to create a new-type of building was taken on by the development, management, and design project staff together.

Through the process of design, wide-ranging demands incessantly came from not only the developer but also the program staff. As it was an unprecedented soft-oriented building, and moreover an issue occurred with insolation disturbance for neighboring sites and the steep rise of prices for construction on the way, the vicissitude of design took one and a half years. I will show the esquisses bellow, following the design process.

An idea of trisection of the building (core-shaft type)

The architectural idea is what the designer want to make possible, but it is necessary beforehand to check what is impossible. An image without this check could become harmful to the succeeding design. Therefore, first of all, we immerse ourselves in confirming in tabula rasa what we cannot adopt in the points of laws and regulations, so to say a manner of elimination.
While the soft side had been fairly pursued, the hard side had to be checked out together to avoid unforeseen problems that could strike a blow to the progressing form or space.

In the case that the function and area of every part is clear as a given condition, the zoning of those partsf functions would naturally be the start of the design. However, in the case of this project, however intense the abstract image of the contents of the building was, the necessary rooms had not been listed up. So the concept itself of the building had to be rather gradually polished up by trial and error, in the wake of submissions of succeeding physical schemes.

An idea of division into upper and lower parts.
iThere was an image that a large three-dimensional space
should be opened to the publicj

As seen in early sketches, I was looking for some special factors that firmly characterize this building on its composition and outer form, on the premise that the upper stories were allocated for office-like residences, the middle for residence-like offices and the lower for commercial facilities. The building concept as the aggregation of free organizations seemed to reject a form of cuboid box, including all in one, so I searched for methods to divide the whole into some plural half-independent parts. It was, so to say, an attitude of protest against giant totalitarian buildings.

Inviting people deep in the building was an important theme.

On the other hand, considering the ground level for street pedestrians is quite important, I searched for a varied composition of shops, instead of a monotonous line of them, to activate its vicinity. And then I noticed that some core space in a building was needed, which could be useful for both shops and customers and seen from above by upper story office staff and residents. That core space must not feel like underground shopping mall with a low ceiling, but be a more attractive spot for multi-use as a feature of the building.

An idea of a Galleria building
(denied due to its grand skeletal form)

One way in which I pursued such space is the Galleria plan. A large glass-clad space facing the front street which was the entrance hall of the building, a lobby for the shops, an open store itself, and a plaza to hold events. Although it was an attractive plan, it was turned down on the pretext of unprofitability because the space of a plaza or street should be restricted in area according to building regulations (the ratio of total floor area to site area).
Thereafter I perused a core space in a form not to be included in the legal floor area. Even if it eventually would become a courtyard or the like, the fruit would be that the necessity of such space was commonly recognized by the stakeholders.


I found that the breaking parallel disposition with the front street
could engender an uneven active facade.
(with six color felt-tip pens on tracing paper)

As for the external expression, I was not looking for a grand skeletal frame, shown in the perspective sketch, but a possibility of design brought into existence by, as it were, stacking up many small-scale components. The clue to resolve this was the above sketch: an idea that, instead of the habitual parallel disposition of a building to the front street, puts the building some degree to the street making the surface along the street on plan uneven like the teeth of a saw or the roof of erstwhile factories. If furthermore eliminating some regularity and setting back the upper stories, I expected the original intention of stacking small free components would be achieved.

A tentative facade for the unparalleled plan with the front street

In addition, disposing shops around the courtyard (referred to as the Patio at the early stage) that would be seen from offices and residences on the upper stories, we gained the clear concept of this building, which would endure the later vicissitudes.

Attaining to the courtyard plan

In the wake of stabilizing the scheme, an idea to make this courtyard more distinctive came to my mind: the projection of the upper stories over the courtyard to give it a more internal impression and convenience for customers on rainy days too.

Expecting a unique effect for the courtyard,
I projected upper stories over it.

However, this gave me a twofold apprehension: the first was that the plaza without insolation would become a gloomy cheerless place, and the second was that it would be included into the legal floor area.
Despite this inward anxiety I carried out this idea, having confidence in being able to resolve any difficulty and the temperament not to be satisfied with a design that lacked an adventurous spirit. Anyway, finally, I was able to actualize it, not without difficulties and persuaded the authorities.

A sketch of the cross section for the first scheme

Thus over the course of five months, I finally accomplished the basic design of the From-First Building. As seen in the following perspective drawing, its external appearance, with upper story balconies set deeper back, is quite impressive. Along with the courtyard increased in scale, it gratified me considerably.
However, due to the issue of shadow restriction in the surrounding area, with which the negotiation by the developer started concretely at this time, this design would regrettably be called off, and it would come to be called ethe first schemef.

Perspective drawing of the first scheme. iclick to enlargej


In those days the issues of insolation obstruction by the construction of condominiums in various regions were reported almost every day in newspapers. New buildings could not be built any longer without agreement of the neighborhood. The developer of the From-First Building conscientiously undertook long negotiations with the neighborhood, especially with the primary school located opposite, based on the first scheme. We made shadow estimation drawings each time, the number of which attained to forty. Thanks to that the developer was able to get the agreement of the neighbors without resorting to payment or enforcement.
The most important conclusion for us was to reduce the height of the building so that the shadow would not occupy half of the school playground at the winter solstice, and the elevator shaft should be moved further back. As a result, cutting one story down and modifying the floor levels, it became clear that the upkeep of the outer shape of the first scheme was impossible no matter what.

The height had to be lowered due to the issue of shadow restriction.

Simultaneously, the social situation surrounding this building had largely changed during the four months in which the neighborhood affairs were settled. First of all was the skyrocketing of construction costs due to the worldwide eoil crisisf. The increase of basement area, resulting from the reduction of the building height, further spurred on the increasing in costs, forcing us to reexamine the plan of the contents of the building. Furthermore, reflecting the economic crisis, the Government proclaimed an ordinance that all construction budgets should be retrenched, which, for a certain time, brought us a fear of collapse of this project.

The next problem was the possibility of the change of the sitefs legal land-use restriction. A revision of the land-use zoning was being undertaken by the Capital Planning Board, and its enforcement time could be just when we would have applied for the reconfirmation of the plan to the construction law in our new schedule. I had to develop the design while checking frequently the information about the revision. In the case of a change from an exclusively residential district to a residential, the unsettled athletic club would be possible as a basement tenant, and the legally feasible underground parking area could be augmented.
In order to cope with these various factors, the members in charge of the project in the development company were renewed.

The diagram of relationships between all elements
after the condition change The locations of the elevator shaft
and parking garage were utterly changed.


As a result of changing conditions, I was obliged to abandon the first scheme, starting the next phase with the modification of structural spans and story heights. Consulting with our structural designer, we adopted a steel and reinforced concrete structure with an eight-meter span as the most economical solution.
And then because of the restriction of the building height, it was necessary to activate the underground part, so my device was to arrange shops half-story up from the street level and also half-story down, creating a double storied plaza. According to this, the height of the upper office floors was reduced to a minimum, and I would suffer much in the stages of detail design and supervision of the construction.

Space diagram around the central Plaza

After the change of conditions, I introduced the movements
of 45 degrees, and made the plaza in two levels:
half up and half down from the street level.

In the new plan, following the spirit of the first scheme, I used 45 degree movements to compensate the slight narrowing of the plaza. But in the wake of the proceeding shop layout, 45 degrees were amended back to right angles for practical reasons. The upper floors were, after the couple of program changes, allocated to small offices on the 2nd story, and maisonette offices on the 3rd to 5th stories, weakening the residential character a certain amount. The restriction of the building height promoted, inversely, an enlargement of the basement space, in which an athletic club was to be accepted. And an underground parking garage was introduced to accommodate more cars and to meet the change in location of the vehicle entrance. Thus, the essential distribution of internal spaces and functions was determined.

One of the numerous elevation studies

It was with the external appearance of the building that I struggled to find a satisfying expression before the time limit in the last phase, in contrast to the first scheme where I could resolve this directly both internally and externally without grand difficulty. As far as logically pursuing the modifications derived from changes of outer circumstance, the crucial idea could never emerge, and the same plan could put on various clothing. I started model studies, making simple models of as many as possible features to be imagined, and destroyed them after comparative examination.

Almost final Plan
And yet small requirements would incessantlycome from the producer side.

Still seeking a varied expression as a stack of small units for the lesser storied building than the first scheme, I was led to using small-scale glass roof top lights. Since the width of each maisonette office was six to twelve meters, I tried to express it to the exterior at first, resulting in the emphasis of horizontality, which was not accepted by the producer side. In order to change it to a more human scale, I divided them into three-meter wide units with cantilevered projections and retreats, successfully making the final form based on this system.

An esquisse model, denied due to its horizontal lines
    1/100 Study model at the last phase     1/20 Study model of the plaza

Although this description might give the process an extremely simple appearance, the final determination was just at the limit of the allocated time, allowing only the least amount of time to make the fundamental drawings for the basic design.
After the approval of the basic design by the developer we started to make the detail design over the next four months. I modified the design in accordance with discussions with structural, electric and mechanical designers, and the demands of the developer, production team, and users, while making study models in 1/100 scale and plaza model in 1/20 scale to check them three-dimensionally.


When finishing the detail design, only the construction phase was usually left, but in the case of the From First Building the elaborate model for display was also a material for rechecking design, leading to alteration after alteration until the end of construction. The number of indications for alteration attained to 231.
Finally construction was completed at the end of 1975: the duration of design was 18 months, and construction 16 months.

Sectional Perspective Drawing (inked on tracing paper)

Thus, looking back at the design process, it can be said that the time has changed from when a building was able to be made based on a sketch, as was the Sidney Opera House by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon,. Urban life has been steadily becoming more complicated, the intricacy of function and mechanical equipment augments endlessly, issues of insolation disturbance and so on, based on urban overcrowding, occur more often, checks of proficiency and legal regulations grow more and more strict, and the number of stake holders increases the more difficult a building design becomes. The esquisse of legal restrictions is rather more severe than that of building form and space.

If the legal regulations had been applied to the From First Building more strictly to our disadvantage, this project could not have been actualized. Thinking back to the issues around the maisonette offices on the third to fifth floors, the plazas and corridors that were not included in the legal area, the exclusion of application to the econtinual shops regulationf, and other various perilous interpretations of ordinances, I admire even now our eventual actualization of the design of the From First Building.

I believe, in spite of the pressures of changes in social conditions, run-of-the-mill buildings, built only to adapt to this situation, are not to societyfs wider expectation. That is, current architects should not only generate creative images and ideas but also more patience and identity to materialize them.

( November 1976, on "Kenchiku Chishiki" )

<- Plans & Sections__ <- Maisonette Office

At the Courtyard of the almost completed From-First Building, 1975.


An extract from eEra, Architecture and Mef
in gThe 167 Masterpieces of Japanese Architecture, 1950-2013,
The Works Awarded Prizes of the Architectural Institute of Japanh,
published in 2014 by Giho-do, Tokyo

The 167 Masterpieces of Japanese Architecture

( In the 1970fs . . . . j__ The From-First building came out in that period, as a work by Kazumasa Yamashita, awarded the 28th annual prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan in 1976. It is a complex building of offices and shopping facilities in a fast growing fashionable area of Tokyo, called Minami-Aoyama. It was not based on the functional flow planning, but on a free composition with a circular movement, which clearly showed the death of Early Modern Architecture.

Two signs of the new era were seen in the From First Building. The first was the above-mentioned end of architecture based on functionalist planning, and the other was the fresh appearance of commercial architecture as a distinct subject. Obviously, early modern architecture had a yearning toward an ideal society, or the will to seek it. In that posture was the ethical consciousness of hierarchy concerning building genres. What could be considered the main architectural genres as the subject of social policy were housing, educational, welfare and cultural institutions, while office buildings for private enterprises and commercial facilities were not being treated as a subject of architectural theories.
ePlanning sciencef had been targeting housing and educational, welfare and cultural institutions, seeming to have been a methodology of architecture founded on humanism. However, it actually was also an architectural theory as an extremely governmental administrative policy studies.
ePlanning sciencef had strong ability in the age of large government, which rolled out broad policies for society, while in the next age of small government, which relaxes controls, it would lose its power to affect the world of design.

It was an epoch-making moment in the history of modern architecture when the From-First Building made its appearance as a commercial complex building that adopted a new architectural composition independent of functional flow planning. Thereafter many architects have tried to design various commercial complex buildings, which tended to seek attractiveness in a complicated configuration and a maze-like character. It can be said that the prototype of large complex urban development, from the Canal-City Hakata in Fukuoka to the Roppongi-Hills in Tokyo, was first created here in this building.
In those huge developments, the characters of labyrinth and circular movability became almost naturally their design themes. The From-First Building seemed to mark the emergence of an architecture that set commercialism forward instead of the ethical ideals.

It was also distinguished from the viewpoint of urban scale. Commercial facilities were previously located mainly around major railway stations or along flourishing streets in established shopping areas. However, the From-Fist Building was, rather, a primer in a forthcoming trend for a building to promote commercialization in a certain area or avenue. Minami-Aoyama is now known as one of Tokyofs prominent fashionable areas accumulating sophisticated commercial facilities. It can be said that the origin of this current of re-generating such urban areas was precisely this building. __ (p.11)

(Hiroyuki Suzuki, architectural historian and emeritus
professor of Tokyo University, died in February 2014,
shortly after having written this article. )


© Takeo Kamiya
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