When you walk into the ASKWATCH store tucked within the hip Shinjuku City enclave of Tokyo, Japan, you’re greeted with a startling sight: jagged edges of raw concrete walls looking like a wrecking ball just passed through, interspersed with bright modern displays. The contrast in visuals and textures almost makes it feel like you’ve discovered some secret speakeasy-style hideaway in the middle of a war. That’s exactly what architecture firm Kenta Nagai Studio was aiming for with their unusual renovation strategy, making the most of the former tenant building’s hefty concrete skeleton.
The entrance is purposefully mysterious, finished in black steel with no apparent function. The intention is to raise expectations for the interior space, taking inspiration from the entrances of traditional Japanese shrines. Carving the new retail space right into the thick concrete walls and leaving their unfinished contours in place, the architects create the sense of penetrating into a deep, dark cave or bunker. Seeing all the watches lined up on their pristine white and steel shelving, one wonders if they’ll find the Batmobile around the next corner.
The architects intentionally chose materials that would be in conflict with the rough nature of the concrete to create a visual tension. Shallow beds of gravel make the transition between the original surfaces and the new tile flooring. Most fascinating of all, perhaps, is the choice to subtly highlight the brokenness of the concrete in some areas with gold powder in the spirit of “kintsugi,” the Japanese art of repairing broken vessels with gold to highlight the beauty of their imperfections.
“By laying gravel between these spaces, we express a sense of calmness and beauty reminiscent of a Japanese garden,” say the architects. “The floor was finished by old lumber and floated in the space as a stage for encountering rare products. The stainless steel showcase makes a sensation of an otherworldly bank vault and the rarity of the product stand out more. The display stand of the watch uses natural stone as it is, and by contrasting it with the natural beauty of the stone, it enhances the attractiveness of the artificial beauty of the wristwatch, which can be said to be the crystallization of advanced craftsmanship.”
The firm adds that “you can bring your favorite products to the negotiation booth and carefully examine them. The booth is a neutral space finished with white steel and plastic and surface emission from the ceiling makes [it so] you can concentrate on the detail of the product. The strong contrast of various materials makes each space stand out independently. And through those ‘space’ experiences, you can feel the connection with the concept of ‘time.’”
There’s a certain poetry to Kenta Nagai Studio’s approach to this project, especially given the history of Shinjuku City. Now known as Tokyo’s major commercial center, home to the busiest railway station in the world and most of the city’s skyscrapers, Shinjuku was almost 90 percent destroyed during the Tokyo air raids in 1945. Only its roads and rails remained, preserving its pre-war form for post-war reconstruction. In this sense, those roads and rails are almost like the gold lines of kintsugi passing through the city, knitting together old and new.