The Shinkansen took us to Shinagawa station. Shinagawa is a district in Southern Tokyo and almost a city in its own right. The area surrounding the sprawling station is home to a massive modern complex of hotels, shopping centres and offices. We stayed at the Strings Hotel, occupying the upper section of a huge tower block (Shinagawa East One Tower) just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station.
We weren’t too sure what to do with our limited time in Tokyo but Alex had told us we had to visit the district of Harajuku, although he didn’t exactly explain why. It was though bound to be something to do with young people’s culture or fashion or he wouldn’t have come across it.
We guessed he wanted us to do some shopping for him. So off to Harajuku we went. I worked out that Alex was interested in Takeshita Dori, the famous Goth fashion street, but we had some trouble finding it at first and found ourselves on Omote-Sando, a wide rather non-Goth shopping street. Lots of Western designer brands.
We liked the Goth kittens advertising h.Anarchyism for Plus, clearly a very popular brand in Japan.
Some of the shops were nice but nothing remarkably different from what you mind find in a major European city. While there though we did at least take the time to buy Alex a genuine Japanese Pikachu.
Eventually we managed to find our way to the famed Takeshita Dori, looking like a latter date Goth Carnaby Street, and duly bought Alex some fashionable gear.
Yes, we’re still on Casa Milà. Yet another phase of our visit.
This time, the apartment exhibition. A period apartment has been recreated in part of the building; not necessarily an attempt to replicate the actual furnishings that would have been there in the early 20th Century, just to recreate the look and style of the age. I imagine many or all of the items on display will be genuine antiques from the period.
The odd thing for me was that the inside of the apartment looked old fashioned but the outside of the building looked modern. Even today the architecture of Casa Milà is ahead of both its time and our time. It is only when you tour a period apartment like this that you are reminded how old the building is.
Well, in the attic which houses a permanent exhibition including this model of Casa Milà:
I was fascinated by what at first sight looked like an elaborate light fitting or design for a jelly-mould:
It hangs over a mirror so you can see the structure upside-down, the hanging chains becoming upright arches. It is a model for a structure supported by catenary arches.
Now I remember the catenary from my days as a Maths student. We were required to find the shape that a flexible string or chain takes up under gravity when the two end points are fixed. The problem is interesting because when the chain settles down to its final position we know all the tension in the chain is pointing along the interior of the chain itself, not outwards from it, otherwise the chain would be moving or bending, not at rest. In other words, gravity has solved the problem of balancing out all the forces which would make the chain bend or move, leaving only tangential tensile forces.
The clever bit comes when you turn the shape upside down and employ it for the design of supporting arch in a building. All the tensile forces are now forces of compression, but they still point along the interior of the arch. There are no forces tending to make the arch bow or twist so it can be much lighter for the same supporting capability, and you don’t need flying buttresses to stop the building collapsing outwards.
Gaudí doesn’t get the credit for being the first to use catenary arches in buildings but he is noted for using hanging models like the one pictured to help him with his architectural designs.
Catenary arches are used to help keep the attic space of Casa Milà itself as light and open as possible, as evidenced below. The suspended rope adds something of an ironic counterpoint.
In addition to the permanent exhibition there is a large temporary exhibition space on one of the lower floors. At the time we were there it accommodated an exhibition of paintings by the late Slovenian artist Zoran Mušič, entitled “From Dachau to Venice”. It was pretty grim and monochromatic, but very moving, and included pictures from the rather heavy series “We are not the last“. One gets the impression Zoran never got over his experiences at Dachau, even though he only died in 2005 at the age of 96, and that the subject matter kept resurfacing to haunt his work.
From the roof of Casa Milà it is not hard to spot another, even better known, Gaudí work. Or work in progress to be more precise. I first saw the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família when I was in my late teens and work was progressing at a snail’s pace. Well it has come on quite a bit since then but now looks like a vast building site, both inside and out.
In a different direction: the Agbar Tower, Barcelona’s answer to London’s Swiss Re building (aka “the Gherkin”).