An architect at Klein Dytham and the co-founder of PechaKucha, Astrid talks about her life and work in the capital.
You moved here in 1988. What made you choose Tokyo?
I was a student at Royal College of Art in London and we used to hear about all these amazing buildings going up in Tokyo. Really crazy stuff like Philippe Starck’s ‘golden carrot’ and Aoyama Seizu Senmon Gakko, which looks like a giant metallic, red cockroach. I just had to come and check them out.
How were things different back then?
Well, for one, Doutor was the only coffee shop, and ATMs closed at 7pm and on holidays, so I once had to get through an entire Golden Week on ¥347.
When did you first feel like a Tokyoite?
In 1991, when my business partner Mark Dytham and I first set up Super Deluxe, which was a warehouse space that we used as an offce. We had to pay the deposit in cash, which felt a bit weird. We shared the space with five other creatives.
You and Mark also founded PechaKucha. What’s that been like?
It’s in 830 cities now! We have been amazed at how it’s spread around the world and the people who have been inspired to start chapters in their cities. One was started by a policeman (who would’ve thought!) and they hold the events at their local fire station.
Which of your architectural projects are your favourites?
It’s always a diffcult question to answer – it’s like being asked to choose your favourite child. But right now, Daikanyama T-Site is a favourite becaus it’s an answer to a lifestyle rather than a shop. We also like the little accessories shop in Arisugawa Koen – it’s the tiniest building we’ve ever designed. Our next favourite is coming up in 2016 on the Ginza 5-chome crossing – hopefully it will be pretty iconic.
Tell us about a building in Tokyo that you love.
I’ve always had a crush on the Olympic Stadium because it’s an unusual shape and it totally melds structure, function and aesthetics into one.
Your favourite Japanese designer?
Toyo Ito. I’m biased here because I worked for him when I first arrived and he has been a mentor for me. What makes him so outstanding is that, even at his age, he is more surprising than many young architects. He comes up with buildings that are both iconic and that respect the people who use the building.
What is the sound of Tokyo you miss most when you are away?
The 5 o’ clock bell. It’s so out of sync with the innovative and hi-tech concept of Japan.
Finally, any survival tips for city visitors?
Get lost. Take any train line and just get off at random stations. This way, you’ll find more authentic spots that are not what you expect.