As high streets up and down the country seek to reinvent themselves to respond to the new dynamics which threaten the old ways of doing things, Japan House is a welcome new addition to Kensington High Street.
Built in the 1930’s as Derry & Tom’s Department store at the same time as its neighbour Barkers, both designed by Bernard George, the art deco building at 101-111 Kensington High Street was, for a short period in the 1970’s, the home of the famous BIBA. Since BIBA’s closure in 1975, the building has seen a number of tenants, and sadly the iconic Kensington Roof Gardens at the top of the building has recently closed, but there is now new life with Japan House bringing Japanese art, design, culture and food to London, including a restaurant on the first floor and gallery, activity and library/meeting spaces at the lower level with information to help visitors and potential visitors to Japan on the ground floor.
One of three such Japanese centres for discourse and exchange between different cultures, the others being in Sao Paolo and Los Angeles. Japan House has been conceived under the overall direction of the Japanese designer Kenya Hara, with the interior design by the interior designer Masamichi Katayama, who by a happy coincidence is also a professor at Musachino Art University in Tokyo which is included in the inaugural exhibition ‘Sou Fujimoto: Futures of the Future’.
The refurbished floors are, as you would expect from Japanese designers, simple, elegant, stylish and beautifully detailed. Laid out around a central curving black and transparent glass staircase and lift, internal walls on the ground floor are designed as enclosed glass display areas within the overall space, one of which provides the start for Sou Fujimoto’s exhibitions with everyday objects used as the inspiration for buildings in ‘Architecture is everywhere’, continuing on individual plinths along the windows, enticing the viewer in and then moves down to the larger exhibition in the gallery space downstairs.
The centre has already developed links with the Design Museum along the road, with a lecture by Fujimoto in June; perhaps it might also do so with the South Kensington institutions such as Imperial College for robotics and technology and the Victoria and Albert Museum which has its own collections of Japanese art and design.