Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Architecture / Commercial
Competition, 2016
Arch Out Loud
A:I Project Team
Dennis Lee, Sanna Lee, Zoe Lam

At the unique project site in Shinjuku area where real estate is precious, vertical growth defines the norm.  Our proposal for Tokyo Vertical Cemetery grows in the vertical direction story by story, urn by urn, step by step.  Every risers that build up the height are places of remembrance with no concept of "floors", no differentiation between circulation and program area, no definition of front-of-house or back-of-house.  The building is as pure as it could be, a holistic collection of memory interpreted by each physical step. 

With the site comes off Yasukuni Dori, we intentionally locate the entrance plaza at west portion of the site just beneath the Yamanote rail line, having the vertical structure turns its back against the hustling and bustling Shinjuku life.  The hidden plaza is dominated by a flowing water feature cascading from the center of the building towards the rail line, with the water edge reflecting the geometry of the built structure above.  When approaching the Vertical Cemetery, the sound of water intends to draw visitors away from the surroundings, inviting them to walk across the water feature to enter.  Since the building is a collection of steps, one can start to walk up or take one of the three elevators to their destination.  The three elevators are positioned in radial format, therefore no passengers would need to walk more than a few steps to arrive their destination.

The three elevators are housed in three strong structural cores where each reinforced concrete steps are cantilevered from.  At the perimeter of the step edges are reflective exterior glass panels up to guardrail height, not meant to enclose the building, only with the means to provide privacy for the visitors such that one can see out through the gaps but others in adjacent skyscrapers would not be able to clearly see in.  With such huge gaps between the glazing for each ascending loops, the building is entirely opened for natural daylight and cross ventilation, with no need for any mechanical systems, no protection from weathering, no high tech installation. All unnecessary interference is screened out to provide a tranquil journey to enhance the connection among the individuals, the nature, the decease, and the memory. 

The ascending steps lead visitors to depart the physical world on the ground towards a spiritual destination.  The "terminal end" of such ascension is the sky roof terrace for reflection, which is also the turning point where descending steps return the visitors to the physical world in a complete loop.  Therefore our proposal for the Vertical Cemetery is one simple circulation loop in form of a double-helix, the exterior glazing are indeed two ribbons intertwining from top to bottom, or vice versa.

While we understand the Vertical Cemetery is sited in a dense urban context, we reject the notion to conceive a completely enclosed built environment to simulate an "escape".  Instead, we believe the "escape" is internal in each visitor’s heart.  While one may still hear the sound or see glimpses of bright lights from outside, in extreme contrast the architectural space within is pure with the built environment being the program, the circulation, the floor, the roof, the idea.  The Vertical Cemetery has no intention to defy the surrounding context, only to offer quietness within noises, serenity within stress, simplicity within complexity, order within chaos.