Interview: Architect Koichi Takada
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Interview: Architect Koichi Takada

“We want to make Sydney the greenest city in the world.”

By Terry Christodoulou
Thu, May 13, 2021 11:00amGrey Clock 4 min

Architect Koichi Takada has never taken the easy option.

Born in Tokyo, at 16 he held dreams of pursuing life as a fashion designer or an artist – aimed at realising a firm desire to live in Manhattan.

He eventually came to architecture – a combination of art and engineering – as a pathway to appease such wants and those of his parents.

It didn’t quite work out – his father offering an easy life and generous role in the family engineering business so long as he remained in Tokyo.

Takada instead chose New York.

Cut to now and the 48-year-old is a force within global architecture, having set up an eponymous Australian-based firm while securing various awards across projects that have transformed urban landscapes here as well as in Asia, America, the Middle East and beyond.

Kanebridge News: Most people would take the path of least resistance – why were you so set on going it alone and moving to New York?

KT: This was definitely a leap of faith. I had this gut feeling that I’m going to survive there, that somehow everything would work out including communications [a language barrier] and making friends – you know Japanese people are very homogenous and very singular, and I’d thrown myself into this melting pot. But it had been a dream of mine.

 

KN: Did first impressions of the city stack up? 

KT: When I arrived my first impression was just disbelief – and the way you come out of the Lincoln Tunnel, I was just,‘wow’. But it was overwhelming, it was noisy and very competitive and cold and I didn’t get the pampering I had with my parents in Japan. I had sold everything to be there and I got sick of it.

 

RR: You eventually left New York to study in London, how did those times influence you and your work?

KN: After leaving New York, to continue my studies at the AA [Architectural Association School of Architecture] I met and learned from the likes of Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhas, and that’s where I really learnt to push the boundaries, and create the point of difference, the uniqueness within this monotonous repetition of all this regulation … And the cultural component is definitely an important part too. When I was in New York, my favourite part was going to Central Park. And the same in London – I craved breathing space. I discovered a feeling that I connected with when in Japan, because nature is respected and there’s an effort to try and blend in [with nature] and find harmony.

Koichi Takada
Infinity Tower In Sydney’s Waterloo – Designed by Koichi Takada

 

KN: Nature is a central part of much of your work. 

KT: Yeah. With Infinity [Sydney’s Infinity Tower], when we were competing for the project we were given the volumes, but I thought it would actually overshadow the courtyard which was meant for public use. I thought to myself, ‘why would you create a courtyard that doesn’t receive any daylight?’ So, we opened a hole to let the light in. It’s very simple, but then all of a sudden you have a breeze, light and a way to interact with nature.

KN: Why did you settle in Sydney?

KT:  When I moved to Sydney in 1997, I just instantly felt something wonderful about the city, and now I’ve been here more than 20 years. I call it my home. It’s city and nature trying to balance. It’s one of the best cities in the world.

KN: Do you feel your style of melding nature and urban living was a natural fit for Sydney?

KT: Yeah, I think our product is very Sydney, it’s definitely not New York. Definitely not London. Definitely not Tokyo. But also fits what we want to make Sydney – the greenest [plant-filled] city in the world.

KN: The ‘greening’ of cities by architects and urban planners is imperative as we move forward. 

KT: For the next generation of architects, they’re very much part of this and have massive challenges to bring awareness to climate change – though it’s also very a globalised challenge for everyone.

KN: Well before Infinity Tower you were designing restaurants in Sydney’s suburbs – and then you went from, say, Sushi Train Maroubra, to Qatar’s Natural Museum. How much pressure came with such a high-profile role?

KT: Well, it was the best project in the world. And yeah, I did feel extra pressure. I think as an architect when you get a sense of freedom and liberation it turns into confidence, but in this instance,  you are against all the greats, like Jean Nouvel, and I thought look who we are against, I’m no one.

Interiors of the National Museum of Qatar

KN: You’re quite the sartorial gent – fair to say fashion is a firm creative outlet away from architecture?

KT: Yes, definitely, and I remember seeing Alexander Wang, who I’ve come to admire. You know we went to a grand opening party for Qatar and what I noticed is that I, naively followed the dress code, and these guys just did their own thing. It’s much more interesting than architecture.

KN: Seeing such appealed to the rule-breaker within?

KT: I wish I had figured it out when I was 18 in New York, and I’m not saying break every rule, but growing up in Japan, everything is telling you to conform. But it’s ok to think outside the box, to push a little bit. But it’s not so much his [Wang’s] work, it’s his spirit I’m inspired by. I know what it’s like being Asian in Manhattan, let’s just call it racist, or political, or whatever, but to be in that position and with that creativity and to prevail – I suddenly looked up to him.

koichitakada.com



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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”