The Japanese have long intrigued North Americans, in every facet, from their food, to their clothing, to their design, to their overall minimalist culture (please don’t use the documentary The Minimalists as your reference point here). The Japanese lifestyle is known to be refined, thoughtful, uncluttered yet intricate—certainly forward-thinking compared to how we live on this continent. Ian Gillespie of Vancouver’s Westbank has a goal of bringing some of these ideas to the far west, and it all begins with “Japan Unlayered”.
The exhibition and pop-up shop, located in a few areas throughout the Westbank-owned Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel from Jan. 27 to Feb. 28, 2017, references the Japanese concept of layering and works to explore the country’s design elements and overall ideas about quality of life with Vancouverites. That means, in part, a selection of photos from the work of master Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (who is designing a new Westbank high-rise on Alberni Street, for which the 3D renderings are also on display). “Even in small spaces, people like to create richness,” Kuma says of Japanese layering, at a preview for the exhibit. “Layering can create intimate space, even in a small place.” For the Alberni project, his goal is to produce a “soft skyscraper”—one focusing on natural materials and highlighting the unique landscape of Vancouver.
“This is the most stylish event I have attended since assuming office,” says Asako Okai, the consulate-general of Japan in Vancouver, with a smile. Indeed, underneath the work of Kengo Kuma and Associates are other layers to the exhibit: a special tasting menu created by Tokyo two-Michelin-starred chef Hiromitsu Nozaki and implemented by the Pacific Rim’s own Takayuki Omi, for one thing, available in limited quantities at the Pacific Rim’s Lobby Bar (guests must book in advance). And then there is the hotly-anticipated Muji pop-up right at the hotel entrance, part exhibit and part store, showcasing the cult Japanese brand’s breadth of offerings—everything from calculators and socks to luggage and furniture—some of which can be purchased and taken home (due to its expected popularity, visits must also be scheduled ahead of time for this part of the exhibit). There is also a “floating teahouse” covered with ultra-thin Japanese fabric and suspended by a helium balloon, and a few items of contemporary Japanese fashion displayed from the private Westbank collection. And finally, there is a pop-up of luxury brand Beams Japan, located inside the Giovane Café: find T-shirts and coffee pots, silk jackets and tea towels, sake mugs and backpacks.
“We’ve been blessed with natural beauty in Vancouver,” Gillespie emphasizes. He credits the city’s early urban planners as creating a solid foundation—“Someone chose to put a seawall around Stanley Park”; “Someone chose not to put a highway through the middle of downtown”—and says his goal, Westbank’s goal, is to bring world-class architecture, and with it new ideas, to the city he calls home. Our job is then to peel back the layers.