“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.”
“Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” by Leonard Koren.
This simple excerpt sums up the distinctive Japanese style of Wabi-sabi. Often cited but rarely understood in its full depth, Wabi–sabi is a Japanese aesthetic with spiritual roots. Zen and Mahayana monks introduced this concept to Japanese nobility some 700 years ago as one of the first steps toward “satori”, or enlightenment.
The belief that our environment influences our mind is now widely accepted, but the Wabi-sabi philosophy is the only design principle that guides us towards peace, quieting of the mind, and eliminating superfluous distractions. As a designer, I often see how embellishment is used to draw attention to an item, without adding anything of substance in the sense that it doesn’t add knowledge to self or to the object in question. These superficial embellishments can be understood as akin to the intangible “noise” and distractions that permeate our daily life. Walking into Roam Tokyo is like passing under a waterfall, where on the other side you find yourself refreshed and able to view your surroundings in a fresh, calming light.
Nicholas Lee is Roam Tokyo’s lead designer. He chose to take the unorthodox, long-winded design path instead of following today’s usual rules of efficiency, productivity, and showmanship. Stripping down an idea to its soul is no simple process, Lee informs us that
“It is easy to make things that are pretty, but difficult to make things that are meaningful.”
By difficult, Lee is referring to the unorthodox and laborious process of designing, engineering and building a space that only houses materials and objects that offer to its viewers stories of substance. But how do you materialize such lofty ideals? The first step in this year-long project was stripping away as much as possible to get down to the bones of the building. In its skeletal form, the hidden infrastructure was relaid for state of the art facilities and resealed, allowing the character of the original structure to remain without sacrificing any modern technologies.
Lee’s team is unique in that it is composed of both architects and artisans, forming a single brain that excels in both high-level creative as well as analytical processes. This team took the hands-on approach, taking up traditional construction tools to lovingly craft and mold each part of the space. In our highly refined world of marketing distortion and self-promotion, to find a team with such dedication and integrity to principles is rare. Once the walls were gleaming, the team set off around the world bring together those two elusive aesthetics: East meets West.
The team took it upon themselves to wander through rustic towns along the BlueRidge mountains of North Carolina to remote forgotten villages in the Nagano countryside in order to find the beauty and history that they were looking for. Of the found objects they brought back, each had a story and a personal connection to the designer, who then breathed new life into it for Roam. These reclaimed materials and vintage objects can be appreciated throughout Roam Tokyo, from the salvaged wooden floors to the hand-pressed ink prints lining the walls. The result is a unique Japanese feel that is also slightly reminiscent of a country western, with its assorted farmhouse-style dining chairs and antique wildlife heads on the walls.
Roam Tokyo, known as ninetytwo13, tells a story about about freedom and forging our own path, with patience and care. Lee says
“For us life is not a race to see who finishes first. It’s not about being the quickest, the strongest, the most beautiful, or the best. It’s about whittling away excess as we practice the art that we love so that we may be able to fully express ourselves honestly.”
For Roamers, this translates into an inspirational space where internal equanimity can translate into a platform for achieving our life goals and dreams. And let’s not forget the playful part- even the exercise room has touches reminiscent of an old-world circus.
The artful execution of ninetytwo13 makes it difficult to want to leave. When you do break away, Lee’s personal recommendations include walking through the backstreets of Aoyama/Harajuku and exploring all the little cafes and shops. For a more local and intimate feel, Lee recommends heading to Shimokitazawa which has a lot of secondhand vintage stores. Of course, the majesty of the Tokyo landscape can be viewed from any of the towering high-rise structures, but in his typical personalized style, Lee prefers the roller coaster in Korakuen to double the thrill of this breathtaking skyline.