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Mind the Gap...

As I was accompanying an architect on her first visit to Tokyo, she asked me why so many buildings have a perceptible gap at their tops. Since I have been here for a while it is something that I have become rather accustomed too, but as I explained it I realized how much of a uniquely Japanese phenomenon it is that makes quite a mark on the cityscape. Basically in Japan all buildings are subject to very stringent setback regulations to avoid casting too much shadows on their neighbors. A more impermanent part of the building such as a screen wall or sign, however, is not required to be included in the setback regulations, and to distinguish this portion from the rest of the building it is officially referred to as "kosakubutsu." The normal criteria to be considered "kosakubutsu" is that it is supported by structure separate from the rest of the building, and that the surface is separate from the building elevation. What has resulted from this regulation, originally conceived for signs and mechanical screens, is that it allows extension of the height of the building while remaining immune form shadow regulations; since it must remain a separate structure, however, what results is an awkward gap slicing through a building's facade. Yet another example of the idiosyncratic nature of Japanese cities... at first glance seemingly unregulated, but actually a result of enormous capacity to follow regulations to every detail. So as you are walking down the streets of Tokyo, please remember to mind the gap ; )


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