Monday, September 17, 2012

Von Jour Caux: The Philosopher's Stone

If use of space is one of the pillars that architectural design is built upon, than Von Jour Caux warps that very foundation.
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The Philosopher's Stone contemplates the streets of Ikebukuro.
Born January 27th 1934 in Asakusa, Tokyo as Toshiro Tanaka, he studied architecture at Waseda University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Following a tour of  New York and Mexico, he returned home to draft apartment, offices, and resorts—very conventional, very boring.

Seeking spiritual fulfillment, in 1971 he turned his back on the business world to reinvent himself as Von Jour Caux, leader of a troupe of artists and craftsmen known as Art Complex. They took the nouveau riche country by storm, completing over ten major projects until society’s appetite for extravagance vanished with the mid-90's housing bubble . Private residences, condominiums, nursing homes—while the decorations by gaudy, the structures themselves never be wasteful, with the Philosopher's Stone being one of their most eye-catching offerings.

Come along with us on a guided tour of the crown jewel of bizarre Tokyo architecture.

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Organic insect shapes molded into the edifice.

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Detail of the front.
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The building is owned by the sake manufacturer Hirakiya.
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The first floor is open for business and pedestrian traffic.
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Sinuous snake details on the wrought iron entrance gate.
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Ouroboros before he got played out.
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The waiting room for your trip to a Gaudi-inspired dreamscape.
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Another serpentine motif in the tiled fresco above the elevator.
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The secrets of creation are well guardedthis locked door is as deep as you go.
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Open-mouth ceramic tubes sprout from the walls like mushrooms.  
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The hand lamps saturate the room with warm shadows.
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At a distance, the slick walls shine like snakeskin.
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The backrest is surprisingly ergodynamic.
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Sit and ponder exactly how and why this place was built.
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The project's codename was Raga Chakras, as illustrated by this  ceiling pattern informed by Hindu mandalas.
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More ruminations on the origins of life.
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Inscription on the outside is French for "the forest." 
Though technically a private residence, the unlocked front gate is irresistibly inviting. You're more likely to run into another shutter bug than building security. Still, we ask that you use common sense and respect the property.

From Ikebukuro Station, head straight out of the Center East exit and proceed down the right side of the main road. On the fifth block you will pass a Detour coffee shop. Turn right at this corner and the building is down the street on your right.

Toshima-ku, Minami Ikebukuro 2-29
Google Map

Special thanks to Tokyo Damage Report's awesome Tokyo Tour Guide for the tip!


  1. Internet Savage Shazzb0tSeptember 18, 2012 at 2:58 AM

    So I am not the only person who calls Doutor "Detour." Atrocious coffee. Will be checking this place out. Thank you!

    1. Damn typos! Definitely worth dropping by if you have an hour to kill in Tokyo. The architect has other buildings around the city, but this seems to be the most interesting of the bunch.

  2. Ah, the virtues of opulence. May we live to see Japan experience those pre-bubble days once more.