A “Treehouse” in Tokyo Redefines Work-Life Balance
Built in the 1960s, the Aoyama Building has weathered some of the more swift-moving winds of modern history. The 13-story tower is planted on a block corner in Tokyo’s Minato ward, in a thicket of skyscrapers, parks, embassies, and palace grounds. In the 1970s, it housed the headquarters of the Mitsubishi Corporation. After a change in ownership, the building slipped into a period of relative decline, but as Minato-ku has established itself as an epicenter of cultural refinement, appealing to an international crowd, the Aoyama Building has been refashioned accordingly. In 2016, New York design firm Roman and Williams led a renovation of the building, and one of the more contemporary features of the new interior is a membership-based amenity space called AoyamaTreehouse.
AoyamaTreehouse is designed to help its members cultivate business innovation, and it does so by providing a two-story suite of rooms precisely programmed for individual self-seeking and strengthened group interactions. The old caricature of Tokyo as a city of compulsive, cubicle-bound workaholics is banished from this business-centered space, and rushing into the void is an aesthetic that draws from far deeper layers of the past.
Much of the third floor of AoyamaTreehouse echoes the layouts of contemporary offices and co-working spaces, though with a more effusive cladding of wood and natural materials to separate this “treehouse” from its urban environs. The floor plan is composed of variously sized rooms, furnished with a mixture of tables, chairs and lounge furniture to serve the corresponding needs for solitude and interaction, intimacy and openness. Like the rooms of a bathhouse, the variety of spaces promotes movement from one type of environment (and task) to the next, with some rooms partitioned with movable walls to allow for more flexibility.
What truly distinguishes the interior architecture, however, is the inclusion of a meditation hall, a womb-like, circular enclosure cast in warm, golden light. This central feature invites members to separate themselves even further from the din of modern life and cultivate their meditation practices. Trained guides are employed to teach techniques of “mindfitness,” an adaptation of “mindfulness” engineered by Zen Master Masamichi Yamada to develop open-minded empathy and sharpened focus — both seen as fundamental assets for business leadership. It is believed that the nurturing of the individual mind, conducted inside the Mindfitness room, is what fuels the innovation and collaboration that take place outside of it.
A final part of this equation is rest, to which an entire floor of AoyamaTreehouse is devoted. A restaurant, bar, café, terrace, and a large, semi-enclosed “engawa” room adjoin to form the second floor space, which is designed to meet the spatial needs of a quick coffee break, an intimate brunch, or a well-attended party. Restaurant Arbor (which opens to non-members) promises a menu of vibrant, farm-to-table fare, following the belief that locally sourced food nourishes the mind and spirit. With its many components, AoyamaTreehouse seems to ask just what the difference is between the health and wellbeing of humans and that of their entrepreneurial pursuits.