French Architect Brings Brilliant Color to Tokyo

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By Winifred Bird / Published by Dwell
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A French architect and designer makes her saturated mark on Tokyo’s streetscape.

Most buildings begin with an idea or an image: the architect muses over a concept, sketches a form, or mulls client requests. Emmanuelle Moureaux is different. The first thing the French-born, Tokyo-based architect does when she sits down to tackle a new project is decide how many colors she’ll use. Eight? Fifteen? Thirty? Lime green? Lollipop pink? Sky blue? Whether the end product is an outrageously cheerful bank or a rainbow-bright lacquered cabinet, color is Moureaux’s preferred tool for evoking rhythm, depth, and emotion. "I use colors as three-dimensional elements to create space, not as a finishing touch applied to surfaces," says Moureaux, the principal of Emmanuelle Moureaux Architecture + Design. She calls the style shikiri, meaning "to divide and create space through color." 

Sugamo Shinkin Bank, Tokiwadai Branch (2010)

One of the four Tokyo branches Moureaux has designed for Sugamo Shinkin Bank sports 14 colorful window boxes punched into the facade.

Paper installation (2013)

For an installation for the Japanese paper manufacturer Takeo, architect Emmanuelle Moureaux suspended 840 pieces of paper in a spectrum of 100 colors.

It is not an approach she learned at architecture school in Bordeaux, where color was treated mostly as an afterthought. But in 1995, Moureaux took a weeklong trip to Tokyo to research her graduate project and found herself immersed in a cityscape unlike any she had ever seen. Vending machines, signs, electrical wires, and glimpses of sky floated in a multilayered, multicolored panorama. The experience was an epiphany. "Tokyo was like an art piece that made you feel emotion," she says. She moved there the following year, and seven years later, in 2003, she started her own firm. 

Issey Miyake, Bloom Bloom Bloom (2013)

Moureaux designed a colorful installation for two Issey Miyake shops in Tokyo in 2013. Sculptural "flowers" in bright neons gave the shop floor a dynamic energy to celebrate the launch a new collection by the Japanese fashion brand.

Mille-Feuille storage series (2013)

Layers of lacquered MDF in a rainbow-bright shades make up these playful cabinets, designed by Moureaux for Schönbuch.

Since then, Moureaux’s approach has evolved from using flat screens of color to a more complex exploration of lines, shapes, and textures. In one recent project, large colored squares float on the facade of a bank, creating the illusion of rhythmic movement for passersby. In another, she suspended sheets of paper in 100 brilliant shades from the ceiling of an exhibition space, then asked visitors to select their favorite. Moureaux’s choice? "White," she says. "Because it is the most important for making the other colors appear beautiful."

Paper Game Center (2013)

A pop-up installation for the Shinjuku Creators Festa in Tokyo invited visitors to play a number of designer-created games using paper from Takeo. Moureaux suspended 840 pieces of paper in a spectrum of 100 colors.

Shibafu table (2010)

This whimsical table is made up of 56 acrylic sticks, embedded into a piece of transparent acrylic.

Sugamo Shinkin Bank, Ekoda Branch (2012)

Another branch of the Sugamo Shinkin Bank features 29 tall exterior poles and 19 in the entryway, blurring the boundary between indoors and outdoors.

Tenukore (2010)

These bright textiles are a modern take on traditional Japanese "tenugui" handkerchiefs.

Uniqlo installation (2014)

For this colorful concept that took over 51 Uniqlo stores, starting with the brand's flagship in Ginza, Moureaux hung rows of paper strangs so that they would pick up passing breezes.

Zoff store (2013)

Modular wooden blocks with colorful accents brighten up this glasses shop in Saitama.