Architect Koichi Takada is five minutes late when The Urban Developer catches up with him, delayed by news he has just picked up a new project—a commercial development with an American IT giant he won’t yet disclose.
The Sydney firm, established in 2008 by Tokyo-born Takada, has been expanding with projects in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Mexico City.
Fascinated by nature and its unpredictability, Takada says growing up in Japan he felt he had to “conform”, so his work is partly what he describes as a reaction to his traditional upbringing.
“I mean look, it is true that the reason why they labelled me the bad boy of architecture is I do push design,” he says.
“And when I say push, it’s not in a bad way, but we’re trying to add value, in design, public benefit, and of course for clients as business models.
“We constantly push.”
In 2018 the firm’s design scheme for developer Tim Gurner’s $350 million Collingwood project was lambasted for resembling a Las Vegas resort. But as passionate as he is about what he does, how does Takada deal with criticism?
“If you are never criticised you may not be doing much that makes a difference,” Takada says.
“Without criticism, you stay in the same place.
“So we see it as an opportunity to create more within the practice, to try and strive for excellence in design, and to use it as a fuel to drive us to the next level.”
Takada set up his practice in Sydney’s Surry Hills more than 10 years ago. His take on architecture's frontier?
“I went to the school in London where I met the likes of Zaha Hadid and Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
“They taught me how to think big.”
“I think we as architects, if we are to address something on a global scale, we need to think even bigger in terms of dealing with this challenge, of making design potentially much more sustainable and environmentally considered.”
He refers to the car industry in its transition to go electric, when he says architecture is also in the midst of its own transitional period.
“There’s been a lot of debate about what type of materials, or type of processes in construction to use to ease our carbon footprint.
“So this is a whole rethink, across the industry, of how we operate. A rethink of, not just the outcome, but the process and being more educated and responsible to start with.
“The fundamental value, for me, and for us, is to respect nature.”
Finding himself amid the concrete jungle of New York to study at age 18, Takada says nature is a fundamental element informing his work. And the challenges?
“Obviously we like to think that architecture is sustainable and contributes to a good cause, and reduces the carbon footprint, but the reality is, it’s still a very challenging market.
“We’re trying to desperately educate ourselves and our clients, that — first of all, let’s draw inspiration from nature. And then apply this to all aspects of our designs, ultimately contributing to a more environmentally conscious and purposeful approach with the future in mind.
“With a very simple design, we can start to create a new relationship with nature.”
With natural or biophilic architecture, Takada says “we never had this issue”.
Reflecting on his culture, he is specific on how design should learn from the past, paying homage to cultural roots and Indigenous or heritage sensibilities in designing for the future.
“Each culture always has something very specific to the place. And these people did not have any technology to deal with the changing [four] seasons.
“But they came up with different types of architectural responses using local materials.
“Today we have state of the art technology available to us. So why not have that marriage between the traditional and modern technology to create something more sustainable.”
Knowing that the work he does will long outlive him, Takada explains urban legacy.
“When I travel and look at the history of cities, it fascinates me.
“And it comes back to the importance of knowing your roots, because without those roots nothing is going to grow on top.
“So it’s very important to keep that in mind, the buildings constructed today will one day become history.
“Through time, we’re contributing to the urban fabric and the future of the city.”