Can the concept of time be expressed through a spatial experience? This rhetorical question lies at the heart of ASKWATCH, an immersive store in Tokyo that sells rare and trophy luxury watches. Located at Shinjuku, Tokyo’s central entertainment, business and shopping area, the store feels worlds apart from the city’s kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of skyscrapers, LED screens and bustling crowds thanks to Japanese interior designer Kenta Nagai’s bunker-like design that marries a brutalist rigor with minimalist sophistication. Gleaming display cases and sleek sitting nooks are boldly integrated into the decrepit concrete shell of an existing building constituting a profoundly contemplative space whose layered materiality and physical discrepancies evocatively convey the unyielding nature of time.
Measuring only 75-square-metres over two floors, the compact store features an elongated, narrow floorplan that Nagai has used to his advantage to create a sense of ceremonial exclusivity - the feeling that you’ve stepped into a secret, rarefied shrine. Instrumental in this concept is the design of an entrance vestibule inspired by the antechambers traditionally found in Shinto temples known as Hazama. Swathed in softly gleaming surfaces, the pared-down entryway has a cleansing effect, allowing visitors to enter the ground floor sales room with a clean palate.
Saddled with a ramshackle building structure, Nagai has exposed rather than covered up its ruinous state showcasing all its imperfections, from cracks and stains in the concrete, to cavities and chipped corners, to rusted piping and dried out mortar. Coupled with visible electrical and mechanical services, which cling to the concrete shell as sui generis ornamentation, the exposed building shell imbues the store with a poetic rawness akin to industrial archeology. Conversely, a series of sharp, modern interventions convey an immaculate sense of elegance made all the more intense by the juxtaposition.
On the ground floor, wall-mounted, stainless-steel display cases and storage cabinets run the length of the space with built-in sitting booths swathed in white on the opposite side, both paradigms of minimalist sophistication and seamless detailing. In between, a raised walnut deck hovers above the pebbled flooring while an austere stainless-steel sales counter gleams at the far end. Stainless-steel and white plasterboard surfaces can also be found on the upper level where once again they are set among the worn-down concrete structure. This floor is reserved for exclusive trophy watches so the sensation of an otherworldly bank vault is no coincidence.
Spanning past and present in its bold marriage of the decades-old building fabric with contemporary elements, the store’s unique design not only conveys a heightened sense of exclusivity and uniqueness, but also uncannily encapsulates the poignant beauty of time’s relentless march.