It’s 25 years since Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham left the Royal College of Art in London and came to Japan. “We came on a scholarship for three months,” explains Klein, 51. “We were bamboozled by the high quality and craftsmanship of the buildings. If you wanted to experiment or go wild, Japan seemed like anything was possible.”
After working for renowned architect Toyo Ito, the pair helped a developer renovate existing buildings before creating Klein Dytham architecture. Now, 15 staff members work in their Minato-ku office on projects, including hotels, chapels, offices and libraries. They’ve designed Sony stores all over the world and Google’s Tokyo office. Daikanyama T-Site, a vast bookshop and one of their most well-known projects, won a Wallpaper* Design Award and a 2012 World Architecture Festival award for best shopping centre.
“There’s the whole notion of a third space here because everyone lives in small apartments. It’s about finding a space to browse: to work outside of your workplace or home,” says Dytham, 49. “It was really a very big success,” adds Klein. “Not just architecturally but from a retail point of view, as a landmark and on an urban rejuvenation level.”
Both architects work long hours – typically from 10am to 9pm – but that’s normal in Tokyo. Klein lives with her 12-year-old daughter, while Dytham lives in Shibuya with his wife and two children. “Tokyo is a really nice place to live. It’s really liveable; there are a lot of parks,” says Dytham. “Energy – that’s why we’re still here. There’s a positivity; everybody is positive in outlook.”