Spaces: Chowa’s Office in TriBeCa, New York City

By CHOWA BOX | March 19th 2024

#history #science

The Chowa office creates a world of blended cultures to step into, embodying its kiribako practice through its design and materials. Chowa’s first office and showroom is designed and built in collaboration with Serious Construction Company, located in northern TriBeCa. Yudai Kanayama’s intuitive and contextual approach to interiors helped to create the space personal and intimate. 

The space is crafted with materials that contemplate the historic alongside the contemporary. The material of Chowa’s boxes, Kiri (Paulownia), and wood paneling meet bespoke raw iron shelves, backed by a shoji-screen window overlooking the city: creating a space for the boxes which celebrates their traditional material history, in collision with the location’s contemporary atmosphere.

The center of visual focus in the space is the circular window. 円相 (Ensō), referred to as 悟りの窓 (Window of Enlightenment), 円相 is the endless circle: a prevalent motif in Zen Buddhism. Embodying immateriality, the circular window has been found in the plastered walls of Zen architecture in Japan, and through to early modern times in residential architecture, such as sukiya-zukuri tea rooms. The continuity of the circle represents a constant change in 調和 (harmony).

The main intention for the space was to create a ‘box’ for our boxes, so it was inevitable that we used Kiri (Paulownia timber) for the Chowa office. We decided to have Kiri panelling on the alcove of the wall where the shelves of our boxes would reside. In addition to the wall paneling, we used Kiri for other details such as light switch covers.

The shelves in this alcove provide an industrial contrast for the objects they hold: designed bespoke for the space, Serious Construction had them welded in a raw iron. With a middle divide, the shelves are modular, and have double layered desks. The chairs are also in iron, and were discovered at the metal workshop by Yasu (Architectural Designer at SC): when he went to check up on the ordered shelves, he saw the chairs and sensed they would be the right fit. Funnily enough, these chairs weren’t for sale… after some persuading ironworker let us purchase them, and we carried them back by hand from LES to the office.

Minimizing waste was at the core of the process of making the office. As the space neared completion, we started assembling the material used for the flooring and framing to create the couch, and then visited Ray’s father’s factory in Long Island City, who kindly lent an ivory fabric for the couch’s upholstery. Daiki, unaware of what Ray was building aside from it being an office space, provided another item: a vintage US Navy military locker. The locker, originating from the US Intrepid Museum, had been purchased by collectors in PAin New York, from whom my father bought it. This piece of ‘New York, USA’ story in the office felt reflective of the dual culture aspect of Chowa.

As the concept of Chowa extends beyond cultures, and between eras, there are carefully selected antique objects for the space, including a 1920s brutalist German light fixture and a silver floor standing light sourced from a NYC antiques dealer. There is also a selection of silver objects, including painted silver heater and door, USN aluminum locker, and two lighting fixtures. Other small objects include a late 1700s bottle used as our flower vase and a metal heater from the same period. These pieces which span eras are particularly relevant to Chowa’s aesthetic.

The final addition to the office was the Kami-dana. Kami-dana is an altar for the home, which enshrines Shinto kami. Though originally designed within traditional Shinto practices to protect spaces from bad energy, many Japanese people use it as an amulet in their important spaces. It was fitting to have the Kami-dana protect the office as a tribute to traditional box-making heritage, which is deeply connected to the Shinto and Zen practices. Ray traveled to Ise, Japan to visit the highest quality Kami-dana store. Ise is a city with an intense spiritual energy, and at the Naigu Shrine of Ise-Gingu he acquired the amulet for the Kami-dana and brought it from Japan, to New York, for it to now reside in TriBeCa. The office is Chowa’s first foray into physical spaces, and we are excited to continue the development of the interiors aspect of the practice: with new project spaces currently in development.

Photography (1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and cover) by William Jess Laird