Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace

Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace

Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace


Japanese architecture is perhaps one of the most profoundly beautiful, vulnerable and considered of the modern design ethics. Not unlike the cherry blossoms so revered and admired by the Japanese, there is a delicacy to the way the Japanese approach architecture. The cherry blossoms, fragile and beautiful made of the finest petals manages to survive the relentlessly cold and hard Japanese winters, only to blossom again, full of their delicate beauty, in the spring. It is this complex juxtaposition of fragility and strength, overlaid with an almost otherworldly beauty that we see time and time again in Japanese design. Tokyo’s new office is no different.

So what do you do when you’re presented with a dull office space with low ceilings and a desire to create something beautiful and calming but collaborative and inspiring all at the same time? You get clever.

The level of attention to detail and planning is as apparent here as it is anywhere in Japanese architecture. And architecture, it really is. This is no every day interior. The 500 square metre office has been carved into exterior spaces, giving rise to interior spaces. A cube within a cube. But let’s start from the beginning…

As you walk into the reception space, it’s your first introduction to the parallel life of this intriguing, Alice In Wonderland-esq experience. The reception area, with its concrete clad walls and beautifully detailed, timber panelled staircase, seems more like a place to gather, inside a high walled courtyard. The double height space soars up into the sky. It is so light here, so breezy, it seems almost impossible to believe that you’re not in a beautifully designed outdoor café.


Related Post: Airbnb Portland Office Replicates Spaces That Can be Found in Airbnb Listings From Around the World.


Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace

Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace


The in collaboration with the Airbnb’s Experience Team have taken what was ostensibly a boring, commercial office space and made it into a type of Japanese village. Building facades sit inside this fitout, creating streets and laneways and outdoor spaces. Quite frankly had anyone else attempted such a feat no doubt it would read like a kid’s pop up book or a faux theatre set. But not here. Not here in Shinjuku District of Tokyo. No, what we have here, is something truly enchanting.

Double height buildings with old world widows look down into the outside courtyards below. Courtyards designed to be ‘outside’ meeting areas. Maple trees almost seem to rustle in the wind. High above these outside spaces are lights appearing to float in the sky. Custom made by New Light Pottery, these ethereal lights are based on the traditional floating rice paper lanterns with their tiny candles inside, released on ceremonial days.

‘The main concept of this project was to recreate the feeling and vibe of a Tokyo neighbourhood. These buildings’ walls have different wooden cladding, to reflect the eclectic mix of volumes, textures and patterns that is Tokyo and to mark a threshold between an outside and an inside, a social and a private space,” comment the architects Makoto Tanijiri and Ai Yoshida.


Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace

Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace


This theme of making a series of external courtyards run through the small office space is both charming and delightful. It’s refreshing. It makes you want to move to the ‘outside’ garden space to think, to brainstorm, to meet. And then you want to retract to the inside, to the rice paper screened ‘tea rooms’ to work, to collaborate, to cocoon. But there’s fun elements here too, meeting rooms based on listings on the Airbnb’s site from around the world. Or the Mexican artwork that was donated by an Airbnb employee’s mother.

But it is this connection with nature and the outside, as well as the reference to classical Japanese architecture that typifies this fit out. There’s the beautifully expressed, framed black steel windows leading into the meeting rooms. The corridors that are panelled with white oak strips and the dark grey ceilings, not apologising for their low height but rather emphasising it.

In some ways the entire space, the meeting rooms, the corridors and the exterior of the building walls themselves all feel like beautifully designed joinery. The articulation of each piece, feels like beautiful pieces of furniture. “The general office is therefore a mix of outdoor-inspired furniture and lighting, trees and planters, and elements inspired to the Japanese traditional architecture meant for people to enjoy a variegated landscape in which there is always a new way to work, socialise, live,” says Tanijiri.


Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace

Airbnb HQ in Tokyo by Suppose Design Office | Yellowtrace


The term for the strip of timber flooring immediately before the windows inside traditional Japanese rooms, the area to herald the space leading to the outside world, is called Engawa. Later this phrase became synonymous with the outside corridors or verandas that wrap around the house, bringing you in closer with nature but not quite taking you away from the protection of the building. Indoor, outdoor. Engawa is the space in-between.

Here at Airbnb, Engawa is a very real physical space. It is a raised platform with tatani mats and a long timber bench from which to work and to peer down into the busy streets of Shinjuku below. How fitting then for this multidimensional workspace, to embrace Engawa – the transitional space between inside and outside.

Because within this cube within a cube, it’s almost impossible to determine which is which.



[Images courtesy of . Photography by .]


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About The Author

Susanna McArdle

Susanna has a background in Interior Architecture and a passion for writing. Based in Sydney, she has worked both in Asia and Australia designing. An avid writer, it’s hard to know what she prefers more, stringing words together or creating spaces. But one thing she does know, is that she loves doing the both together.

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