When the opportunity presented itself to take over the better part of a park in the quiet and trendy Jinnan area of Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Blue Bottle Coffee was quick to make the move. ‘We’ve wanted to open in Shibuya for a long time, but were waiting for the right location,’ explains chief brand officer Saki Igawa. The Californian brand has a strong foothold in Japan, and likes to seek out less-obvious locations. The first local store, which opened in 2015, did a lot to put the Kiyosumi area in east Tokyo on the coffee map, and the chain has also successfully transformed traditional townhouses in Kyoto into trendy hotspots for the caffeine-hungry.
Schemata Architects led by Jo Nagasaka has been the practice of choice for the brand, designing almost 20 stores in Japan alone, as well as a few in South Korea, and one in Los Angeles. The Jinnan store, however, is designed by Tokyo-based Keiji Ashizawa, his second Blue Bottle location, following the Minatomirai store in Yokohama that opened in September 2020.
Ashizawa used wood (opens in new tab) as his key material in Yokohama, but in Jinnan it is the Formafantasma-designed ExCinere tile (opens in new tab), glazed with the ashes of a Sicilian volcano for London-based architectural materials company Dzek, that takes centre stage. It clads the obligatory large counter on the ground floor, a full-length wall upstairs, and a large custom-built table in the lounge area on the same floor. ‘I have known Brent Dzekciorius from Dzek for a long time and he sent me a sample of the tile, which I had sitting around in my office,’ explains Ashizawa. ‘When Blue Bottle approached me about the Jinnan store, I thought this would really work well and everyone immediately took to the idea. A square cheesecake with a crème brûlée top matching the colours of the Formafantasma tile has even been added to the menu.’
Ashizawa enlisted Denmark’s Norm Architects (opens in new tab) to design furniture for the Yokohama store, but at Jinnan he has taken on the challenge himself. Outside, a special stacking bench made by Ishinomaki Laboratory (opens in new tab), which he helped found after the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, provides casual seating that can easily be moved around and kept within the store at night. Inside, furniture from Japanese brands Karimoku and Ariake provides a range of different seating options, from lounge sofas (opens in new tab) to high stools.
Asked if the latest two stores by Ashizawa signal the end of Blue Bottle’s long-standing collaboration with Schemata Architects, Igawa insists, ‘We are still working with Schemata, but we like to keep the design fresh so it doesn't become a cookie-cutter kind of environment.’ Judging by the mutual excitement of both Igawa and Ashizawa, bland corporate roll-out is the last thing on their minds.
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