Visit Munich or Melbourne, Seattle or Singapore and you’ll come across ‘almost perfect’ places to live. However, at Monocle we’ve created the ideal mansion block, with nothing omitted in its design. Now, who’s going to build it?
It’s no secret we’ve been on the hunt for a new place to call home. From fresh developments in Singapore to established neighbourhoods in plans, wandered corridors and quizzed superintendents in our quest for the perfect apartment building. While there’s no shortage of good property on offer, there’s also little that hits the mark when it comes to well-planned apartments, smooth lifts, essential services and inspired street-level retail. It’s for this reason that we got together with our little monk-cum-illustrator in Kyoto to come up with a building we think would work well on the fringes of Sydney’s CBD, fit neatly round London’s Paddington Station (see our designs on a better rail station in issue 44) and could function ideally on the slopes of Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district.
One of the biggest issues that plagues most new residential towers is the lack of life at ground level. As Midori Towers is built on a busy street, we’ve gone for a mixed-use approach that combines retail and services at street level, and offices, a hotel and residences on the floors above. Most modern residential blocks fail to engage with the street because they end up treating retail as an afterthought and install forbidding walls of plate glass that leave little room for creativity on the part of tenants and a monotonous streetscape for pedestrians. Midori Mansions’ street façade is designed to create a vibrant neighbourhood on the pavement and inside a galleria that connects to the inner courtyard. Featuring a selection of retailers, restaurants, cafés and service businesses, the shops are not just a draw for workers, guests and residents in the tower above but also a magnet for the entire neighbourhood. The izakaya-style brasserie is packed from breakfast till last call (03.00) and also serves as the main dining room for the 30-room hotel.
The speciality food shop is edited to respond to the needs of the building’s international mix of residents. The 24-hour newsstand has the best selection of magazines from across the globe and features its own remote printing press for hard-to-get newspapers. And in the special service arcade there’s a tailor, laundry and dry cleaning shop, hardware store, flower and gardening kiosk, as well as a shoe repair stand.
On the office floors above, staff have views over an inner courtyard and can keep an eye on clients pulling up to the liveried doormen. At lunch, when the sun is directly overhead, the lawn and gardens offer a perfect patch for enjoying a salad and glass of wine from one of many food shops in the galleria. Back up in the offices there are high ceilings, windows that open to create a gentle cross breeze and there are fast fibre and satellite connections to the outside world. Designed for round-the-clock operations, tenants have access to the building’s gym facility, catering is always on hand and there’s a cute Hino bus that runs every 15 minutes to major transport hubs.
Anchoring the centre of the building is the hotel that’s pitched at smart travellers who know what works and don’t want any design trickery. With a small lobby and cosy restaurant/bar overlooking the city, the hotel is designed to be a refuge rather than a scene. Rooms are designed for purpose – sleeping, entertaining friends and colleagues after-hours and working across multiple time zones. Furniture and finishes are solid to deal with wear and tear, power outlets are ample and well placed for feeding various electronic devices, the bathroom has the best fittings and fixtures from Dornbracht, Bisazza and Toto and the Bauwerk oak parquet floors are heated. Windows open onto small inner terraces for taking coffee in the morning sun and for guests who want a bit more fresh air the rooftop terrace features a pool and leafy areas for reading, dining and dozing.
The upper-most floors of Midori Mansions are dedicated to apartments of varying size and layout. The most popular is a flexible three-bedroom configuration that’s ideal for families requiring a room for children or a granny flat, business people requiring a sizeable office that can accommodate a few associates and clothes horses, and collectors who need an extra room for their possessions. Apartments come with bathrooms and kitchens already fitted and considerable space is devoted to a walk-in pantry, laundry room and storage room that connects directly to the outer hallway so skis, trunks and boxes don’t have to travel through the apartment. Residents also enjoy preferential rates at the hotel for weekends when there aren’t enough bedrooms in the flat and there’s also dedicated staff accommodation on all floors.
With its mix of relevant retail, sensible office spaces, discreet hotel and well engineered apartments, we’d like to see a sympathetic group of developers break ground on a couple of Midori Mansions-style developments in London, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, Zürich and Taipei. If not, we might just have to go and build them ourselves.
Taking its cues from Victorian train stations and Georgian arcades, Midori Towers’ barrel-vaulted entrance is grand but cosy and pedestrian-only. Ornate brass signage, low lighting, marble paving and plenty of seating set the tone.
All apartments have a generous terrace and are designed to harness natural light. A sturdy Forster kitchen is at the heart of each home, finishings are solid, natural materials and basic décor is a mix of Japanese and Scandinavian with Swiss fittings.
Up on the roof
In dense cities rooftops are prime real estate and Midori Towers makes every inch count for all its residents (and air-bound guests). Not just a place to take in the cityscape, it’s a hive of activity, 24/7.
While not a feature on top of our building, a helipad is essential for Midori Towers outposts in Brazil, Korea and other countries with chronic traffic problems. It’s also key to saving lives in cities where ambulances get stuck in jams.
The perfect parklet
We all learnt from Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s Manhattan High Line that you don’t need acres of land to create a perfect park. Dense shrubbery, a manicured lawn and plenty of public seating provide an oasis of bucolic charm. Outdoor film screenings are hosted on summer nights.
Solar panels generate power for the mansion block. Clever positioning on extended arms, away from the roof, means they’re not only angled to maximise sunlight all day long, but they never block the sun from devout tanners either.
Forget the hot personal trainer, a full set of Technogym equipment and a panoramic view is all the incentive we need for an early-morning workout. That said, the trainer Gustavo adds to the experience with his muscles, charm and motivation.
Over 75 metres long, the pool caters for all needs. Serious swimmers and training divers make use of the lanes, older ladies cool off in the middle, restless children splash about in the shallow end. A reinforced glass side gives underwater views over the city.
Roda loungers and Grythyttan furniture from Sweden are scattered next to the pool for informal morning meetings, catching up with friends and subtle sunset canoodling over a bottle of wine.
A rooftop vegetable garden is tended to by the husband-and-wife chef duo that runs the small restaurant. Serving unfussy seasonal salads, hearty comfort food and cakes it’s one of the Towers’ (and city’s) best-kept secrets.
External Kone elevators shuttle visitors from ground to floor 16 in two glass-fronted lifts, letting guests have a good nose at the block. There are additional internal lift banks.