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FSST project, Fujisawa

Sustainability 2.0

Smart and sustainable. It’s not every day that a property developer tries to sell homes with both of these ideas in mind. Even rarer: a hi-tech manufacturer – Japan’s Panasonic – is the developer in question.

To see what this looks like you have to head an hour southwest from Tokyo by train until you reach Fujisawa, a small coastal city of 420,000 residents that’s known for its surf and laidback lifestyle. Such is the allure of a less hectic life that the population has been growing for the past two decades.

But technology is now bringing even more people in. Panasonic is leading a group of businesses that is converting 19 hectares of a former factory site into what it’s calling Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (fsst). For Panasonic, the ¥60bn (€410m) fsst project marks a strategic shift from making TVs, appliances, batteries and solar panels to designing homes of the future. The companies involved have a lot riding on the project’s success but it could also eventually help resource-poor Japan wean itself off an addiction to energy imports.

That’s wishful thinking at the moment. fsst is still at an early stage of development with just 130-odd homes, landscaped footpaths, a community centre and a retail complex. The first residents only moved in last January.

The plan is to add about 200 new homes a year. By spring 2019 there will be 600 houses and 400 apartments drawing on solar energy from rooftop and roadside panels and storing enough of it in batteries to keep the lights on during an unexpected blackout for at least three days. Residents will share the use of a fleet of electric cars and if their electric bicycles run low on juice they will be able to borrow a fully charged battery. Panasonic says fsst will have a smaller environmental impact: its carbon emissions are expected to be one third less than buildings from 25 years ago. “We monitor the community’s energy use very closely,” says Takashi Kameda. “We are also here to offer support to residents with services for security, energy, healthcare and mobility.”

Kameda talks like a public servant, which he is not. He is the manager of a newly formed management company that looks after the community. His job is to make sure things run smoothly on a day-to-day basis. If some technology breaks down or someone’s house gets broken into at night, he springs into action. Or if disaster strikes, he can offer the fsst’s energy reserves to residents in areas outside the community.

A block away from where new homes are covered in scaffolding, Kameda sits in his office and gestures towards two flat-screen TVs with moving graphs. They tell him how much electricity and water residents are using at any given moment and whether the community’s carbon emissions remain low. (During our visit, the levels are low and the graphs read as “Excellent”.) Kameda can also pull up real-time video footage from 47 closed-circuit cameras scattered around the community and at night security guards patrol the streets. “Security here is tight,” he says. “It’s like living in a gated community, except there’s no gate.”

That’s one reason Kameda would advise against wandering the streets of fsst on your own: you might draw unwanted attention to yourself. “The best way to see the town is to buy a ticket for an hour-and-a-half tour,” he says. The novelty of living in an energy-saving community is an attraction for some but another big selling point is the retail complex. Walking distance from the new homes, Shonan T-site is the latest incarnation of Tsutaya, Japan’s biggest books, music and movies retailer (see issue 50). With 120,000 books and magazines, tens of thousands of film titles and albums and public seating inside and outside for more than 300 people, the new shop builds on the success of operator Culture Convenience Club’s (ccc) Daikanyama Tsutaya in Tokyo. It’s a sizeable investment in the power of print.

“Panasonic originally had other plans for the commercial area of this project but senior executives changed their minds after visiting our Daikanyama shop,” says Takahiro Kamata, who led the project for ccc. “We estimate that there are 200,000 people living within a 20-minute drive of here. But we hope that it draws people – especially families – from a lot further away.”

Like Daikanyama, Shonan T-site was designed by Tokyo-based Klein Dytham architecture. It features a central corridor of magazines running the length of three two-storey buildings, which are divided into themes and separated by trees. There is a lounge filled with back issues of Japanese magazines and a large slide outside for children. Unlike at Daikanyama, ccc didn’t separate retailers from books; Klein Dytham designed space for 30 shops and restaurants among the bookshelves. “We chose themes for the book sections and selected shops that would be the ideal match,” says Kamata.

Kamata uses the word “seamless” several times. It comes up again when architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham recount their early discussions with ccc’s president and founder Muneaki Masuda. Klein and Dytham want you to pass through the buildings almost without noticing that you’re moving from books to retail space and back. There is a natural flow as you walk from select shop Claska to magazines and books on design, retailer Globewalker’s suitcases to the travel section and electric-bicycle shop Motovelo to a shop with cycling books. “The mall experience is horrible because you’re a walking wallet,” says Klein. “Here the intention is to have you relax and take your time.”

Retailers have had to adapt to an unfamiliar concept. Some, like Claska, had never opened a shop outside of Japan’s big cities. “It’s not the most convenient location here, between two suburban stations, so it will be interesting to see whether people come,” says Claska director Takeo Okuma.

In the bookshop’s food and slow-life section, staffer Yoko Taketomi takes us around to see shelves with recipe books that she edited. Cleverly hidden beneath a display there is a stove for cooking demonstrations and near books on Italy’s slow-food section there is an olive-oil guide and oils selected by the author. Close by is the kitchen classroom for cooking school Shonan Ryori Juku. “Where the books on kitchenware are found, Kama-Asa Shoten sells pots, pans, knives and other items for cooking. And books on traditional Japanese fermented food such as miso are found near a shop of fermented products run by saké brewer Hakkaisan,” says Taketomi. “So you read about something that you want and it’s there for you to buy.”

There’s nothing obviously hi-tech about the building but that’s the point. Even in the most futuristic town there’s still a place for a bricks-and-mortar bookshop.

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