Perspectives vol.10
Learning through a dialogue with landscape designer Michio Tase

Making new value a part of everyday life

The Perspectives series follows Sony designers into a wide range of fields, where they glean new insights
from experts and experienced veterans with diverse ways of thinking.

For this edition, designer Katsuji Miyazawa headed off to ACROS Fukuoka, a complex that opened in 1995.
The building's sloping side features a "Step Garden" that creates a forest-esque landscape against an urban backdrop.

Behind the creation of that new, man-made ecosystem was landscape designer Michio Tase,
who has kept the garden thriving for more than 25 years.
Miyazawa got a chance to talk with Tase about creating the landscapes of
the future—and the conversation opened up a fertile dialogue of discovery.

A design approach
that accepts uncertainty

Designer Katsuji Miyazawa

Talking with Tase, the thing that really resonated with me was his overall approach to design. He doesn't try to perfect a design before it makes its way into the world. For him, it's all about the process: taking his careful time, making adjustments along the way, and continually working to bring things closer to an ideal. Completion is a moving target, in a way. That's what gives him the flexibility to keep envisioning the landscapes of the future. The Step Garden project didn't end when ACROS Fukuoka opened its doors. It's been in progress for the 25 years since, with Tase constantly adding touches here and there to enhance the design. I admire that stance.

Every year that goes by brings change. I doubt that any of the plants in the garden have ever been exactly the same two years in a row, which means that the maintenance approach has to adapt as time goes by. Tase's unflagging commitment to garden upkeep, which has to be a time- and labor-intensive process, stems from his conscious decision to fill the design with the unpredictable, control-defying element of plant life.

Sustainable design with an eye to the future

Another thing I found captivating was that Tase spent the two years leading up to the opening of ACROS Fukuoka testing the Step Garden via a 1:100 scale model to see if the design would really be capable of supporting a viable ecosystem. Considering Tase's design approach, with its embrace of uncertainty, I could understand why he'd go to those lengths. That was a valuable insight. So was learning about his ideas for "mixed planting," which involves planting lots of different plants together in close proximity. To me, the connections between the techniques that Tase applied at ACROS Fukuoka and the broader concept of diversity were fascinating.

ACROS Fukuoka, the complex in which Tase engaged as a landscape designer

The idea of span was another theme that emerged. If the ACROS Fukuoka building ever reaches the end of its service life and gets torn down, Tase's design makes it possible to easily transplant the vegetation that grew in the Step Garden for many years into a new location. Tase envisioned the design on a far-reaching scope in advance, including how the Step Garden would finish its run and what would happen afterward. Looking ahead, that's definitely a perspective I want to incorporate into my work.

The "SC-1" service and
its beginnings in Okinawa

I'm involved in the project for the SC-1 entertainment vehicle service (including the UX), which launched in November 2019 at the Southeast Botanical Gardens in Okinawa. Using Sony-developed mixed-reality technologies in a vehicle setting, the service superimposes a variety of computer graphics over an in-vehicle display showing the external surroundings. The onboard high-sensitivity image sensor makes it possible to see the garden landscape in the dark—beyond what's visible to the human eye in normal circumstances—on the display in brighter lighting conditions, similar to what things would look like in the late afternoon. The program, set to run through the end of March 2020, provides users with an innovative way to engage with content on the move.

"Sociable Cart" SC-1

Passengers can enjoy contents of the actual surroundings with superimposed computer graphics

Another SC-1 service launched at an Okinawan shopping mall in February 2020. On the display inside the vehicle, users see kids' hand-drawn illustrations of houses, mountains, and more for a unique virtual-space experience. While the service at the Southeast Botanical Gardens puts entertainment front and center, the service at the mall operates from a bit of a different angle. That makes the feedback all the more fruitful—the different applications illuminate different insights.

The goal of the SC-1 project is to bring vehicles themselves into the service scope and turn movement into a platform for entertainment experiences. It can infuse familiar spaces—botanical gardens and shopping malls, for example—with brand-new value. Innovating something doesn't mean sacrificing the existing value; weaving new elements together is a path to new value, in my view. The "SC" of the SC-1 name stands for "Sociable Cart." I think that the "social" component is vital, and it's a big part of what I want to build future services around: pulling communities and residents together by delivering the benefits and value that people really need. If I can adapt to the circumstances and stay open to what changes bring, like Tase continues to do, I think I'll be in a good position to follow through on that aim.

Katsuji Miyazawa
Senior Manager
of Experience Design Group
at Creative Center, Sony Corporation

Michio Tase
Principal of PLAMTAGO

Editing and layout by AXIS editorial staff

Text by Junya Hirokawa