Sarugaku, or “the monkeys’ entertainment” is a type of performance popular during early Japan. Similar to the modern day circus, sarugaku originally consists mainly of acrobatics, juggling and theatrics. Architect Akihisa Hirata intended for the design of the Sarugaku Commercial Complex to be playful and full of surprises, with the main aim of immersing its users in a labyrinth of simple spaces.

Map Daikanyama

The site is situated in Daikanyama, a place in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. It is mainly a shopping district, filled with boutique fashion shops and other up-scale retail shops. Main circulation within the district is via pedestrian walkways and only a few small vehicular streets (4-lane maximum) are present.


The main design concept of the complex centered around the idea of an intimate community composed of diverse identities and functions. The tight configuration of spaces in between the shops promotes a sense of bonding as users share the intimate spaces with fellow users. One of the main design requirements was the need to build within a narrow site and hence, the strategy to stack up volumes of spaces onto one another seemed obvious and practical. Through the stacking of the retail shops onto one another, Hirata created six “mountain-shaped” volumes situated along and defining the boundary of the site.


This configuration results in a “valley-shaped” lane cutting through the site, and this space forms the main entrance and circulation path of the complex. In addition, the tapered tip of the volumes, derived by the arrangement of smaller shops at the top levels maximised the amount of sunlight in the lower level spaces, and allowed for both natural lighting and ventilation through the dense arrangement.


On each level, the terracing of the volumes allowed for the overflowing of the spatial programs into the residual spaces such as the walkways, greatly increasing the potential and flexibility of the spaces. This quality is coupled together with the specific placement of the full-length windows of each store. Each window is located along a straight line of sight to allow for a maximum visual interaction penetrating through the entire complex. This continuation of view serves both to connect the different spaces within the complex and also to add to the perceived effect of one being caught in between the labyrinth of volumes.


In relation to the recreational spaces in Singapore with the aim to promote community bonding, Sarugaku offers various key strategies which can be studied further and hopefully implemented.

1. The typology of an intimate cluster of commercial (and recreational) spaces have proved to be rather effective in Singapore’s context. Clusters experience a much higher traffic flow with the higher number of programs, and providing the opportunity for users to come into close contact often acts as a catalyst towards community bonding. However, with the increasing density of public housing typologies on this tiny island, a cluster of recreation amenities such as playgrounds and fitness corners may not always be feasible due to the space constraints. Sarugaku’s strategy of the stacking of programs in small and maybe even modular units could suggest a new form to test out and implement.

2. Being a shopping district, a large number of visitors to Sarugaku are pedestrians. Apart from the fact that communal bonding often impossible between humans in vehicles, planning for a cluster which is navigated about via foot allows for users to experience the space in a more intimate way, tapping into the meta-physical experience one has of a particular area. Combining with routine, the frequent use of a cluster, perhaps for the purpose of commuting, creates memories and forms a sense of identity and familiarity for the user.

The question remains if such a typology is viable in the urban context of Singapore. Community bonding goes far beyond the design of a space. The role of the architect hence, is to facilitate for the building of human relationships rather than visual aesthetics.





“Sarugaku / Akihisa Hirata | ArchDaily.” 2008. 23 Sep. 2013 <http://www.archdaily.com/8237/sarugaku-akihisa-hirata/>

“sarugaku (Japanese theatre) — Encyclopedia Britannica.” 2008. 24 Sep. 2013 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/524584/sarugaku>

“akihisa hirata architecture office.” 2006. 24 Sep. 2013 <http://www.hao.nu/>

 “Akihisa Hirata : Tangling – 28 April 2013 | DAMn° magazine.” 2013. 24 Sep. 2013 <http://www.damnmagazine.net/en/article/akihisa-hirata–tangling>