NION Berlin: a Japanese urban quarter for us all

NION Berlin’s bright logo is a dot on the map, drawing attention to Berlin’s Moritzplatz, as curious neighbours glare through the sweeping windows of the project workspace. A Google Maps search titles the location ‘A Japan Experience’, referencing the travel agency that still resides in the back. Yet rising up from its Japanese pop-up store is an ambitious plan to change the way that people live and work together.


Maria Mouk


Valentina Culley-Foster

Inspired by the ancient and modern traditions of its Japanese co-founders, NION Berlin is a developmental project with the establishment of a holistic urban quarter as its goal. A model of responsibility, the living quarter proposes a more harmonious way of integrating and innovating into the natural environment. The focus is on sustainable approaches related to both the infrastructure of NION, the management of resources like energy and waste, and the entire community philosophy.

The 90,000-square-metre living, working, and ideation space will provide Berlin’s most curious inhabitants with a smarter way to live, and a micro-community on the city’s riverbanks. The plans include a downtown-feeling commerce centre with Japanese cuisine and shops, an innovation technology hub with a fabrication cafe and collaborative space for environmental solutions, a residency programme offering traditional craftsmanship techniques from Japanese masters, a collaborative arts centre and events facility, and a Dojo and Sento health centre with an apprentice programme offering traditional remedies. All this will be part of a gender- and age-diverse 400-person residential area integrating with local flora and fauna to offer a communal life–work balance. NION Berlin wants to be exemplary as a sustainably minded village of social innovation. With its approach, the cluster city proposes itself as an experimental laboratory for addressing the city planning challenges of the future.

The focus is on sustainable practices and ‘bringing people with different agendas together as a method to foster creativity’, says Ryotaro Bordini Chikushi, co-founder and CEO. With its expansive and detailed square metres of ambition and a philosophy internally described as ‘perpetual care’, the block is visionary, down to the management of its language, carefully cited by its Chief Community Catalyst (CCC), Naho Iguchi.

'When we say its an urban development project, it has to be holistic, it has to be an ecosystem.'

Following a few strides up the steps of the NION space, you can choose from one of the dozen pairs of indoor slippers lining the entrance. There, once inside, you might even meet the smiling, youthful Ryotaro yourself. A cultural hybrid of Japanese and Italian descent, he calls himself a ‘crossbreed runner between research, strategy, and production’. NION Berlin is possibly his biggest undertaking so far, but nowhere near the first. A true serial entrepreneur, Ryotaro’s pocketful of projects have already helped to nourish numerous cross-cultural exchanges in Europe and Japan, touching creative and business industries alike. Besides his rare Japanese vinyl shop, Mion Records, he is also the co-founder of greenbox, providing ideation space for infrastructure and energy professionals in Berlin. The idea has already caught on internationally, with countries such as India, China, and Japan looking to set up their own.

‘With the pilot project of greenbox, infralab, we have nine partners’, explains Ryotaro. ‘From public transportation, waste management, electricity grids, energy supply, gas, water. These nine heterogenic companies found their roundtable at infralab, to find common denominators among them, to create holistic approaches, to create a better Berlin. It’s not all about “smart-ness” but about a holistic approach to the problems or solutions we have today for a city.’

Ryotaro’s technical and collaborative competence is essential to the foundation of NION, with all of its participants contributing to a responsible ecosystem. The team is versatile, with strong players supporting its constituent pillars of business, technology, culture, and communication. Their approach doesn’t exclude the community at large, however, aiming to invite other visionary experts on board, be they designers, architects or gardeners.

And this is no ‘Japan-town’, Ryotaro assures us: NION’s focus is integration. ‘It’s not about building a UFO in the middle of the city, an alien piece, but its really about something that is fusioned into the city, or grown out of the city.’

NION has four main founders, with two taking an active role and another two advising. ‘I’m the Chief Eternal Optimist’, he laughs. ‘So I’m more on the business side of things. You always have multiple roles, but you have a part where you do the heavy lifting.’

Naho Iguchi is the organisational psychologist and former director of TEDxTokyo, who is sitting close to Ryotaro as he speaks. Here at NION, she is responsible for the community building and team ethic, reiterating the value of each individual and NION’s pledge to have a work environment free of power dynamics and hierarchies. Ryotaro and Naho met just five years earlier through a mutual work acquaintance, and Ryotaro remembers his first impressions: ‘She was telling us what she does, and that she was a walking, living, sculpture…’

Naho cites progressive self-management concepts such as teal and Holacracy as the benchmarks for team culture at NION Berlin, with transparency and self-organisation significant for the organic growth and structure they seek. Her focus is on the human decision-making process, and she believes that any human activity is an act of art, ‘such that it consciously aims to yield new culture’. Naho is also in charge of fuelling the momentum that will further populate and ‘animate’ NION, allowing residents and visitors to feel included while contributing through their individuality. This process involves hosting community meetings, developing the language reflective of NION, and keeping everyone mindful of the greater ethos of transparency, accountability, and inclusion.

The two other founders have helped revive Berlin’s sleepy quarters over the last decade, and offer their valuable experience as counsel. Andreas Krüger is the former carpenter-turned-developer who has overseen the development of Kreuzberg’s Moritzplatz since 2007, housing the art mecca Planet Modulor, the green Prinzessinnengärten, co-working BetaHaus, Open Design City, Just Music, and many more. NION’s CFO is Andreas Foid, accomplishing the refurbishment, revitalization, and planning of Kreuzberg’s Markthalle Neun, one of the dying 90s market halls of Berlin and now a foodie hotspot that brings handcrafted regional food stands to 15,000 visitors every weekend.

NION’s roadmap to fruition projects a public launch in the year 2020. As the planning continues, Ryotaro looks to the achievements of local establishments for inspiration. ‘Holzmarkt is what comes closest to what we envision with NION. Holzmarkt started with a club, the club became a sauna, then lots of trailers came in, and then they had a little hotel, a restaurant … That became something really iconic and representative of Berlin.

‘When you see something like Markthalle Neun’, he continues, ‘it’s actually a very Japanese style of doing things. Basically you have lots of small stalls, food stalls with high-quality food. It really revolutionized the development of food culture in Berlin. The success story of it is that it’s the small things that matter so much. Everything was movable and content was king.’

The project is just two years into development, but bold, with an interested team of specialists extending well beyond the core team of its founders. Although the NION team is hesitant to reveal the pending names in progress, a Japanese architect and several cross-cultural scholars have voiced their interest and support. With its open-door policy, the NION brainstorming office continues to hold weekly meetings for those in the extended community looking to contribute their voices and skills.

The name NION, Ryotaro says, alludes to its incidental evolution from the branding colour scheme, consisting of a bold logo made to stand out in neon. Plus, “Nihon” and “Nipon” both mean Japan. Ni has the connotation of two … ‘In this case it’s the European culture with the Japanese culture, so that’s how we saw it.’

‘It’s not about building a UFO in the middle of the city.'

Architecturally, NION’s living-quarter design is inspired by the Berliner Mischung concept. The 250-year-old idea combines residential, commercial, and productive spaces within one town block to stimulate its inhabitants both culturally and economically. Ryotaro’s definition is even wider, calling it ‘a new model of life in the urban environment’. He repeats that ‘it has to be holistic, it has to be an ecosystem. So, it has to back all of the factors that we consider important in life. It’s about learning, it’s about working, it’s about health and fun and entertainment. And of course – what’s really at the core of it – it’s about living.’

Within NION’s infrastructure, the operating technology reflects its conscious and sustainable choices. The planning of facility services and energy management includes reusing food not used in restaurants, waste collection with emission-free vehicles, storm-water collection, roof gardening, wind-driven building ventilation, hot-water generation via solar thermal elements, and the use of intelligent building materials. The important concepts come down to the localization of energy, and ‘making a resource of the waste’, says Ryotaro.

The scarcity of space in densely populated cities like Tokyo is also an inspiration for the NION Berlin project. The architectural considerations are sustainable, in that the aim is to maximise the opportunities of the available land. ‘Because you’re not wasting space, you have to really utilise and appreciate the space you have and you can access.’ Ryo continues. This does not in any way suggest a plan for industrialised urban gridlock, however. NION’s Japanese community garden will horizontally slope over annexing buildings, while also supporting Berlin’s biodiversity. Urban beehives can be erected, and bird nests can be integrated into buildings for winter stays.

Offering an alternative to a loaded word such as sustainability, Naho explains that internally, they prefer the term ‘perpetual care’. Suggesting that the word sustainability lies in the old paradigm, she aims to reinvent the mindset of those looking to apply conscious strategies to their everyday living. ‘We believe that we need a totally different perspective or starting point. It’s more like caring; it’s constant, ceaseless, it’s not planning ahead for sustainability but more awareness of everyday life.’ The aims of ‘perpetual care’ are preventative.

'How can we localise energy and how can we reuse the waste that we generate to create a resource out of the waste?'

The current trajectory places the NION team in the process of acquiring and purchasing the desired land. The team is aiming to secure an area directly on the Spree, close to several other cultural institutions in Berlin. With local and Japanese partners on reserve, NION is also researching land development and continuing to meet with local social scientists, architects, and designers who can help further their mutual vision. The team believes in the synergy between the two ‘sister’ cities of Berlin and Tokyo, as well as the creative support of the dozens of multinational influences that have made Berlin the melting pot and cultural mecca of Europe.

Naho mentions the closer milestone of the upcoming NION week, planned for September of 2018. Taking place between the multicultural Holzmarkt community and the NION work space at Moritzplatz, the cultural and gastronomic programme will serve to introduce the city to some of the Japanese partners, potentialities, and tease others to get involved.

‘The level that we are at now is very content driven’, says Ryo. ‘As you can see, the topics that we are trying to cover are very vast … culture, music, art, business technology, sustainability … for every part we need specialists and enthusiasts who will pioneer this project with us.’

Berlin continues to open its doors to many, with generations former and future growing inspired in its fertile and tolerant soil. Nurtured by citizens that are eager to innovate and grow, this is a city plan within a city, and an ecosystem for the future. NION Berlin is a living laboratory for living better. And with its values focused on attitude, content and freedom, NION is already Berlin.

More info about NION Berlin and their urban development can be found on their website and Facebook page.


NION柏林: 为我们而打造的日式都会住宅区

柏林NION明亮的招牌在地图上很显目,吸引大家对柏林莫里兹广场的注意力,街坊邻居们纷纷以好奇的眼神打量大型窗户内的项目工作区。谷歌地图这个搜寻点名为 “日式体验“,实际上是指位在建筑后方的一间旅行社。然而,崛起自日本快闪店概念,是一项欲改变人们生活和工作方式的远大计划。


Maria Mouk


Valentina Culley-Foster


9万平方米的居住、工作和理想空间将提供柏林最好奇的居民更聪明的生活方式,并在城市的河岸提供微型小区。此项计划包含了日式美食与商店的繁华商业中心、一个能提供煮咖啡的创新科技中心和环境解决方案的协同合作空间、传统日式匠人技术驻村计划、协同合作艺术空间与活动设施、Dojo & Sento健康中心也会提供日式传统草药学徒训练计划。这些将成为400人住宅区性别与年龄多样化的一部分,并与当地动、植物结合提供一个平衡生活与工作的社群。柏林NION 希望成为可持续发展社会创新村的模范,通过它的方式,倡导聚集城市可为解决未来城市规划挑战的一个实验。

Ryotaro Bordini Chikushi是联合创始人兼首席执行官,他说: 焦点集中在可持续性的实践,将不同目标的人聚集在一起,作为激发创造力的一种方式。凭着其广大同时细密的企图心和永久关怀的内部理念,首席小区催化师 CCC Naho Iguchi 仔细引言 “就管理者的哲学来看,住宅规划是具前瞻性的。”

“当我们说它是一项都市发展企划时,它必须是一个全面的生态系统 ”


Ryotaro解释: “绿色盒子的实验性方案中共有九种项目”,从公共交通、废弃物管理、供电系统、能源、煤气、到水资源。这九间异质公司在柏林InfraLab中找到各自的平衡点,为在其中寻求共同点、创造全面性方法,进而打造出更棒的柏林。这一切非关聪明才智,而是我们今日在城市里遇到的问题及解决方式的整体方法。

Ryotaro在技术性和协作能力上对NION的基础为至关重要,所有参与者皆负责任的对生态系统作出贡献。全方位的团队中有强大的参与者支持其业务、技术、文化和沟通构成的支柱。他们用的方法并非排除整个社群 ,目标而是在吸引其他有远见的专家前来当设计师、建筑师或园丁。

同事们口中昵称‘Ryo’的Ryotaro: “这不是一座“日本城”,他向我们保证着,NION的重点在于融合,非关于在城市里建造一个外星来的不明飞行物体,但它的确是关于城市融合、从城市外部发展而来的东西。

NION主要有四位创办人,两位担任积极角色、另两位则提供建议。Ryo笑着说: “我是首席永恒乐观长!”我主要负责业务方面事宜,虽然大家分工扮演多重角色,但总有些时候工作的重担会落在自己身上。

在说话Ryo身旁的是Naho,她是组织里的心理师也是TEDxTokyo的前任总监。在NION她负责小区打造和团队伦理,重复强调每个人的价值,打造一个没有权力争夺、阶级之分的工作环境。五年前,两位在工作上透过一个共同熟人而相识,Ryo回想当初的印象 “她跟我们说她做甚么,然后她是一个会走、且活生生的雕塑物…”


过去十年中,另外两位创办人也帮助复苏柏林停滞的区域,并以顾问者身分提供宝贵的经验。安德里亚∙奎格是名前木工成为开发商,自2007年监督克罗伊茨贝格的莫里兹广场的发展,此区中有号称艺术圣地的Planet Modular、王子花园、共同工作空间BetaHaus、开放设计城市、JustMusic乐器中心,还有更多。NION的首席财务官是安德里亚∙佛德,他负责完成柏林克罗伊茨贝格第九市场的旧貌换新颜的规划,本是90年代濒临倒闭的市集,现在成为每周末为将近15名访客提供手作区域美食的热门地点。


他说: 当你看到像第九市场的成果时,实际上这是非常日式风格的作法,基本上你有很多贩卖商品或高质量食物的小摊位,为柏林的饮食文化带来革命性发展。其成功的故事在于重要的其实是不起眼的小事物,一切都可变动、内容才是王道。


Ryo NION的名子暗示它从品牌的配色方案偶然演变来的,其包含了一个用色大胆的霓虹标志。另外,NihonNipon两字中的Ni涵义皆表示日本,在这个例子里我们看到的是欧洲与日本文化。


就建筑上来看,NION的居住空间设计灵感来自柏林混合概念。这座250年的建筑将住宅、商业、生产空间结合在一个城镇小区内,从文化与经济效益角度上来启发它的居民。Ryo将之界定更广,称其为都市环境里的新生活模式。他重申这必须是一个整体的生态系统。所以, 这必须支持我们认为生活中重要的因素。这关乎学习、工作、健康、玩耍和娱乐。当然,它的核心所在是关乎居住。


高度人口密集、缺少空间的城市如东京,也是NION柏林企画案的灵感。建筑层面的考虑是可持续性的,目标在现有土地的空间做最大化使用机会。 Ryo:“因为你不想浪费空间,你必须充分利用并珍惜仅有、可使用的空间。这并不表示计划瘫痪城市的工业,然而,NION日本小区花园将水平倾斜建于合并的大楼上、同时支持柏林生物多样化,并在城市中树立蜂箱,鸟巢可整合到建筑物中以供冬季使用。




Naho提到即将到来的庆祝短期里程碑的NION周, 计划在20189月多文化社群 HolzmarktNION在莫里兹广场的工作空间两地举行,活动内提供的文化与美食节目,有助于向日本的合作伙伴介绍该城市的浅力并激发大家参与。

Ryo: “我们现在的标准是非常内容驱动的你可看到的,我们试图关注的主题非常广泛,如 文化、音乐、 艺术、商业科技、可持续性等,每个项目我们都需要一起与专家和爱好者开创。




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