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The view from Tokyo Tower has changed drastically over the past two decades. Minato Ward—the heart of Tokyo’s international community—has been a canvas for Mori Building Co., Ltd.’s vision of the “Vertical Garden City.” ARK Hills, Roppongi Hills, Toranomon Hills. These are all familiar to residents of the area and have changed life in Tokyo. What comes next, however, is the biggest project yet.

When gazing down from Tokyo Tower’s main observation deck, 150 meters up, there is a noticeable gap between Toranomon Hills and the more distant ARK Hills complexes. The stretch between Kamiyacho and Roppongi-Itchome Stations seems to be calling for attention. It is a vast 8.1-hectare area at the heart of family, cultural, diplomatic, and business activity, but is light on infrastructure for shopping, dining, accommodation, education, and office space.

To the casual observer, this may seem to be an oversight. But it is, in fact, something that has been on the drawing board at Mori Building for more than 30 years. On August 22, President and CEO Shingo Tsuji unveiled the result of those three decades of work through a stunning visual presentation at the company’s Urban Laboratory in the Roppongi First Building, near the construction site.

Tsuji described the strip of land that runs east to west as convoluted terrain that was originally broken up by hills and valleys, creating a fragmented district filled with small, old wooden houses and buildings, many of which were deteriorating. “The only solution to overcoming all these challenges at once was large-scale redevelopment,” he told the crowd of local and international media.

The start of that process came in March 1989, when the Council of Redeveloping Cities (Gazenbou District) was esta-blished—followed by the same for the Yawato-cho District in May and the Sengokuyama District in December. The aim was to begin bringing together some 300 stakeholders to address the problems and realize the potential of this prime real estate.

Discussions took place over the years, and many events—such as the bursting of the economic bubble in the early 1990s, the Lehman Schock financial crisis 2008, and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011—all presented challenges.

But Mori persevered and their city plan for the area was proposed in December 2016, then approved in September 2017 as a designated National Strategic Special Zone.

Finally, 30 years after that first council convened, construction began on August 5. The completion is scheduled for the end of March 2023.

What is being built is massive in scope. Tsuji described the Toranomon–Azabudai project as a Modern Urban Village that is unparalleled in terms of its development philosophy.

At the heart of that philosophy is Mori’s Vertical Garden City model, in which a super high-rise opens to lots of greenery at the ground level while integrating all city functions and facilities—offices, residences, hotels, cultural facilities, shops, and restaurants—into the complex. The result will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in Minato Ward. Roppongi Hills and Toranomon Hills, in particular, have brought beautiful, relaxing natural environments and opened up the dense city.

To connect the Hills, the vast area of the Toranomon–Azabudai Project—similar in size to New York City’s Rockefeller Center—will be surrounded by lush greenery covering some 24,000 square meters. At the center will be a 6,000-square-meter central square, designed by renowned UK designer Thomas Heatherwick.

The importance of greenery to Mori’s concept of city life cannot be overstressed. Rather than being an afterthought—
a sort of last-stage landscaping step—it is the first piece of the puzzle. “This is opposed to the usual practice of putting buildings in first and then filling the remaining space with greenery,” Tsuji said. By focusing on the natural elements first, Mori will create a calming atmosphere full of nature—a seamless urban oasis filled with trees, flowers, and waterscapes—that stretches across the Azabudai area.

The word green is present in another way as well: the city will be environmentally friendly. One hundred percent of the electricity supplied will be from renewable sources, which will meet the targets of the RE100, a global corporate initiative that aims to ensure that 100 percent of electricity used by businesses come from renewable sources by 2050. Twenty of the 191 RE100 member companies are Japanese, and the Ministry of the Environment has set a goal of having 50 on the list by 2020.

Mori also aims to secure Leadership in Energy & Environ-mental Design (LEED) certification. This US-based rating system and performance evaluation program authenticates buildings that promote sustainable clean energy and takes health into consideration. That’s important, because health and wellness is another important part of the Modern Urban Village model.

“The essence of a city exists within the people living and working there,” Tsuji said. “Our thoughts have continued to evolve. Our approach is now completely centered on people, rethinking the urban environment as somewhere for people to live and work in a lively and creative fashion.”

This mixed-use city will host some 20,000 employees and 3,500 residents, and welcome 25–30 million visitors per year.

While open areas, greenery, and rolling hills define the aesthetic of the currently unnamed development, facilities for living, working, shopping, and learning will be abundant.

The new city, which will cost some ¥580 billion to build, will feature three highrise towers and have a total floor area of 860,400 square meters, of which 213,900 will be leasable office space. This is about 100,000 and 23,000 square meters more than Roppongi Hills.

The Main Tower on the former site of the Azabu Post Office, the West Tower near Roppongi-Itchome Station, and the Podium Building 2 near Kamiyacho Station will all offer office space. All of these, along with the East Tower, which will stand nearby the West, will have residential units.

“Residence is the most important element of this project,” Tsuji said, and to that end 1,400 residential units will be available across the three towers. Roppongi Hills offers 840.

The Main Tower will soar to a height of about 330 meters, almost equal to the nearby 333-meter-tall Tokyo Tower. For comparison, Tokyo Midtown Tower is currently the tallest building in the city at 248 meters, while Toranomon Hills Mori Tower rises to 247 and Roppongi Hills Mori Tower to 240.

Two US creators from Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects are behind the façade of the three towers. Fred Clarke and César Pelli, who sadly passed away on July 19, previously designed Mori Building’s Atago Green Hills and ARK Hills Sengokuyama Mori Tower, and have also designed skyscrapers in many countries that became landmarks. Pelli’s philosophy was that individual architectural designs exist to make better cities—something that is perfectly in line with the philosophy of Mori Building. At the press conference, Tsuji said that he is looking forward to carrying forward Pelli’s vision on through this project.

Also in the towers—and spread around the lush green environ-ment—will be some 150 stores offering fashion, beauty, culture, art, and wellness services covering 24,000 square meters. The aim is to enable enriched, creative ways of working and living through the products, services, experiences, learning, and interactions that Mori says will stimulate the five senses.

One fact known to anyone who lives and works in the Azabudai area is that food and dining options are minimal. That will change when the project is completed in 2023. The basement of the Central Square will house a large-scale food market, covering some 4,000 square meters, that will aim to offer the world’s top culinary experiences with selected products. Tokyo is already home to a rich food culture, and the Toranomon–Azabudai project will bring that to the area in spades.

An international hotel will also open its first location in Japan on the lower floors of the East Tower, adding to the dining offerings with six versatile restaurants, cafés, and bars.

With 120 rooms, the luxurious yet family-friendly property will allow guests to appreciate the view of the Central Square from spacious rooms and balconies.

It will also feature a larger proportion of suites than conven-tional luxury hotels, and an expansive 3,500-square-meter spa complex will be part of Mori’s vision for a comprehensive wellness program, utilizing the latest technologies.

Education is also a key part of an urban village, and Mori sees it as critical for attracting businesses and residents from abroad—something that Tokyo must do if it is to thrive in the 21st century and beyond.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, [former President and CEO] Minoru Mori predicted that Tokyo would find itself in com-petition with other international cities,” Tsuji said, adding that attracting more global companies and creative individuals is a must if Tokyo is to survive.

The Mori Memorial Foundation takes stock of the world’s major centers and delivers the results in its Global Power City Index, an annual study of the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s best-known cities. Tokyo ranks third in overall magnetism, and second in both nominal gross domestic product and stock market capitalization.

Not bad. But as Mori sees it, to become a city that can withstand international competition, it is essential to provide an attractive living environment—not only for workers from overseas but also for their families.

That means that the city must offer an ideal educational environment for children. With 18 international schools, Tokyo lags behind other major Asian cities, such as Singapore (29) and Hong Kong (70).

The Toranomon–Azabudai project will incorporate The British School in Tokyo, which is attended by about 700 students from more than 50 countries. It will be the largest international school in central Tokyo and a place where students can study in a rich learning environment, surrounded by nature, near where they live and their parents work.

A lot has changed since the opening of ARK Hills in 1986 and Roppongi Hills in 2003. Technology has advanced greatly, and the pace seems to quicken each year. Things such as artificial intelligence, connectivity through the Internet of Things, and renewable resources are finding their way into city planning. This is something that was on the mind of Mori Building as they developed the Toranomon–Azabudai project, and The ACCJ Journal asked Tsuji about this at the August 22 unveiling.

“The lifestyles of people change as technology develops, and we have to understand and keep pace with those changes. We have to understand state-of-the-art technologies,” he said.

Mori has a track record of being the first to deploy and test a lot of new technologies, and being able to imagine how the future of cities should look. For example, they were a pioneer in security, the first to install gates in a leased office building in Japan, in ARK Mori Building at ARK Hills. Such gates are now standard.

No doubt the technologies of today will present new challenges—as well as opportunities—and Tsuji said they have taken all they’ve learned from past Hills projects to create the best environment for working and living.

Another aspect of the future, however, is more focused on the individual—even if technology may be underlying it. This is the concept of wellness. We hear a lot about work–life balance these days, and it is a core part of the concept. As Tsuji said: “Wellness does not just mean health. We want people to live vibrant, energetic lives. The future city must furnish an environment of wellness that allows people to live healthy lives in a healthy society.”

At the core of this new city within a city will be a medical facility, spa, and fitness clubs. And because wellness extends to quality of life, a food market, restaurants, central square, and even vegetable gardens will all be available, linked through a membership program.

“By creating a program that supports mental and physical health in so many ways, we aim to create a city where people of all ages can live long and healthy lives,” Tsuji added.

All of this comes together to form a single concept: seamless connectivity. The depth of the project has only been touched on here. Bringing together the many aspects of life—working, living, relaxing, gathering together, shopping, dining, learning, and playing—into a seamless whole is the driving force behind this project that will revitalize an important, yet long-languished, part of the city.

To realize a stimulating and creative urban life—in which humans and nature harmonize, and people connect with each other—is what Tsuji cites as the goal. A quick look around Minato Ward confirms this. And now, by connecting the Hills, one of the city’s most ambitious, visionary, and successful developers is setting the stage for Tokyo to enjoy a prosperous future. 

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.