The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

As an architect and an urban real estate developer, how to create city spaces with a unique spirit of place is something I spend considerable time thinking about.

In an age when we have a propensity for classifying, we speak of gateway cities, Tier-2 livable cities, smart cities, sustainable cities, innovation hubs, or centers of media concentration, and we look to studies such as the Global Power City Index to understand, define, and rank their importance. While these evaluations do not specifically consider blockbuster events, such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, these milestones can signal the repositioning of a city’s image.

Beyond this, however, the rankings increasingly assess how well cities of various scales deploy cultural elements to make themselves attractive and livable, as cities and regions compete for corporate investment and jobs.

How can we build creative cities that are responsive to post-consumer society? What resonates with and attracts the creative class, a group that all cities desire as a way of bolstering their workforce and economic viability?

As leaders in the real estate profession, we are tasked with identifying and bringing to fruition the necessary building blocks on which communities form. In addition to the obvious basics of food, water, safety, security, and shelter, a key determinant in the development of cities as we know them today is infrastructure—notably transportation and power.

But what is the important infrastructure that defines potential for cities of the future? Large infrastructure projects remain essential and yet increasingly are not enough. Environment and lifestyle are highly scrutinized as successful cities look to facilitate cultural diversity and strive to distinguish themselves as vibrant, unique, and memorable.

Soft content has become a keyword for many industries in recent years, and real estate is no exception. As it turns out, place-making may be less about the formal plans we devise following master frameworks, guidelines, codes, best practices, etc., and more a result of facilitating a collaborative and accommodating communal interaction with end users.

A creative or culture-rich city welcomes diversity and is tolerant of ambiguity. Some places convey a comfortable sense of be­longing, deeply rooted in historical context. Others present a spontaneous and dynamic juxtaposition that stimulates intrigue, and our perception of place can change with time.

Roppongi Art Night—and the greater art scene surrounding it in the Roppongi Art Triangle district—is an interesting demonstration of this. During the 32-hour non-stop event staged May 26–27, the Roppongi community hosted a wide variety of art, including performances and installations across the entire district described by organizers as being set “amidst the headlights and neon that glow like a sleepless city.”

While spontaneity plays a big part in what makes Art Night special, this is also an opportunity to consider numerous per­manent installations and the relationship between art and architecture in a dynamic, internationally informed urban context.

To be successful from a business perspec­tive, a landmark real estate development goes far beyond the delivery of well-located, generously proportioned space over a back­bone of leading-edge technology. God is in the details and occupiers are looking for an x factor when making their choice. A property that speaks to the core values of sustainability, social responsibility, teamwork, vitality, and work–life balance will effectively attract talent and optimum business performance.

However, it is through intangible aspects, such as the integration of art—be it a per­manent installation or a space to informally facilitate a diverse group of co-creators—that we raise the bar and define how a property attains a special fit within its context.

In my case, the artists we affiliate with typically have a passion for process and craftsmanship, and this builds synergies with the architecture. It is not uncommon to leverage the connections our people have in one market to source art for a property in another global market. This adds tremendous complexity to developing bespoke works at times, and demands collaboration; but we hope that through the results this speaks to our international viewpoint and makes a meaningful contri­bution to the community.

Gordon Hatton is co-chair of the ACCJ Real Estate Committee and vice president/head of Japan at Pembroke Real Estate Inc.