Global Design – Roppongi Hills

In Tokyo, Japanese architects and planners are continually striving for new ways of accommodating the city’s teeming population. Tokyo is a mega metropolis feeling the unending squeeze of urban sprawl. Add to that devastating earthquakes and a World War 2 fire bombing and you’ve got a city constantly in a state of architectural flux.

It’s hard to believe that amidst all that pressure, Tokyo’s managed to stay fairly low rise. That is until one Japanese developer resisted the urge to spread out. Their vision for Tokyo is vertical.

Roppongi Hills is Mori’s $4 billion project that was finished in 2003. This new cultural heart of the city is Japan’s largest private-sector urban renaissance project. It is here that Mori proposes the ideal form for a new Tokyo, the international city to which people around the world have aspired – and perhaps the tip of what all Tokyo will be in 50 or 100 years from now.

To realise this vision, Minoru Mori, President of the Mori Building Company, transformed a part of Tokyo’s horizontally dense city into a vertical urban area. They consolidated fragmented parcels of land and constructed high-rise buildings. High-rise construction not only doubled living space, it also created more open space. Using this space for greenery and parks brings new life to the city, attracts residents to the city centre, and creates new venues for social interaction.

The new city centre integrates a full range of facilities for professional, residential, commercial, recreational, child-care, education and health care needs. To meet the needs of contemporary society and an aging population, all these facilities are within walking distance, in a compact urban space that provides a safe and convenient environment for all, including working mothers and the elderly.

There are those who believe that high-rise buildings are dangerous. While Great Hanshin Earthquake demonstrated the fragility of horizontally dense cities, they now have in Japan state-of-the-art vibration damping and seismic isolation technologies that make it possible to construct buildings able to resist even the largest earthquakes at a reasonable cost. In the event of an earthquake, no one needs to flee from these buildings. People seek refuge in them.

The Vertical Garden City brings together everything that the city of the future should be, with the space and time, the environment, the safety and convenience that new urban lifestyles demand. Space is the frontier that remains to be explored in our cities. Projects such as Roppongi Hills embody this vision of what the twenty-first century city should be.

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