Andrew’s world in Japan 2018/May

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring the creative process & connecting with other creative people.

Breathing Fresh Breath Into An Urban Space –
How Marunouchi was reinvented – Part 2

A quick bit of history on this district. In 1890, Mitsubishi bought land rights and constructed Japan’s first office buildings. Around that time an Englishman named Josiah Conder developed a row of red brick buildings along Babasaki Avenue dubbed ‘London Town.’ Then, in 1914, when Tokyo Station was completed, a number of large ferroconcrete (reinforced concrete) office blocks that gained the nickname ‘New York Town.’ This growth spurt came in the wake following the end of World War I, the supposed ‘War to End All Wars.’ A few decades later, the Second World War wrecks global havoc, destruction and devastation, especially for many areas in Japan. The Post-War period saw major reconstruction and economic expansion. Throughout all this, the Marunouchi area stayed a business-focused center. It may have remained the same, but surrounding areas were competing for tenants to occupy their new and innovative buildings, office districts and communities.

To summarize, the owners of the buildings in this district had lost their reputation for being the go-to CBD and didn’t really fit into that period’s social perspective. During this boom period, with skyrocketing rents, it was even considered to replace the iconic Tokyo Station with a new mega building. Sitting next to the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, the district couldn’t just fall off into obscurity. After several failed or rejected plans and ideas, in 1995 the ‘OMY District Redevelopment Council’ was formed. They set out with the agreed goal to develop an unified international business center in close public-private partnership and in harmony with the environment and the urban context. They altered their perspective from a typical CBD [Central Business District] to an ABC [Amenity Business Core]. No longer were they trapped in a mono-functional structure only geared towards work for these Central Wards.

This seemed like a great way to bring together what people felt was missing. Great for an area that had Tokyo Station, the hub of 13 Japan Railways and Subway stations with over one million people moving through. While we were there, all I really knew was that there were a lot of neat restaurants I’d love to try. The shops had unfortunately already closed. After walking and exploring the interior observing the cooks in action through the open kitchen design and the vast selection of seating, we end up outside. Taking in the beautiful cool night air, we opted for this 30-meter high public terrace with sweet panorama view of the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. Nearly empty, it was as if we had a private party there to ourselves. This building, Shin Marunouchi, designed by Hopkins Architects of London, has 42 floors mixing offices and restaurants. The structure is divided into three sections, two separate towers on a single 6-story podium base. The shops and restaurants are focused in the podium section.

It seems this project was a major one for Hopkins and has received accolades for its approach and success. Apparently, it is a unique occurrence to see public and private well being cooperate to foster an urban design strategy centered on unified open space network. Walk through Marunouchi today and you’ll be hard-pressed to recognize Cybriwsky’s description from just a few decades earlier. Today these public spaces frequently appear as the trendy backdrop for many TV programs lifestyle and fashion magazines. The basement floor is directly connected to Tokyo Station and the next-door Marunouchi Building serves as a popular spot for exhibitions, TV and radio shows, farmers markets and even sports events. It’s good to know, that on an Avenue leading up to Japan’s historic Imperial Palace, opposite the ‘Gateway to Japan’ Tokyo Station Plaza, is a project that continues to evolve creative answers to the question of urbanization. And that some of the leaders had the courage and conscience to listen to the public and strive towards a better place, not just a ‘new’ place.