Azabudai Hills, Japan’s tallest new skyscraper, is also fat

Azabudai Hills, Japan’s tallest new skyscraper, is also fat

On November 24, a new skyscraper will officially loom over the Tokyo skyline. At 1,067 feet tall, Azabudai Hills is now the tallest skyscraper in Japan, surpassing Osaka’s Abeno Harukas Tower by 83 feet.

But the project is more than just a tall tower. For its developer, Mori Building, Azabudai Hills is a path to reshaping Tokyo’s future.

“Tokyo should develop into a ‘city of choice’ among global players,” says Shingo Tsuji, CEO of Mori Building. “Global players are looking for more than just an office environment.” (A recent report from management consultancy Kearney ranked Tokyo fourth among global cities, behind New York, Paris and London, despite “declines in business activity and information exchange.”)

To achieve this, Mori is promoting the project, designed by architecture firm Bailey Clark & ​​Partners, as a “vertical garden city,” a mix of green space, mixed-use buildings and public transportation on an 872,000-square-foot plot of land. Earth that reflects how city dwellers want to live in a post-coronavirus world.


The main tower at Azabudai Hills is only a few feet shorter than Tokyo Tower, the traditional upper limit of skyscrapers in the Japanese capital, says architect Fred Clark.

richard a. BROOKS – AFP/Getty Images

Pelli Clark & ​​Partners and its founder Cesar Pelli have a long history with Japan, having helped the Argentine-American architect design the American Embassy in Tokyo, which was completed in 1976. Since then, the firm has helped design projects across the country, Such as Abeno Harukas, formerly the tallest building in Japan, and Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower in Tokyo, which combines a gleaming skyscraper with a 1929-era historical landmark.

PC&P’s Azabudai Hills project has some features that set it apart from skyscrapers around the world. First, it’s fat. The tower’s floor area is much larger than the slender towers that adorn cityscapes around the world. This large floor plan is key to Mori’s vision of cramming different aspects of urban life into one building.

The standard floor plans in the flagship tower at Azabudai Hills are approximately 52,000 square feet. This compares to skyscrapers such as the World Trade Center in New York or the International Trade Center in Hong Kong, which offer between 35,000 and 40,000 square feet of leasable space per floor.

And it’s not just an office building. The Azabudai Hills project consists of three connected towers: a main mixed-use tower that includes office, residential and hotel spaces, and two residential towers close to it.

The architects tried to address two “contradictory” goals, says Fred Clark, who founded the firm alongside Bailey in 1977. “Our thinking, from the beginning, was how to create a very large building that also had a calm, human presence in the neighborhood,” he says. His expression.

“We worked hard to create expressive peaks, especially for the main building, to celebrate the arrival at the top, and then create a transparent, welcoming, porous floor at the lower levels that welcomes the community into the building,” he says.

The Azabudai Hills project also features outdoor spaces designed by famous (and controversial) designer Thomas Heatherwick.

Tohru Hanai – Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tsuji of Mori Building sees a different upside to the tall, mixed-use building: more green space at street level. A third of the 8.1 hectares will be devoted to a park, with space set aside for an orchard and botanical garden.

The central portion of the ground level is a massive pergola, designed by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, also responsible for the controversial ship structure at Hudson Yards in New York. In 2019, Heatherwick said he “wanted to bring some of the wildlife trapped outside cities back into the heart of the Azabudai Hills project,” in an interview with the design outlet. Wall paper.

Tsuji believes the after-effects of the pandemic are pushing Japan’s urban residents to embrace the hills of Azabudai. “People will increasingly want to live, work and relax in an environment in harmony with nature, not to mention a place that is beneficial to their mental and physical health,” he says.

Go beyond the skyscraper arms race

Despite being the tallest building in Japan, Azabudai Hills is not tall by world standards. At 1,067 feet tall, the building does not rank among the 100 tallest skyscrapers in the world.

No. 100 is currently Suning Plaza Tower 1 in Zhenjiang, China, and is 1,109 feet tall, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. The tallest building in the United States, the World Trade Center in New York City, ranks seventh at 1,776 feet. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest skyscraper in the world by a wide margin, standing at 2,717 feet.

PC&P knows how to build tall skyscrapers; Billy designed the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the tallest buildings in the world when completed in 1998. (It now stands at 19th place).

Pelli Clarke and Partners also helped design the Petronas Towers, which, at the time of their opening in 1998, were the tallest skyscrapers in the world.

Sayyevul Ridvan – Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

So why did Japan skip the skyscraper arms race witnessed by countries such as China, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates?

One reason, Clark explains, is tradition. “It is agreed that tall buildings, at least at this moment in time, in Japan will not be taller than Tokyo Tower,” he says. (Tokyo Tower is a major communications and observation tower in the city, standing 1,091 feet tall.)

Clark points to some other factors that limit the height of buildings: cost, as well as the need to ensure that all buildings can withstand earthquakes that are common in Japan. “Structural engineering is a constraint, but at this point in history, they could go much higher if they really wanted to,” he says.

Learning from Asia

Clark noted that Asian cities have been more welcoming to mixed-use buildings that combine office, retail and residential space together in one building or complex. This is partly due to cost: land and building costs in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong can be expensive, forcing designers and developers to be design-efficient.

But there’s a cultural aspect, too: In Asia, “people really want to live, work and play in the same place,” says Clark. “People don’t really want to commute eight or nine hours a week.”

Pelli Clarke and Partners is also designing the South Station Tower, which is built atop Boston’s South Station, which was first built in 1899.

Erin Clark – The Boston Globe/Getty Images

PC&P is now bringing mixed-use buildings to the United States, such as the 30-year project to build a tower over Boston’s South Station. (Construction of the tower that maintains the station’s design began in 2020 and is expected to open in 2025.)

“The community matures and evolves” around a tall project like South Station or Azabudai Hills, Clark says. “The project can adapt and respond to societal change.”

Fortune’s Brainstorm Design Conference returns on December 6 at MGM Cotai in Macau, China. Participants and attendees will discuss the topic “Empathy in the Age of AI” or how new technologies are revolutionizing the creative industry.

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