Tokyo Midtown Opens

The Midtown Series > Roppongi "High Touch" Haven > Tokyo Midtown Opens

The Captain rose from the Roppongi gutter, dusted off his slacks, and checked for his lighter. As he fired up his first cigarette, he flipped open his pocket watch. A grin crossed his face when he realized he had charted last night's bender perfectly. Tokyo Midtown's towers were staring down from high above...

Thirty million annual visitors passing through its doors and the creation of an environment that will communicate Japanese aesthetics in an international business setting - those are two of the lofty goals of Hiromichi Iwasa, president of real estate giant Mitsui Fudosan, for Tokyo's newest mixed-use skyscraper, Tokyo Midtown.

"Many developments have been established in big cities in the past," the president said at a press conference last week. "However, by combining business, cultural exchange, and services, we will be able to collaborate with our customers to meet their sophisticated and diverse needs like never before."

Following its opening day on March 30th, Midtown will be poised to push aside its slightly older urban development brother, the nearby Roppongi Hills, to become Tokyo's latest monument to well-heeled excess in an area known more for being a haven of hedonism.

Formerly the site of a government defense installation, the 10-hectare complex boasts three office towers - with the 248-meter main tower rising 10 meters higher than Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills, which opened 4 years before - three residential complexes of 517 units, and a museum. A park with a lake at its center and a sloping greenbelt comprise 40% of the property.

The top 9 floors of the soaring 53-story main tower are occupied by the swank Ritz Carlton Hotel, whose Club Carlton Suites feature a living room and bedroom within their 120 square meters. Lower floors are filled by such industry heavyweights as entertainment company Gaga Communications and Internet corporation Yahoo! Japan. Game giant Konami, media company Fujifilm, and a residential complex occupy space in the two buildings that front Gaien-higashi-dori to the south.

To the eastern edge of the property is the 29-story, ferroconcrete Park Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo. With floor plans between 59 and 429 square meters, it claims to be the first housing complex operated by a 5-star hotel in Japan. Oakwood Worldwide offers a homestyle touch with the furnishings in its serviced apartments positioned at the edge of the greenbelt to the west.

Iwasa said that Mitsui Fudosan estimates revenues to total 30 billion yen annually. Banks, which until recently had been saddled with staggering amounts of bad loans, have been very supportive, he said.

"We started this project under very severe economic circumstances in 2001," he said of the year that the open tender was held. "After that the Japanese economy started to recover. I think we were able to create value-added aspects for this project. As a result, our banks view it as a low-risk venture."

Even with this emphasis on commerce, Iwasa believes that an exchange of information between artists and designers from overseas at places like Midtown will be crucial to Japan's success in the future.

"In order for it to maintain its status in the world," he said, "it is urgent for Japan to convert itself from a production-oriented society to a creative society. This project has a multitude of design and art-related features. We will be holding exhibitions and symposiums to nurture artistic talent and provide people the opportunity to enjoy art everyday."

The structure seems boxy from a distance, but closer inspection reveals that the building's upper reaches are adorned with slight curves. Decorative railings run its full height and glass sheets extend above its top.

The five-floor Galleria, which includes design house Idee and hip home furnishings outlet Muji to go along with the mix of 130 restaurants and high-end shops, is a mall laid out with an open atrium in the center. Glue-laminated wood benches and chairs of twisted geometry fill the public spaces. Light-colored, trapezoid-shaped washi (paper) art pieces by Eriko Horiki hang at the edges of each of floors one through three. Even the second-floor smoking room is not without artistic flair, featuring walls of carefully arranged glass sheets.

An interwoven canopy of steel and glass rises above a Starbucks outlet and nearby fountains of water cascading over stone. Artist Kan Yasuda's "Key to a Dream," a black bronze arch reminiscent of the shapeless works of Isamu Noguchi, and "Shape of Mind," a large stone piece that could be confused for an ashtray tilted on its side, greet visitors at the main entrance on the street and first-floor basement, respectively.

Architect Tadao Ando's latest adventure in concrete and re-bar, 21_21 Design Sight, covers 1,700 square meters in an an isolated area in the back of the complex. With fashion designer Issey Miyake offering support, the dual triangle-shaped structure has two gallery spaces under its two sloping steel roofs.

Along with Ando's creation, the six-floor Suntory Museum of Art, which was relocated from Akasaka, will form the third pillar in "Art Triangle Roppongi," whose other two members include the three-month-old National Art Center, Tokyo, and the Mori Art Museum at Roppongi Hills. The label is an attempt to bring respect to an area that has received little in the recent past.

Roppongi is notorious for being one of Tokyo's tawdry areas, with dodgy "gentlemen's" clubs, hostess bars, and other forms of debauchery lurking just outside Midtown's doors. Over the past year, many of these sorts of establishments have been under fire by government authorities.

Iwasa believes that the trend of reshaping Roppongi's image will be further accelerated by this project.  

"In addition to the conventional image of a town for eating and drinking," Iwasa said, "Roppongi will be known for business, community, and art."

Note: Videos of Tokyo Midtown can be viewed courtesy of TokyoDV at the links here and here.

The Midtown Series > Roppongi "High Touch" Haven > Tokyo Midtown Opens

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