Mori Building

Barren space between sidewalk and Roppongi Hills

どうして六本木ヒルズの入り口は死んでいるのだろう?

Why is the entrance to Roppongi Hills so ugly and uninviting?

Every time I walk from the subway into Roppongi Hills I am shocked at the extremely ugly first view of this mega-complex. In addition to the elevated freeway, pedestrians are greeted by this horrendous, wide, astroturf-covered dead space in front of Roppongi Hills North Tower.

How could this make people want to enter Banana Republic? And what does this say about Mori Building’s vision for integrating their properties into their neighborhoods and communities? I feel that this forgotten and dirty space implies that the real landscape only begins at the podium level and that the North Tower is not of equal status to the rest of the complex, despite being in the front. It’s as if they imagine that their important customers enter the complex only by car.

This lack of respect for pedestrians, neighbors, and context is completely unnecessary. The smallest gesture would improve this space and make it more inviting and alive. If Mori Building reads this post, I hope they will consider improving this entryway to their otherwise well landscaped property. If anything, improving the entrance might also provide an opportunity to consider how to extend their landscape ideas further out into the neighborhood, creating connections with other shops and residents, and building a larger and healthier eco-system that would benefit Mori and their neighborhood.

Last night I attended the last Pecha Kucha Tokyo of the zeros decade, one block west of Roppongi Hills, and remembered that I had taken this photo weeks ago. Each time I am shocked as if for the first time. Outside of the expensive office towers and glittering malls, I wonder how such an ugly neighborhood can be attractive to multinational companies and foreign ex-pats.

Roppongi West Park is a quiet oasis on back street

Roppongi is a very foreign neighborhood for me since I rarely visit its offices, nightclubs and museums. However, with the recent conference, I took a friend along a back street between mega developments Mid Town and Roppongi Hills. We stumbled a very charming, small park named Roppongi West Park (六本木西公園). It was a welcome escape from the elevated freeways and concrete overload.

The park provides a great amount of shade and the loud murmur of cicadas. My fellow Maryland state friend and I wondered how come mid-Atlantic cicadas only appear every seven years, while Japanese ones go through similar seven year cycles but appear annually. The park had benches with businessmen smoking, chatting, using their cellphones, and escaping their offices. There were also sand box, playground, and a public bathroom.

Seeing this small gem made me think about the up-until-now unrealized possibilities for the mega developers to connect with their neighborhoods through landscapes. Mori Building talks about how its vertical gardens lower summer time temperature in its neighborhoods. And Mitsubishi Estate is concerned with making Marunouchi more attractive through livable streets.

Creating gardens and habitats that extend to nearby  pocket parks, as well as neighboring residential and commercial gardens, could brand these new places with historical memory, a signature fruit tree, butterfly or bird habitat, outdoor recreation, and innovative public place making. While the developers goal is to maximize rental income, attention to the neighborhood, its existing assets and people, could be a low-cost and high impact way to brand, differentiate, and attract visitors and tenants.

District landscaping is one of the most economical and transformative improvements. By extending beyond the limits of a single property or the holdings of one developer, district landscaping is vital to place-making, memory, habitat, and human affection.

Azabu Juban dead space in central Tokyo

Azabu Juban is one of Tokyo’s most central and most expensive neighborhoods. Arriving at the Tokyo Metro station for a meeting with a book editor, I was struck by just how unattractive the roadway is. In the opposite direction are small streets with traditional Japanese food, French cafes, and many charming places. But in this direction, there is a large swath of concrete plus interconnected elevated freeways.

This combination of high value real estate and astounding dead space also occurs nearby at Mori Building’s Roppongi Hills. I wonder if Japanese are particularly astute at ignoring the unaesthetic and directing their vision to the more attractive parts? How much more valuable would these neighborhoods be without the visual and air pollution caused by elevated freeways? How can a combination of private and public investment increase property and use values?

While freeway removal seems like the best solution, even hiding them with plants would greatly increase the property and use values below and adjacent to these dead spaces. An example are the beautiful mature ginkos in Sendagaya, at least when they are fully leafed out.

Mori Building plans ecological zones in Tokyo

Nikkei article about Mori Building’s plan for central Tokyo ecological zones. The idea is that wildlife can spread out from interconnected large green spaces, including existing parks and large-scale developments owned by Mori Building.

The article is in Japanese, and came to my attention because of Twitter’s Tzuchiya, who regularly posts excellent links on urban ecology topics in English and Japanese.

Although less interesting to Mori Building, I am also curious about the role of micro-gardens in habitat creation.

高層ビルの谷間にあるサントリーホールの屋上庭園 | Nikkei

Mori Building’s Vertical Garden City

Mori Building's Vertical Garden City

Mori Minoru’s Mori Building is Tokyo’s largest urban real estate developer. His Vertical Garden City idea and Urban New Deal Policy are private enterprise visions for a re-made city that is at once more densely populated, more environmental and green, and more profitable for the largest developers. 

I had the intriguing experience of being invited to witness a presentation by Mori Building company for a US journalist. Asked to remain silent so as not to detract from the journalist’s work, I witness one foreign journalist, a simultaneous translator, a guide from the Tokyo Foreign Correspondent’s Club, two Mori Building Public Relations officer and one urban planner. This is clearly a business where image is created through tremendous resources.

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