The National Arts Center - Kisho Kurokawa (2007)
Thursday brought us to the Roppongi district in Minato ward, an former military and industrial area undergoing rapid change - home to the recently-developed Roppongi Art Triangle. Jonathan began the walking tour at the National Art Center
, designed by Kisho Kurokawa (his Nakagin Capsule Tower appears earlier in Sara's post
) and opened to the public in 2007.
The building sports a gracefully curving glass wall which fronts a conventional set of box galleries, and an inviting atrium open to the public. During our visit, it was filled with visitors resting, having coffee, or travelling through on their way from the train station to Roppongi. The museum had a fantastic show up: a survey of European painting from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. While the exhibitions generally required paid admission, the thoughtful and beautiful space in the atrium was free and open to the public.
Visitors relaxing in the public atrium
The original facade of the old National Defense Force barracks which occupied the site, preserved as one wall of the museum's annex.
From the Art Center, we travelled southeast to the Tokyo Midtown development. The project was completed in 2007 by Mitsui Fudosan and designed by the firm of Skimore, Owings, and Merrill, and includes one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo.
The complex boasts corporate headquarters, a hotel, and a large shopping complex. All together, the mixed-use project occupies 6.1 million square feet, and notable for our project, it contributes a 10 acre public park to the area. We stopped for lunch at Tokyo Midtown and set off to explore the premises.
While the Galleria mall was somewhat unexceptional, it offered great views of the city, and the courtyard space nestled between the skyscrapers offered a multitude of options to sit and relax. Since we arrived around lunchtime, the space was full of employees of the nearby offices, shoppers, and tourists finding a spot to enjoy the shade and eat.
The adjoining park offered many of the amenities we're accustomed to seeing in New York City parks: rolling lawns, natural areas, playgrounds, and sports facilities. We may have arrived at off time of the day - the park appeared to be mainly occupied by westerners staying at the hotel or nannies pushing babies in strollers. The park, while accessible from outside the complex, is most directly connected to Tokyo Midtown and the mall. We were curious to know how many residents of the nearby apartment buildings used the park day to day.
The park was also home to Tadao Ando's Design Sight 21_21, a design museum and research space. Like the other Ando works we'd seen so far on the trip, the sunken building was beautiful and subtle (though many in the group balked at the admission price). It sits in an unassuming location, tucked away behind landscaped flower beds, but offers visitors an amazing experience once entered.
The traditional garden section of Tokyo Midtown's public park
Our energy restored from lunch and a quick respite in the park, we walked onward toward Roppongi Hills, completed in 2003 and only about a half mile away. Roppongi Hills was developed by real estate tycoon Minoru Mori (1934-2012), and is one of the largest mixed-use projects ever built in Japan. It sits on a hilltop and covers 27 acres. Unlike Tokyo Midtown, which was developed wholesale on a former army site, Mori built Roppongi Hills on an amalgamation of smaller lots acquired over a 14 year period. As Peter Popham noted
, Mori and his father played a patient game in real estate, slowly buying out property as former owners died or decided to sell to the Mori company. The result of this long game is a generally spectacular site.
As opposed to Tokyo Midtown's central void, Roppongi Hills revolves around the centrality of the 54-story Mori Tower.
Mori Tower (Kohn Pederson Fox 2003)
The development has a similar program: corporate offices, a shopping complex, a movie theater, and open space. Unlike Tokyo Midtown, however, Roppongi Hills includes a large residential project, and we got the sense that most of the users of the (somewhat smaller) park were in fact nearby residents. The difficult topography, nearby freeway, and other large developments make Roppongi Hills fantastically complex, with a multitude of pedestrian bridges, ramps, and tunnels soaring above ground level and burrowing through the topography.
Roppongi exemplifies many of the factors which make Tokyo so unique, and we were reminded of that fact after making the trip up to the Mori Tower's observation floor, which offered incredible 360 degree views of the city.
View towards Tokyo Tower, with Nittele Tower in the distance
Our group work ended at Roppongi, and we split up to seek out food, sights, and shopping. I headed to Shinjuku for some souvenir buying at Tokyu Hands, then met up for yakitori with the Shinjuku commuters in a tiny side street off of the station.
Side street off of Shinjuku station
- Chris Hamby