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Roppongi Hills: The first Artelligent City |

Modern Living

Roppongi Hills: The first Artelligent City

- Tetta Ortiz-Matera -
For those who have traveled to Tokyo, the mention of Roppongi evokes scenes of frantic evening activities, primarily because of the prevalence of "gentlemen’s clubs," discos, karaokes, night hawkers and 24-hour cafés. In the evening, especially on weekends when the moon starts to cast its shadow on the city, Roppongi turns into an overcrowded, noisy and chaotic district that pulsates to a beat of its own. But that was the ’80s and the ’90s.

Today when you walk through Roppongi the landscape is a far cry from the rows of old, gaudy-looking buildings, with blinding neon lights and people handing you pamphlets for all kinds of shows, discounts and club openings. Although there are still remnants of that era, Roppongi is seeing a transformation that is indicative of the future Japan: clusters of modern, well-organized, self-sufficient, environmentally friendly, unique and ingenious pockets of urban development.

Towards the end of the last century, then Prime Minister Obuchi organized an Economic Strategy Council to collaborate with private industry in an effort to revitalize Japan’s largest cities, particularly Tokyo. The government wanted to energize the private industry to take the lead, with the government on hand to facilitate and coordinate. In response to this challenge, Mr. Minoru Mori wrote and presented a strategy entitled "An Urban New Deal" to the council with two objectives in mind: To double urban living space and double the free time available to city residents. The "Urban New Deal" detailed plans of transforming Tokyo’s horizontally dense city into a vertical urban area. The latest and by far the biggest, most expensive and most successful result of Mori’s "Urban New Deal" is Roppongi Hills.

Mori Corporation is the largest and most famous real-estate company in Japan. Founded in 1955 by his father Taikichiro Mori, formerly a professor at Yokohama City University, Mori Fudosan, as it was then called, started out developing office buildings even while the pall of defeat from the war lay over Japan. Their first project, the Nishi-Shimbashi 1 Mori Building, was developed with several property owners. As demand for office space increased in the 1960s because of rapid economic growth, Mori Fudosan shifted from developing individual buildings to area development. After decades of continued expansion and success marked by projects such as Laforet Harajuku, Ark Hills (1986), Atago Green Hills (2001) and Moto-Azabu Hills (2002), Mori Corporation successfully developed Roppongi Hills, the perfect model for urban real-estate redevelopment.

The planning for Roppongi Hills actually started in 1986 when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government designated the Roppongi 6-chome (street) area as a "Guided Redevelopment Area" and Mori Corporation began negotiations with the 500 individual landowners who owned properties in the area. One hundred of the landowners sold their property outright but the remaining 400 decided to form a kumiai or cooperative to negotiate with the Mori group. The kumiai eventually came to an agreement with the Mori Group after TV Asahi, one of Japan’s largest television companies and the biggest landowner involved in the negotiations, decided to temporary relocate to another area pending the development of the land. In 1998 the "Roppongi 6-chome District Urban Redevelopment Association" was established. The 400 landowners who formed part of the Association were given either residential or office units within the complex bigger than the land they originally owned, monetary compensation and a vital voice in the policy-making and development of the project.

Completed in April 2003, Roppongi Hills, which is dubbed the "Artelligent City" because it aspires to unite the concepts of "art" and "intelligence" in one place, was constructed in three years with a budget of 270 billion yen (US$2.4 billion), excluding land cost. The 11.6-hectare complex with a total floor space of 759,000 square meters is comprised of eight major structures including the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the Grand Hyatt Hotel, four high-rise residential apartment buildings called The Roppongi Hills Residences, the Keyakizaka Complex and TV Asahi. Numerous world-renowned architectural firms were commissioned to design the various structures.

The Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Keyakizaka complex along with the West Walk, the Museum Cone, the Mohri Garden and the Roppongi Hills Arena were designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC, together with The Jerde Partnership, Gluck Mayner Architects, System-O, Conran & Partners and Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners Inc. The TV Asahi structure was designed by Fumihiko Maki and the Residences were designed by Conran & Partners and The Jerde Partnership. The construction was tackled by 11 of the top Japanese construction companies, including Obayashi Construction.

The Roppongi Hills Mori Tower is a 54-floor building that houses The Mori Arts Center on its top-most floors. The Mori Art Museum, which is located on the 52nd and 53rd floors, is headed by David Elliot, the first non-Japanese director of an art museum in Japan. The museum features superlative modern art from all over the world in such diverse fields as fashion, architecture, design and photography. Currently on exhibit at the Mori Art Museum is "The Elegance of Silence: Contemporary Art from East Asia" featuring paintings, sculpture, installation, photography, video, craft and design works by 26 Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese artists in commemoration of the Japan-Korea Friendship Year 2005.

Membership programs are available for individuals and corporations at the museum. Joining fees range from 2,000 yen (approximately P1,000) for students, to 10,000 yen (P5,000) for benefactors, while annual fees range from 5,000 (P2,500) to 50,000 yen (P25,000).

The Tokyo City View is an observation platform 250 meters above sea level, which has a 360-degree panoramic view of Tokyo.

The Roppongi Academy Hills is a borderless hub of intellectual creativity where professional scholastic activities are held by academic leaders of many fields and houses a 24-hour membership library.

The Roppongi Hills Club is an exclusive membership club with eight restaurants, five bars and several private dining rooms that seat over 1,000 people. Then at the rooftop you will find the Tokyo Sky Deck, an open-air observatory 270 meters above sea level which also provides a 360-degree panoramic view of Tokyo. From the 48th floor down, the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower serves as an office building for several of the world’s largest companies like Chevron Texaco Int’l., Goldman Sachs (Japan) Lt., Lehman Brothers Japan Inc., JVC Entertainment Networks, Inc., Time Incorporated, and the Yahoo Japan Corporation.

The Grand Hyatt Hotel is a 21-floor dynamic metropolitan hotel that features 10 highly distinctive restaurants and bars, 390 guest rooms, 13 banquet rooms and a state-of-the-art spa and fitness center designed to provide the ultimate in relaxation. Although situated within a bustling complex, the design of the entrances and the lobby of the hotel provide a muted elegance and privacy that is vital to its well-heeled clientele. It is a favorite among visiting celebrities and personalities from all over the world. On one of my last visits, I spotted Beyoncé with the two other members of Destiny’s Child, who were in Tokyo for a concert.

The Roppongi Hills Residences is comprised of four buildings with Residences B and C coming in as the tallest at 43 floors, Residence D at 18 floors and Residence A at six floors. There are a total of 793 residences with the floor area varying from 30.7 to 94 sq. meters for a one-bedroom, to 59.1 to 184 sq. m. for a two-bedroom, 89.4 to 270 sq. m. for a three-bedroom, 113 to 365.4 sq. m. for a four-bedroom, and 421.2 sq. m. for a five-bedroom unit located at Residence C.

Most of the landowners have units in Residence B while the other towers are available for long-term lease. Residence A is a combination of retail and residential units. Prices for the apartments start at around 250,000 yen (P125,000) for the smallest one-bedroom unit. Despite the prices, all the units in all four buildings are currently occupied.

The Keyakizaka Complex is comprised of the multiplex Virgin Cinemas and a wide selection of retail shops. There are nine movie theaters that feature the latest in sound technology and one is reserved solely for the screening of independent films. Wednesday is ladies’ night so tickets are discounted at 1,000 yen (P500). Seats may be reserved at 3,000 yen (P1,500), but normal movie tickets are priced at 1,800 yen (P900). Discounts for children and senior citizens apply.

If watching a movie is not your thing but shopping is, just walk along the Hillside or the West Walk and you will find many popular brands in Japanese and international fashion: Zara for women, men and children is located at one of the entrances to the complex, Caban de Zucca, L’Equippe by Yoshie Inaba, Vivienne Tam, Gherardini, Anna Sui, and Lulu Guinness are just some of the brand names you will find within the complex.

If you are in the mood to splurge on yourself or a loved one, then head out to Keyakizaka Dori (street) and you can treat yourself to Versace couture, Christian Lacroix, Hugo Boss, Escada, Leonard of Paris, Mikimoto Pearls, Louis Vuitton, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, La Perla, Sigerson Morrison, Emma Hope, Loro Piana and Max Mara.

If it is your palate you wish to satisfy, there are at least 80 restaurants, cafes, bakeries, take-out delis, grills and bars located all over Roppongi Hills. You will find Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese, Indian, and ethnic cuisine, including western food. The Oak Door at the Grand Hyatt Hotel is my personal favorite because of its classic decor, high ceiling, dark-wood panels and mood lighting. The ambiance, especially at night, is elegant and romantic at the same time, providing the perfect atmosphere for its superb cuisine. Their fresh seafood, particularly the scallops and the soft-shell crabs, are a must and the juicy steaks are freshly cut from within their clear-glass meat cellar. Their wine list is quite impressive and the desserts lined up by the kitchen counter are simply mouth-watering. Victor, who oversees the dining area, provides unobtrusive yet attentive service that is rarely seen in restaurants these days. A trip to the Oak Door is one we take every time we are in Tokyo.

The Japanese’s attention to detail is best manifested in how all the structures interconnect in a flowing, harmonious manner. The size of the complex does not intimidate but instead offers a welcome invitation for everyone to take a leisurely walk, to stop at every corner, every turn and take a moment to admire and appreciate every detail installed for the visitor’s pleasure. Artworks by world-famous artists can be seen all over the complex like the imposing metal spider by Louise Bourgeois of France, the stone sculpture of Martin Puryear from the USA, the wall drawings by Sol Lewitt at the TV Asahi building, the different interpretations of chairs and benches by Toyo Ito from Japan, Ron Arad from Britain, Andrea Branzi from Italy, Ettore Sottsass from Austria, Karim Rashid from the USA and Thomas Sandell from Sweden, to name a few.

Then there is the Mohri Garden, a 4,300- sq.m. replica of the Mohri Estate that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). The garden, which is open to the public on a daily basis, features a full-scale traditional Japanese garden. Walk towards the center of the whole complex and you will find the Roppongi Hills Arena, a multi-purpose open-air space where live, large-scale performances can be mounted on the circular stage. This 4,900 sq.m. space also serves as a venue for Tai Chi, the traditional Chinese exercise during summer. If you are worried about getting there, fret no more because Roppongi Hills is conveniently located near subway stations servicing the Hibiya Line, Oedo Line and Namboku Line. You can also take the bus which stops right in front of the complex and if you wish to drive or go on your motorcycle or bicycle, ample secure parking spaces are available at the designated parking area. And then of course there is the community Bus "Chi-i-Bus" operated by the Minato Ward which takes passengers to and from Roppongi Hills within the Minato area. Bus fare is uniform for everyone at 100 yen (P50) each way.

If all of these do not impress you, then let me tell you that Roppongi Hills is also environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and more importantly, earthquake resistant. Roppongi Hills is the first-of-its-kind urban oasis where nature and man-made objects harmoniously co-exist, where people can experience the passing of the seasons. They put technology and tradition at work to create what is now known as the "vertical garden city." As a result, 25.6 percent of the 11.6 hectares of the development is greenery, where the tops of all the buildings boast their own uniquely landscaped gardens.

To address the enormous responsibility of providing energy, the Roppongi Energy Center, in cooperation with Tokyo Gas, constructed a power plant that provides consistent electricity for Roppongi Hills. The power plant utilizes emitted heat to provide air-conditioning for all the structures within the complex. This radically new concept allows Roppongi Hills to save 20 percent of energy as compared to standard systems. This is why the electricity within the Roppongi Hills complex is cheaper than that supplied by the Japan National Power Corporation, TEPCO.

To ensure the safety of the structures from earthquakes with a magnitude equivalent to that of the Great Hanshin, earthquake-resistant systems like seismic isolation and vibration control were adapted. A semi-active Oil Damper, unbonded bracing, seismic damping walls with viscous cores and green mass dampeners are strategically placed in all the structures at the complex. For example, the rooftop of the Keyakizaka Complex is isolated from the main structure of the building by laminated rubber isolators and by a green mass damper installed in between. The rooftop segment absorbs and accumulates the energy of the earthquakes by undergoing a greater tremor, thus reducing the amount of vibration inflicted on the buildings.

The Roppongi Hills Mori Tower offers the world’s first "Super Double-Decker Elevators." These elevators offer more efficient use of space and better transportation abilities due to the technology that adjusts the distance between two cages which enables them to meet at different floor intervals.

In the first year of its operations, Roppongi Hills welcomed 49 million visitors, a record-breaking number by world standards. The project has been a tremendous financial success, with the loans paid ahead of schedule and visitors coming non-stop to eat, to shop and enjoy the myriad of entertainment the complex has to offer. The response from the public has been so enormous and highly encouraging that as of this writing, the Mori Corporation is embarking on another ambitious project dubbed "Omotesando Hills." A 1.2-hectare project due for completion in the year 2006, Omotesando Hills will be a combination of commercial and residential space with a philosophy that centers on "kodawari" or RE: Rebirth, recreation, rediscovery, reinvention and remix.

"Cities, Tokyo, the Future" is the vision of Minoru Mori and Roppongi Hills is a realization of this vision and a testimony to his long-term commitment to reinvigorate Japan. If Roppongi Hills is a glimpse into the future of Japan, new city centers that are safe, that integrate a full range of facilities for professional, residential, commercial, recreational, child-care, education and health-care use all within easy access, then I have no doubt it will serve as the benchmark for all other cities in the world to emulate as the 21st Century City.

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