Mori Building’s Cities on the Hills

In our globalized society, it is only natural to compare cities to one another—assessing their relative strengths and weaknesses to help us determine exactly where they stand in the world. 

And while Tokyo has established itself as one of the world’s leading urban centers, it can still improve its cultural magnetism, livability, and attractiveness for overseas businesses. Helping the city rise in the world’s esteem by gradually transforming Tokyo is at the heart of Mori Building’s mission. And central to this goal is the development of its Hills projects, starting with ARK Hills in 1986. This was followed by Roppongi Hills in 2003; Toranomon Hills, with its four distinctive towers and new metro station that were in development from 2014 to 2023; and finally, Azabudai Hills, which just opened in November. 

The Hills are the brainchild of late Chairperson Minoru Mori, who espoused the concept of “vertical garden cities,” which are based on the ideas of the famed architect Le Corbusier and infused with advanced technology and modern perspectives. The complexes are built tall, on single large floor plates that have been created out of small plots of land, which Mori aggregates by negotiating with individual landowners over decades. As well as being architecturally impressive, these complexes are united by common themes. They are green, they are locations that improve the safety of their surrounding neighborhoods, and they offer a stimulating cultural atmosphere.

A Green Base

When visiting the Hills, you are not only struck by the towering skyscrapers that are the complexes’ hubs, but by the greenery that can be found at their ground levels. 

As Mariko Murata from Mori Building’s Environmental Promotion Unit explains, nowhere is this more apparent than at Azabudai Hills. “Based on the design and concept by Heatherwick Studio, who designed the landscape of the low-rise area of Azabudai Hills, about 320 plant species have been selected that express each season. For example, the Central Square is planned around deciduous trees from the native vegetation of the area, so that visitors can feel the changes of the four seasons.” 

She points out that by building high on a large scale, the Hills projects are not only able to support beautiful green spaces but also be more environmentally sound. “With this method, we can increase green coverage by up to 30 percent and energy efficiency by up to 40 percent. In addition, we can significantly improve environmental performance, as the buildings have a much longer life and the use of energy and resources is a great deal more efficient.”

Safe Havens

The Hills also stand out for their safety: as well as featuring structures that can easily withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes, they are central locations where residents can go in times of need. As Takashi Hosoda, senior manager at Mori Building’s Disaster Emergency Office points out, “Mori Building has been engaged in redevelopment projects in its hometown of Minato Ward under the slogan, ‘cities to escape to, rather than flee from.’” Roppongi Hills can accommodate 5,000 people, Toranomon Hills 5,200 people and Azabudai Hills 3,600 people who may be unable to return home in the case of an emergency. The company has taken the lessons of the past—such as the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011—to heart, recognizing the necessity for secure systems and infrastructures. Through cooperation between the public and private sectors, Mori Building has strengthened both the hardware and software systems of the complexes to ensure the safety of tenants, residents, visitors, neighbors and the employees who use the buildings and facilities it manages and operates. Hosoda adds that the complexes will allow the quantity and quality of disaster preparedness in Minato Ward to improve, helping “the urban structure to be transformed to one in which ‘homes, offices, and the town [Hills] where you are now are the safest places to be.’”

Grand Designs

As well as creating areas around Minato Ward that are both green and secure, Mori Building aims to strengthen their cultural capital. Yoshinao Matsushima, the PR and Promotion Group senior manager in the Cultural Affairs Department, explains that with Roppongi Hills, which is home to the Mori Art Museum, the company was inspired to address the fact that Tokyo needed a cultural center to rival locations such as New York’s Lincoln Center, London’s Covent Garden, and Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou. 

To establish locations that are culturally rich, the Hills complexes not only house galleries with exhibits by the world’s leading artists, but pieces of public art that are meant to create spaces that enrich people’s everyday aesthetic lives, Matsushima points out. “The Hills feature artworks that visitors to the city can touch and enjoy. There are many works by internationally acclaimed artists, so visitors can enjoy high-quality, genuine art experiences at any time.” 

United by the aim of drawing people in with green oases and stunning art, while also creating safe refuges, Mori Building has its eyes not just on the immediate future, but generations ahead. As Murata reveals: “In this era of fierce intercity competition, where people, goods, capital and knowledge gather in attractive cities across borders, a city’s potential and possibilities have a great impact on the economy as well as the future of urban living. In this context, Mori Building has created the grand design for Tokyo with a long-term perspective of 50 to 100 years and is striving to achieve it.”

Recommended: A Race for Excellence: Top Financial Centers in the Global Power City Index and The Sky’s the Limit: A Look at Azabudai Hills 

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