Follow Us




Views The Changing Face of Tokyo
Mori Towers Revamping Tokyo’s Skyline

Tokyo’s skyline has dramatically changed over the past few decades as new clusters of high-rises have sprung up around the city. Mori Towers are at the forefront of urban development projects that are transforming the heart of the capital.

Tokyo in Three Dimensions

Toranomon Hills stands above the entrance of Shin-Tora-dōri. An ongoing development project keeps the area abuzz with construction vehicles.

Traveling by car from Tokyo’s Toranomon district to the head office of leading property management company Mori Building in Roppongi provides an up-close view of the real estate firm’s new Toranomon Hills tower. The massive high-rise, part of the company’s ongoing development project in the area, sits atop the tunnel entrance to a new 1.4-kilometer segment of the capital’s Loop Road No. 2, a yet-incomplete route through central Tokyo. The section of new road, dubbed MacArthur Avenue during the planning stages after the famed supreme commander of the allied forces, had been stalled for 68 years due to difficulties procuring land. But in the course of planning its new complex, Mori Building was able to come to an agreement with property owners, and the stretch of roadway opened in March 2014 with the nickname Shin-Tora-dōri, the “road between Shinbashi and Toranomon.”

The headquarters of Mori Building are located in the Roppongi Hills complex, on the upper floors of Mori Tower, a predecessor to Toranomon Hills completed in 2003. recently met there with the firm’s head of public relations, Yamamoto Masakatsu, to talk about the company’s ongoing projects and future plans.

Standing before a sprawling scale model of Tokyo on the building’s forty-third floor, Yamamoto focuses a laser pointer on the replica city as he talks about Mori’s varied undertakings around the capital. “Instead of relying only on flat maps,” he explains, carefully guiding the dot of light across the miniature landscape, “we always refer to this 3D representation to get a vivid image of how new projects will fit into the landscape of each locale.”

According to Yamamoto, around 3% of structures in Tokyo are knocked down and rebuilt each year. Employees work constantly to keep the model up to date, swapping out old buildings for new ones based on snapshots taken during frequent bicycle reconnaissance missions around the city.

A view of the comprehensive scale model of Tokyo inside the Roppongi offices of Mori Building, looking from Shinjuku to Tokyo Bay.

The Mori Philosophy of Urban Revitalization

Mori Building founder Mori Taikichirō established the property firm in 1955 as Mori Fudōsan. Japan was in the middle of its postwar period of rapid economic growth, and the company tapped into the growing need for office space, constructing and leasing scores of buildings in the Shinabashi and Toranomon areas. Employees refer to this time as the “number building era” for the policy of foregoing names and numbering structures in the order they went up. The company competed the Nishi Shinbashi 2 Mori Building—its first, despite the number in the name—in 1956.

Mori Building gradually expanded its portfolio to include large-scale redevelopment projects, starting with the trendy LaForet Harajuku shopping complex in 1978. This was followed by the mixed-use Ark Hills complex in Roppongi in 1986.

Then in 1993, Mori Minoru took the helm from his father and began to chart a radically different course for the company based on his own vision for Tokyo. He was concerned that land prices and the high cost of living in the capital had produced an exodus to suburbs in the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama, forcing people to spend hours each day commuting to and from offices and schools in the city.

At the heart of Minoru’s vision was a revolutionary shift from Tokyo’s old industrial model toward a society based on information, knowledge, and technology. In 1999 he labeled the concept as an “urban new deal,” saying he wanted to reinvent Tokyo as a more livable city by doubling open spaces and enabling residents to increase and make greater use of their free time.

The Nishi Shinbashi 2 Mori Building after it was renovated in 2017.

Garden Cities

Minoru passed away in 2012, but his vision for Tokyo remains a pillar of Mori Building. Speaking following the publication of the 2017 Global Power City Index, produced annually by the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategies, current president and Mori Memorial Foundation director Tsuji Shingo reaffirmed his predecessor’s ideas: “Global players today are seeking cities not just with a strong business environment, but those additionally offering improved lifestyles: high quality residences, diverse cultural and retail facilities, a stress-free transportation network, and a rich natural environment.”

The company’s expansive three-dimensional model shows, from left to right, Roppongi Hills, Ark Hills, and Toranomon Hills.

Another of Mori Minoru’s legacies is Mori Building’s development projects built on the idea of vertical “garden cities”: integrated complexes featuring high-rise and underground structures surrounded by vast green spaces.

The idea of garden cities, self-contained communities of agricultural, industrial, and residential land interspersed by greenbelts, was first proposed in 1898 by British urban planner Ebenezer Howard. Later, the Swiss architect Le Corbusier refined this into the vertical version of the concept. Minoru was inspired by Le Corbusier’s ideas and adopted them as a plank of Mori Building’s philosophy asserting that urban planning and architecture must have the dual goals of changing society and invigorating the economy.

  • [2018.02.06]
Related articles
Other articles in this report
  • Alone in the Rain: Three Tokyo ScenesArtist Stuart Ayre keeps his eyes open for stories in Tokyo. In the three works we present here, he focuses on individuals in the metropolis in rainy weather.
  • Japan’s Capital from Meiji to the Modern AgeWith the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Edo was renamed Tokyo, the Eastern Capital, and the fever-pitch modernization of the city began in earnest. Twice the great metropolis was leveled, first by the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake and later by the fire bombings of World War II, yet both times it rose again from the ashes of devastation. With every rejuvenation, however, the city remained true to the Edo blueprint left by Tokugawa Ieyasu.
  • Growth of a Great City from the Seeds of Ieyasu’s EdoFour centuries ago, Tokyo was a small village perched on a narrow strip of land bordering an inlet from the bay. The city has been nearly wiped out several times only to revive with greater vigor than before. A look at Tokyo’s history reveals clues as to how it became the great metropolitan center that it is today.

Related articles

Video highlights

New series

  • From our columnists
  • In the news