Tokyo's architectural facelift: How the 2020 Olympics are shaping the skyline

Updated 6th June 2017
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Tokyo's architectural facelift: How the 2020 Olympics are shaping the skyline
Written by By Demetriou Danielle, CNNTokyo, Japan
It's a structure that will be impossible to miss: a steel-and-glass roof inspired by traditional Japanese origami, hovering above a light-flooded train station and a sprawling subterranean "city."
The Shinagawa New Station complex will be the first new station build on Tokyo's key JR Yamanote train line since 1971.
"It is an opportunity to design the whole area surrounding the station," said architect Kengo Kuma, who is also designing the new national stadium for the Tokyo Games. "It would be a great project because it will connect the sea and the hill of Tokyo, which will make a new face to the city."
Shinagawa is just one of dozens more major urban developments -- from hotels and sports complexes to cloud-piercing skyscrapers -- poised to transform the vista of Tokyo by the time the city raises the curtain for the 2020 Olympic Games.
According to recent figures published by Bloomberg, 45 new skyscrapers will be constructed within the city limits. If this figure is accurate, that would be mean a 50% increase in high-rises between now and 2020, compared to the previous three-year period, with the majority of projects concentrated in the central Chiyoda, Chuo and Minato districts.
The industrial Tokyo Bay area, where a number of Olympics-related facilities are being constructed, will also see significant growth. According to Hikariko Ono, a spokesperson for the Tokyo Games, eight new permanent venues, 23 existing sites and nine temporary venues will be built for the Games.
"A comprehensive set of physical, social, environmental and international legacies will result from Tokyo's hosting of the 2020 Games," she told CNN. "The citizens of Tokyo and Japan will benefit from significant environmental and infrastructural improvements...such as new green spaces and sport and education facilities centered on the revitalized Tokyo Bay area, creating a zone with strong appeal for Tokyo's future development."

From the ground up

The skyline of Tokyo's Shinjuku area.
The skyline of Tokyo's Shinjuku area. Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Another landmark project involves three major new towers in the Toranomon Hills area of Tokyo being developed by Mori Building, a key urban landscape developer.
Dutch architecture firm OMA is designing one of the three towers, the Toranomon Hills Station Tower, a mixed-use high-rise complex that fuses offices, hotels and retail spaces, as well as a new subway station.
Rendering of the Mori Towers
Rendering of the Mori Towers Credit: copyright oma
But it's not all skyscrapers and mega-developments: the humble ground level will also be getting a facelift. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is going to remove the many utility cables currently hovering above the city streets, and start burying 569 miles of cable underground.
Numerous hotel projects are also underway to counter an anticipated bed shortage during the Olympics. Among them is a new 41-story tower at the Hotel Okura due to open in 2019, following the controversial demolition of its original postwar modernist wing two years ago.
Such a massive level of development will no doubt concern some residents but Shohei Shigematsu, an OMA partner and director of OMA New York, predicts that Tokyo's architectural transformation is likely to be less dramatic than the revitalization witnessed in some other cities, such as Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Games.
"There is a niche school of experimental architects in Japan that dominate the media, but it's a conservative environment architecturally for the most part, governed by corporate firms and construction companies," he says.
The wider goal, it seems, is to plan beyond the 2020 Olympics, with architects considering how the city wants to evolve in a more broader sense.
As architect Kuma says: "Lots of big-scale development projects are going on at the moment, obviously towards the Olympics. We will see a number of high-rise buildings, but that won't be the proof of our maturity. We all need to think and discuss where we would like to 'land' in the future."