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Tokyo, the most populous metropolis in the world, is considered Japan’s political, economic and cultural center. It’s a vibrant and energetic city that boasts some stunning modernist architecture. Tokyo’s architecture doesn’t reflect the city’s long and dramatic history. Compared to its European urban counterparts, Tokyo seems to have been built only recently. This is due to devastating earthquakes and wars in the past; it is also due to the Japanese penchant for constant change and renovation. However, you will quickly realize that the architecture isn't the main draw, as a large percentage of buildings are from the dreary 60s and 70s, a time when Japan was quickly modernizing, but also a time when boxes were in and innovation was out. Still, signs and neon lights will awe most short-term visitors. Just over the past few years, some major urban redevelopment projects like Roppongi Hills and the new Shiodome area are evidence that the future of architecture in Tokyo is bright.
As you scan Tokyo’s skyline, visitors are amazed at how low it is; a result of the city’s unfortunate history of earthquakes. In fact, the tallest structure is the City Hall, at a modest 248 meters in height. Low they may be, but the city offers some stunning, architectural gems that stand out. Here are a few:
Tokyo International Forum , located south of Tokyo Station, is styled in high-tech modern. It resembles a graceful, ship-like shape built in shimmering glass and steel. Depending on your point of view, this enormous 225-meter-long structure has also been known to resemble a “whale skeleton.” The International Forum was the original location of City Hall, which was moved to Shinjuku (see below "Tokyo City Hall") and the site was redeveloped into the International Forum.
The Tokyo City Hall is built in a modernist, Neo-Regionalist style, consisting of a pair of tall, geometric towers with a unique microchip pattern. The main tower with two spires stands at 243 meters (48 floors) and the secondary tower stands at 163 meters. Across from the towers is the Tokyo Metro City Council building, connected by two large bridges to the main buildings. The building is a Kenzo Tange design, and reflects his inspiration from the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The building should be considered part of a design trilogy by Tange in Tokyo - the other similar designs are the United Nations University, located at Aoyama, and the Fuji TV Building (see below), located at Odaiba, Tokyo. The construction of the City Hall complex, along with the Tokyo International Forum and (current) Fuji Broadcast Center cost a collective $3 billion and almost bankrupt the Tokyo Metro Government in the 1990's. This building also has an observatory platform open to the public, which affords some of the best views of the city from two towers - north and south. The south tower offers slightly better views on a clear day toward Tokyo Bay, Meiji Shrine, and Tange's masterpiece Olympic Gymnasium at Yoyogi Park, while the north tower sports an Italian cafe and views toward Saitama.
Built in 1963,
St. Mary’s Cathedral is an eye-catching, modernist structure that is built in the sign of a cross. It features eight walls in the form of sweeping hyperbolic parabolas, which rise up at graceful angles from the base.
The Fuji Broadcasting Center is an eye-catching structure built with dramatic square tubes and blocks; the main feature is a massive spherical observation platform. Another Tange design, the building was originally intended to be the centerpiece of the Tokyo World City Expo, which was cancelled due to budgetary problems. The building was acquired by Fuji TV as its main studio.
Shiodome, just east of Shimbashi station, is chock full of new, well-designed buildings that really stand out against the grey backdrop of the rest of Tokyo.
In addition to Tokyo City Hall, there are several buildings that offer some of the best 360-degree views from their observatories. The ones open to the public include: Bunkyo-ku Civic Center (Kasuga Station); the Carrot Tower (Sangenjaya Station); the Sumitomo Building (next to City Hall); the Tokyo Tower (Kamiyacho Station); and, the World Trade Center Building (Hamamatsucho Station).