Step Into Azabudai Hills: Tokyo’s New Urban Oasis

In late 2023, the opening of Azabudai Hills in Tokyo was such an occasion that the former prime minister of Japan himself, Yoshihide Suga, led the event. The fact that the one-time head of the world’s third-largest economy presided over this occasion speaks volumes of the district’s ambition and visual grandeur.

Azabudai Hills describes itself as a modern urban village brimming with nature. This description may be accurate, yet it sells short so many of its impressive features. Yes, it is true that every street in this neighborhood is filled with nature, but some utterly outstanding structures are also located around this greenery.

Certainly, when viewed from above, the trees, plants, and grasses that cover Azabudai Hills stand in stark contrast to the surrounding grey and silver cityscape. When viewed from within the neighborhood, however, the many striking design elements created by Heatherwick Studio and Mori Building Co. stand out. Overall, the exterior has a cohesive curving design, with its two most prominent structures, Garden Plaza A and Garden Plaza B, being the perfect examples. These two buildings appear to sag in the same manner as the clocks in Salvador Dalí’s Persistence of Memory painting, with the layout of Sakurama Street separating the two, suggesting that something has sliced and cauterized one construction into two. On a much smaller scale but no less impressive is The Cloud, a canopy located within the arena section of the neighborhood’s central square. This canopy certainly resembles a cloud. Yet it also calls to mind MC Escher’s spiral-themed works through its track-like circular elements.

Part of the joy of seeing Azabudai Hills at the very start of its completion is witnessing the buildings within this neighborhood spring to life. In March 2024, the market building opened its doors for the first time, welcoming visitors through an entryway framed with a shell-like roof reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. Inside, 34 stores offering a range of food, drink, and even flowers opened for business, situated around ridged walls that seamlessly curve to form large pillars that appear to be modern reinterpretations of Roman columns.

The intricacies of Azabudai Hills are the culmination of over 30 years of development and regeneration. Mori Building Co., the organization that led the lengthy revitalization, collaborated with over 300 individuals and businesses in the neighborhood to ensure that the space would become something truly supportive of the community. The firm states that over 90% of the area’s original tenants and businesses have remained, a testament to the successful realization of a cohesive urban design.

In sprawling cities like Tokyo, neighborhoods have a tendency to blend into one another, making it challenging to tell where one ends and the other begins. This cannot be said for Azabudai Hills, which proudly boasts uniqueness in almost every square inch of its space.

Thomas Heatherwick founded Heatherwick Studio, implementing a design process that encourages every team member to both challenge and contribute ideas. Azabudai Hills is the first district that the studio has created in Japan, overseeing the public realm areas and lower podium-level architecture.

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Mori Building Co., Ltd. is a Japanese family-owned property management firm. As of 2015, its president and CEO is Shingo Tsuji. Its headquarters are in the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo. Mori Building has been managing office building leases since 1955. Its focus has been in Minato, Tokyo.

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Author: Graphis