Monday, March 05, 2007

Tokyo builder brings mixed-use formula to Shanghai megaproject

TOKYO: When the Shanghai World Financial Center finally rises to its planned height of 492 meters next year, the builders will be toasting more than its size.

They also will be celebrating yet another example of blending lifestyle activities like dining and entertaining into the 1,614-foot home of major banks and securities firms.

At least, one of its planners, Mori Building, sees it that way.

Shanghai's financial center is an echo of the company's flagship projects, Roppongi Hills and Atago Green Hills, both in Tokyo. "I believe it is going to be a very advanced financial city," said Minoru Mori, president of Mori Building.

The 101-story building, estimated to cost more than $850 million, will have retail space on its lower levels, offices in the middle and a five-star hotel at the top. An observation platform is being built on the 100th floor, 472 meters above the ground, to provide a panoramic view of the city and the Huangpu River.

As for the residential component, a complex of luxury apartment buildings is planned for an adjacent lot.

The Shanghai city authority, which selects the names of large facilities, does not plan to add "Hills" to the building's name.

But for Mori, the Hills concept is at work here — the company's first full- scale attempt at marketing its urban mixed-use development concept overseas. And the address for the project's Web site is

Mori Construction was founded by Mori's father, Taikichiro, in 1959. Over the years it has expanded to encompass, as the company Web site puts it, "every aspect of the urban landscape" — including redevelopment; real estate leasing and management; and cultural, art and town management.

The company's revenue for the year that ended March 31, 2006, was ¥152.7 billion, or $1.28 billion.

Until now, the company's headline project has been Roppongi Hills. The complex, which opened in 2003, has created a lasting buzz in Tokyo. During its first year it attracted more than 45 million people — or 120,000 a day — to its mixture of offices, shops, restaurants, movie theaters, a museum and open space. And, the company says, the numbers have held steady ever since.

"I receive many requests to build the 'Hills' in their local area," Mori said, referring to requests from Japanese cities like Gifu as well as other communities throughout Asia.

The company does plan to be involved in such projects. "We could serve as advisers, put up capital or help with the marketing," Mori said. "There are many ways we could be of help." But for now, he said, he is focused on the Shanghai project and on advising a mixed-use development in South Korea.

While Mori is known throughout Asia as an advocate — and builder — of mixed-use developments, the concept also has been spreading elsewhere, like Canary Wharf in London and HafenCity in Hamburg.

Roppongi Hills and other Hills projects are not unique, said Azby Brown, director of the Future Design Institute at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in Tokyo. "It is a similar approach to that taken when someone is trying to build a new city from scratch," he said.

Mori said today's urban lifestyle demanded the integration of a whole range of human activities. "We are living in the knowledge-based society, where thinking and creating becomes the focus of our activity," he said. "Then, working and living become inseparable."

It is an environment much like that of man's early agricultural age, he said, when people lived close to their fields, "and the workmen who created the work tools and the furniture all lived nearby."

Then came the Industrial Revolution. "When factories are built in town, it creates smoke and pollution," Mori said. "The work environment was a tough one, so people couldn't be living where they worked.

"Soon, imposing strict zoning became a prerequisite for a good city," he said, artificially forcing homes, workplaces and leisure locations into different areas.

In the 21st century, though, Mori said, a daily commute between an office in the city and a home in the suburbs absorbs too much time for information-oriented white-collar professionals — and is not environmentally positive, either.

A multipurpose complex, like the Shanghai finance center or the Hills complexes, also is a winner in terms of space utilization, Mori said.

Restaurants in traditional office areas might see few customers on weekends. But if their surroundings include more than just offices — if there is shopping or other attractions like museums and hotels to create traffic on nonworking days — then they can count on weekend business, Mori said.

Also, the existence of hotels and apartments in the same complex should assure entertainment facilities of customers well into late evening, he said.

"Since it's the most convenient location, wealthy people would choose to live there, which, in turn, drives retail business," Mori said. The synergy extends to personnel as well, he added: "Because of high utilization, you can hire excellent chefs, for example, and retain them."

Despite Mori's successes at Roppongi and Atori, the concept has its share of critics, including Brown of the Kanazawa Institute of Technology.

On its face, Roppongi Hills appears to be an interesting idea, Brown said, but it and similar Mori projects replaced living neighborhoods. They blocked pathways that people once used to get from one part of town to another, Brown said, and did away with playgrounds that belonged to the local community.

"In the case of Roppongi, it was a fairly dynamic and vital and living and well-mixed neighborhood before Mori took a wrecking ball to it," he said.

No comments: