How One Development Shaped Tokyo

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It’s hard to believe given its success but ARK Hills, one of Tokyo’s most prestigious addresses, was once an unloved piece of real estate. Wedged between high ground and the highway and too far away for foot traffic from the thriving districts of Akasaka, Roppongi and Kasumigaseki, it was a forgotten part of the capital.

But developer Mori Building was undeterred by the problems with the thin strip of hilly land. It was the perfect location for the company to realise its vision of a compact garden city offering both sophistication and practicality.

After 17 years of planning, consultation and construction, ARK Hills opened its doors in March 1986 to become Japan’s first large-scale private multi-use redevelopment. Now, more than 30 years on, the architectural innovation continues to shape the city.


Due to largely planar real estate, Tokyo’s greater metropolitan area is ever-spreading, housing 25 percent of Japan’s population in 2016. But Tokyo is often described as a doughnut in terms of population distribution. The majority of residents live in its outskirts and commute 140 minutes daily on average, returning home to socialise. The four central wards of Tokyo have a day-time to night-time population ratio of 5:1 and, with efforts to maximise available space, a mere 5.5m2 per capita is park surface.

Though Manhattan is of a similar size and population, its ratio is 2:1 and its park space per capita is four times that of Tokyo’s. The reason, according to Mori Building, is that Manhattan is driven by vertical developments.

In creating ARK Hills, the forerunner of all Hills brands including Roppongi Hills, Mori Building’s aim was therefore to build a vertical city where visitors had everything they needed in one space. Facilities include offices, shops, restaurants, entertainment and green spaces. There is even a heliport on the roof of the ARK Mori Building to provide direct flights (about 20 minutes) between Narita International Airport and ARK Hills.


In the 40,000sqm development, you get the essence that everything is at your fingertips for smart living. Commercial, residential and social spaces are blended effortlessly, brought together by greening. More than 35 percent of the complex is made up of green space which, says Mori Building, is to foster the coexistence of city and nature.

As you stroll the Main Garden, Four Seasons Garden, Roof Garden or any of the other rich, verdant spaces you will appreciate that the greenery acts as not only an oasis but also an urban ecosystem, complete with seasonal shrubs and flowers, fruit trees and wild birds.

What’s more, the greening of roofs and walls serves to mitigate Tokyo’s heat island phenomenon and reduce CO2 emissions. Since being launched, the development has received numerous awards in relation to land and energy use, the environment and sustainability. Many of the city’s recent developments have incorporated the concept of multi-use, green spaces.

Dining and exploring

Culinary aficionados will love exploring the vast array of cafes, restaurants, bakeries and delis here, offering everything from local snacks to fine dining.

Of note is the tranquil green tea specialty café Noseen, which dates from 1890 and serves traditional blends alongside contemporary lattes and ice cream. For lunch, Sushi Saitou promises the morning’s catch in its eight-seat sushi bar; reservations only for this exclusive venue. Meanwhile, you can enjoy dry-aged beef from a terrace overlooking magical night views of the cityscape at Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse & Bar.


Al fresco diners at some of the restaurants may also catch the melodic sounds of the organ from some impromptu performances via speakers at Suntory Hall, a world-class concert venue.

At the heart of ARK Hills is a sense of community. The broad Karajan Plaza, accentuated by water features and greenery, offers areas for relaxation as well as events. Twice a week, these areas come alive with the Hills Marche, where traders proffer local delicacies, artisanal produce and handmade crafts. You can also uncover a bit of Japan’s culture through workshops, mini-concerts and an antiques market.


And, connected to Karajan Plaza by an adjoining passage lies ANA InterContinental Tokyo. Its fourth floor Garden Pool, as the name suggests, is an oasis in itself, with views of ARK Hills’ urban garden. Meanwhile, the lush cherry trees lining the avenue along the hotel provide beautiful shades of pink in spring and sparkling illuminations in winter.

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