If you’ve ever looked at a skyscraper and dreamed, for just a moment, about ascending the side and cresting the top, you aren’t alone (also, don’t do it). Some skylines just seem to dare us to try, not unlike mountains.
Starchitect Thomas Heatherwick wants to make that dream come true, albeit in a more safe and accessible way. The firm’s first building in Japan, the redevelopment of Tokyo’s Toranomon-Azabudai district in conjunction with the mega Japanese development firm Mori, just broke ground. And when it’s complete, it will invite passersby to ascend its facade via built-in staircases. It’s a unique hybrid of real estate development and the public sculptures that Heatherwick has become famous for designing in cities like New York and London.
The centerpiece of the project is what Heatherwick Studio dubs an “oversized pergola.”
It’s a mixed use, 13-floor building complete with offices, shops, restaurants, an amphitheater, and a temple. But its real appeal is the pergola design. One side of the building is glass to allow light in to the deepest part of each floor plate. The other is constructed like a ramp, organized around terraces that peek out, as if you’re standing in a giant garden.
A series of shorter buildings take the concept a step further, with embedded staircases that let visitors ascend the building’s exterior. According to the studio, you can actually explore several routes along the side of the building, stopping in shops or grabbing a bite along the way at one of the storefronts that will face the sloping facade.
The pergola design solves two problems. First, the neighborhood where the development is located was planned with an irregular grid, which invites structures that aren’t designed to sit on clean rectangular footprints like most city buildings and blocks. Secondly, the design creates more street-level spaces than a typical building would, inviting some of the 30 million or so people estimated to visit the district each year to shop and dine in the development. With a sloped green roof, the building almost becomes a park—albeit one loaded with various businesses and private amenities. Street-level retail works its way to a higher altitude which, in theory, gives you the density benefits of multistory businesses with the strollable accessibility of any green space.
The area is not planned to open until early 2023, so in the meantime, you can always check out Heatherwick’s other climbable project that opened recently in New York: the much-maligned Vessel, dubbed by some to be a “staircase to nowhere.”