East side story

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Japan has had an enduring love affair with the design sensibility of Sir Terence Conran, and nowhere is that clearer than in the choice of his architecture company to create one of the country’s largest redevelopment projects in recent years. Conran & Partners was chosen in an international competition held in 2004 to masterplan the design of the East Futako-Tamagawa regeneration project, a massive undertaking covering 11.2 hectares and estimated to cost Y142.1bn.

Futako-Tamagawa, a suburb on the south-western fringe of Tokyo, is a popular residential area, particularly among families, who are attracted to its lush greenery and the open space around the Tama River that runs along its border.

But while the western side of the train station had become a magnet for shoppers and diners from miles away since a department store and shopping mall were built there in 1969, the eastern side had remained virtually untouched for decades.

“The eastern side of the station had several small shops but the infrastructure was lacking – for example, there were streets with no sidewalks,” says Tetsuhiko Kato, a generalisation leader of the East Futako-Tamagawa District Redevelopment Committee.

A group of local landowners – small business owners, as well as Tokyu Railways and Tokyu Real Estate, which own large tracts of land in the area – became concerned that the neighbourhood was in need of a facelift and discussed the idea of redevelopment, nearly 30 years ago. The project, which faced numerous obstacles, testifies to the determination of its supporters.

The first phase of the project, which was completed in March 2011, has added two new shopping malls, a 16-storey office building and five residential buildings providing 1,033 new apartments to the east of the station. Last month, Conran & Partners began work on the second and final phase of the redevelopment, which is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

When this phase is completed, it will add two commercial buildings, a hotel, cinema complex and new public park to the area. The design concept for the redevelopment was for a transition from the city to nature, says Hisaya Haraguchi, general manager of the architectural design division at RIA, the firm responsible for everything from the basic scheme to the architectural design of the redevelopment.

Four companies were invited to present proposals: Cesar Pelli and Associates, architects of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Japan’s own Kengo Kuma, who designed the Tamagawa Takashimaya Shopping Centre on the other side of the station, Kohn, Pedersen and Fox Associates, architects of the Shanghai World Financial Center, and Conran & Partners.

Conran & Partners came back with the idea of a journey that would take people returning from work in Tokyo through the busy part around the railway station to the quieter side of the residential units, explains Richard Doone, Conran’s senior architect.

“Our brief was to develop an overall masterplan, a narrative that would unify the site,” he says.

The artwork displayed throughout the completed phase of the development, the colour scheme and the use of materials are all intended to express this “journey”. Benches that dot the train station concourse are designed like rocks in a stream and the massive pillars that support the 30-metre-high roof are flanked by tall steel rods, fashioned as reeds.

As one approaches the residential area, these man-made materials are replaced by more natural elements, centring on a series of wisteria trellises that line the area’s open-air plaza. The bold colours of the buildings around the railway station give way to lighter coloured buildings, with more delicate details, near the park.

The Futako-Tamagawa Rise residential towers

Three high-rise apartment towers, ranging from 28 to 40 storeys, and two low-rise apartment buildings sit in the residential zone providing a total of 1,033 apartments.

The apartments, ranging in price from Y46m to Y220m for a 140 sq m apartment, went on sale in 2008. However, in spite of the economic slump and the prospect of more construction work during the second phase of building, all but 12 units at the higher end of the price range have been sold.

Conran & Partners’ successful bid owed a lot to their low-key approach, which the directors of the East Futako-Tamagawa District Urban Redevelopment Committee felt was more in tune with the character of the neighbourhood than some of the more elaborate proposals submitted.

While the bursting of Japan’s asset bubble delayed the project, the biggest obstacle to the redevelopment was staunch opposition from some local residents who did not like the idea that their cherished neighbourhood would change so dramatically.

With the redevelopment, they feared East Futako-Tamagawa would no longer be the quiet neighbourhood of narrow streets lined with small, wooden houses, many of which doubled as shops.

The committee supporting the plan also had to convince 120 households to relocate temporarily, while new accommodation was built. Most landowners decided to stay and have been housed in an area to the east of the station dubbed the Birds Mall, while shop owners have been given new retail space in the Oak Mall.

Residents opposed to the redevelopment filed a lawsuit against the Redevelopment Committee in 2005, claiming that the buildings destroyed the local scenery and blocked residents’ views of the surrounding area. The lawsuit was dismissed by both the Tokyo District Court and High Court, and although the plaintiffs are appealing to the Supreme Court, the consensus among plaintiffs and defendants is that the ruling is unlikely to be overturned.

The changes have meant that local residents must contend with much greater traffic congestion, of both vehicles and people, says Miwako Iioka, secretary-general of a group of residents opposed to the redevelopment.

Iioka, who was born in Futako-Tamagawa and has lived there for all but five of her 72 years, says: “In the winter, the [tall] buildings block the sun from around 2 in the afternoon and it gets really cold.”

Furthermore, residents believe that wind blowing from the Tama River bounces off the high station building and becomes even stronger. “The developers and the Committee said the area was dangerous and not lively, but for us ... it was a peaceful place to live,” says Iioka.

The new face of Futako-Tamagawa clearly divides opinion, but the redevelopment has attracted new residents and visitors to what was once a peaceful but neglected neighbourhood.

Michiyo Nakamoto is deputy bureau chief of the Tokyo bureau

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