Architecture in Tokyo

HOSHINOYA Tokyo OHANOMA Lounge

Discover more about Tokyo's incredible art and design with Jean Snow.

Photo: Hoshinoya Tokyo (opened in 2016)

If you’re in Tokyo and find yourself interested in experiencing what the city has to offer in terms of new architecture, then you’re in for a treat. Not only is it relatively easy to take in some innovative and eye-opening examples of what 21st century architecture is all about, you’re also likely to be surprised at how accessible these buildings really are.

The first place to start is by checking in on the city’s major entertainment/shopping complexes that have popped up over the last decade -- cities-within-cities that incorporate shops, restaurants, entertainment options, offices and more. The most high profile example was Roppongi Hills, which ended up transforming the Roppongi district -- previously known for its dive-like bar scene -- into a shopping destination, and as soon as it was followed by the more upscale Tokyo Midtown and the Kisho Kurokawa-designed National Art Center, Tokyo, it turned into an art destination as well.

But it was really the Marunouchi Building that started this new “complex” trend, and it was later joined by the Shin-Marunouchi Building, which sits right next to it. From the Shin-Maru Biru’s 7th floor open terrace that surrounds the building, you’ll also get a terrific view of the city and some of its architectural highlights, including parts of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds, and just across the street, Tokyo Station, which itself has been undergoing major renovations which include not only a recreation of its original exterior, but a large underground complex as well.

For the big attention-grabbing retail developments of recent years, your destination needs to be Omotesando and the Harajuku area. Walking up Omotesando, you’ll come across a succession of luxury brands that enlisted superstar architects to give life to their flagship presence: Herzog & de Meuron on Prada, Jun Aoki on Louis Vuitton, SANAA on Dior, Toyo Ito on Tod’s, and the list goes on. Even more recently, Ginza, the traditional high-end shopping area, has gotten into the splashy architectural retail explosion as well, and so you’ll want to add that area to your walking list as well.

Now, to add a couple of specific architectural landmarks to your tour of the city, you’ll want to make sure the following are on your travel agenda: the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho (a 10 minute walk from both the Marunouchi area and Ginza), as well as the National Yoyogi Stadium in Yoyogi (designed by Kenzo Tange for the city’s 1964 Olympics).

But again, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to take in Tokyo’s distinct and modern architecture by just walking around in the city’s busiest areas -- think Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza. If anything, Tokyo is a city in constant flux, with new buildings replacing old one on a regular basis, which means that each and every visit is likely to reveal something new.

For more ideas on what to see, make a point of picking up Julian Worrall and Erez Golani Solomon’s Twenty-first Century Tokyo, a great guide to the best contemporary architecture the city has to offer. Gallery MA in Aoyama should also be included on any architecture lover’s itinerary, featuring exhibitions that cover the best and brightest.