Tokyo’s urban landscape is not a collection of architectural masterpieces but a mix of grey concrete buildings.
Tokyo is prone to earthquakes and doesn’t have the same number of old structures from past centuries that other parts are known for. Buildings are also constantly being torn down to make new structures.
But, “new” doesn’t always mean “ugly.” The capital is known for its leadership in modern architecture, thanks to Kengo Kuma and Kenzo Tange, two of the most prominent architects in the world.
These are the most stunning buildings in Tokyo, ranging from post-war architecture to minimalist designs that emphasize sustainability.
Sumida Hokusai Museum
This museum is located in Sumida and is dedicated to master Hokusai revered prints of ukiyo-e. The museum is not like the traditional Edo-period (1603-1867), the art inside. It was established in 2016 and featured the modern design of Kazuyo Sjima, one of the most revered female architects in Japan.
Sejima’s vision of the building was challenging conceptually. It had to stand out, reflect the surroundings and blend in with the surrounding environment.
Sejima collaborated with Kikukawa engineers to build the landmark in smooth metal. They are a company that specializes in metalwork and helped bring the vision into reality by working on the exterior panels.
Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower
The building is designed by Tange Associates, looks just like a cocoon. It has an elliptical shape with crisscrossed lines. Mode Gakuen’s vertical campus, which is 50 stories high, is the top second educational institute in height after the Lomonosov Moscow State University’s main structure in Russia.
Mode Gakuen invited local architects to submit design proposals to build its new site. The school claims that they picked up the cocoon idea from around 150 submissions to symbolize the institution’s role of nurturing students before they are released into the world to make their designs for modern society.
Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
You can’t avoid the Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center, designed by Kengo Kuma. It is located near the Sensoji Temple’s Kaminarimon Gate. The eight-story building offers a currency exchange service, an information desk, free guided tours, and visitors can enjoy a rooftop observation deck for the best view of Sensoji without the hassle of navigating through crowds.
On the other floors, you’ll find cultural events and exhibitions. If you run out of battery power, make sure to grab a charge point at the street-facing counter on the second floor.
SunnyHills, a Taiwanese pineapple cake shop, has the eye-catching structure at Minimi Aoyama.
Kengo Kuma’s wood lattice design is featured in the building, which features interwoven timber slats to create geometric patterns. Kuma used Jigoku-Gumi, an ancient technique to join the wood pieces utterly free of glue or any nails to interlock the wooden panels.
The store’s interior is made up of the same angular slats. For a closer look at Kuma’s work, you are welcome to visit the store and enjoy a complimentary cup of tea with a slice of pineapple cake.
Despite other brands opening new locations every year, Prada still impresses with its iconic glass boutique in Aoyama, structured by Herzog de Meuron. The flagship store, which spans seven-story, was opened in 2003 which stocks everything from perfumes to the latest handbags collection. Even those who don’t plan to shop can make it a point to stop by the store to admire the architecture.
Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building
This unique design by Kengo Kuma is another example of starchitect Kengo Kuma’s innovative design. The panels are made from cedar and give the facility a more relaxed appearance covered in layers upon layers of post-it notes.The facility will be used to research how people can become connected to an internet network in the future. It’s fitting that the building where it is located should reflect a futurist-oriented design.
Multiple sensors are installed behind Kuma’s wooden panels. These sensors can measure temperature, wind speed, and radiation. The data can then be used to further research.
St Mary’s Cathedral Tokyo
Bunkyo’s landmark represents modern Roman Catholic Church is a masterpiece of architecture designed by Kenzo Tange. The exterior of reflective stainless steel is easily identifiable; dazzling light reflects out there.The nave is laid out in a cross shape and receives sunlight through a skylight. It diffuses light from the ceiling across the walls and creates a magical atmosphere that changes with the day’s passing.
Tange also replaced the traditional stained glass window behind an altar with thin marble panes to provide soft lighting.
The Daikanyama Mall is an architectural wonder, featuring a carefully curated mix between food and drink, fashion, and art. The market is our favorite space, curated by Carol Lim and Humberto León, creative directors at Kenzo, who also founded the cult fashion store. This two-floor shop features cutting-edge fashion by some of today’s most renowned designers.
The building is often jammed with people waiting for their table in the basement cafe. Although the menu offers simple options such as Caprese salad and soup and sandwich set, the stylish atmosphere makes it well worth the wait.
Misako & Rosen
This head-turning structure is located on a quiet street in Kitaotsuka. It is reminiscent of concrete planters. As you pass it, you might wonder if the building is a niche art gallery or a residence. It is a mixture of both.
Jeffrey Ian Rosen and Misako Rosen were husband and wife and worked together as directors at small art galleries in Tokyo. They then moved on to create their own space at Tree-ness House, designed by Akihisa Hirata. The 2017 building was completed with stacked concrete boxes and hanging gardens.
Louis Vuitton Ginza
The renewing of Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Ginza was a big deal as fashion-forwards from the city flocked to the iridescent tower designed by Jun Aoki Associates.
Louis Vuitton claims that the building’s seven-story exterior mimicked the reflective properties of water. The building’s ripple-like effects extend into the interior, where American architect Peter Marino installed an American-designed wooden staircase that curves against a four-story feature wall. It was inspired by Kimiko Fujimura’s 1977 painting ‘Wave Blue Line.’