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Friday, May 27, 2016

When Urban Development Screws Up — A Compromise

When one looks the photograph above, you have to wonder just what the fug Osaka’s land developers were smoking.

Is this a highway that goes through a building, or is this a building that has a highway going through it?

Man… I feel like Alice after talking to that Hookah-smoking caterpillar.

If you are wondering if this is some sort of optical illusion, let me assure you that it is not.

The roadway shows (from right to left) the Umeda Exit of the Ikeda Route from the Hanshin Expressway in Osaka.
Hmm... is that a helipad atop the building with a roadway through it? Yes it is!  
The cylindrical building is the Gate Tower Building (ゲートタワービル gēto tawā biru, about as boring a name as one could deliver for this 16-story office building.

Despite appearances, the area is considered to be a mostly-residential area—of course it is… there’s train tracks, a feeder highway, some apartment buildings, and an office building with a frickin’ overpass going through it.

I love the greenspace.

So… the highway ramp does indeed curve through the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the Gate Tower Building.

The highway itself is NOT, at any time, physically connected to the Gate Tower Building.

If you look at the photo above, the highway is perched on a column, as it curls through the hexagonal office building that the locals call The Beehive.

On either side of the roadway, are a pair of elevators that quite naturally will provide service to any floor, except 4, 5 and 6.

Apparently a long-time wood and charcoal business was on the spot of the Gate Tower Building as far back as the 1860s.

While that business had pretty much fallen by the wayside in the late 20th century, the owners figured they could tear down the old buildings and erect a new office building where they could charge the occupants some hefty rent in this residential (?) hub of Osaka.

Sounds like a pretty good plan, right?

The thing is, is that at around the very same time as plans were being made for the new office building, plans were being finalized for the Hanshin Expressway.

I would imagine the government offered the landowners some decent amount of money, but the landowners refused…

In a game of cat and mouse, the government could easily have allowed the landowners to construct a building on the proposed site, but could have limited its height, constructing the exit ramp right over their heads.

Who was going to stop them? Old landowners? Progress? Gravity? How about an earthquake?

Fortunately, the two sides compromised.

Consider… the office building is 16-stories tall, with three of those stories uninhabitable, as the highway runs through them. Ergo, the office space contains 13-stories of usable space.

Thirteen stories? Would you design a 13-story office building?

Even though the Number 4 (shi) is the bad luck number in Japanese (and Chinese) culture owing to the fact that the word is pronounced the same as the word for death, who would have originally designed (not including the as yet-unknown overpass thru… roadway?) a 13-story building?

No… it is my contention that the building was perhaps only a 12-story offering, but if the landowners allowed the highway to pass through its building, perhaps the government or highway builders would chip in and allow the landowners to construct an additional floor of office space that they could rent out and make more money.

Or… perhaps it needed to be 16-stories tall to better support the building thanks to highway vibrations, or perhaps because of necessary architectural supports to earthquake-proof the building.

I like my original idea best.

It provides compromise with greed. Everybody wins. Even the urban planner who has now helped create a Japanese landmark.

To be perfectly frank, despite what looks like urban sprawls (and believe me, as a citizen of Toronto, I certainly know urban sprawl), I quite like the overall brilliance of the solution.

I’m not sure what the hell the helipad is for atop the Gate Tower Building, though.

The Specs:
  • Address: 5-4-21 Fukushima, Fukushima-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-ken
  • Completed: 1992
  • Site area: 2,353 m2
  • Construction area: 760 m2
  • Total floor area: 7,956 m2
  • Structure: Reinforced concrete and partly steel frame
  • Height: 71.9 m
  • Floors: 16 floors above ground, 2 floors underground and 1 top semi-tower floor used for elevator support machinery
  • Purpose: Office building
  • Client: Suezawa Sangyo Co. Ltd.
  • Designer: Azusa Sekkei and Yamamoto-Nishihara Kenchiku Sekkei Jimushō
  • Builder: Satō Kōgyō Co. Ltd.
Andrew Joseph
PS: Images from


  1. Lucky for us in TO we have the Toronto Green Standard that applies!

    - A

    1. Amen!
      I still think we have done a disservice to Toronto with all of those condos by the waterfront... and while I know it's not economically viable, I wish we had the old amusement parks along the Lakeshore.
      For roads... we need to have double-decker highways - like what collapsed in California during that earthquake... realizing that Toronto is not susceptible to such damage-causing tremors.
      Over the past 15 years, my commute to work has doubled from 20 to 40+ minutes... and what will it be like in 15 more years when I hopefully (knock wood) get to retire?
      Ahh... but really... thanks for reading. I don't mean to whine. I just figured... if you were paying attention.... I might voice an opinion.

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  3. it's cool! I found it fascinating :) Then again, my current work commute is 34 seconds if I don't have traffic to jaywalk through. As for urban planning/green spaces, I'm very interested (being an eastender) in seeing what they end up doing with the Gardiner - some of these ideas are great!

    - A