Designed to mimic a verdant hill, Heatherwick Studio’s landscaped pergola building will bring greenery and dynamic shapes to the new Toranomon-Azabudai district in central Tokyo. Situated alongside three planned skyscrapers by Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, including one that’s set to be Japan’s tallest at 330 meters (1082 feet), the building is part of a site that will contain shops, offices, residential spaces, a museum and gallery, and a 64,000-square-foot public square.

“Our design for the project responds to the layering of Tokyo; the juxtapositions of scale and the character of buildings that draw the eye upwards,” says Neil Hubbard, group leader at Heatherwick Studio.

“Set within a natural valley, we have chosen to accentuate that topography through our design, creating an undulating arrangement that uses a pergola-like structural system to create a variety of landscaped spaces, from hidden gardens to sunken courtyards. Weaving and flowing through the scheme, a family of pavilions emerges from the grid of the pergola. Rather than focus on one single impression, we hope to encourage exploration by creating hundreds of moments to be revealed and discovered.”

Led by architect Thomas Heatherwick, London-based Heatherwick Studio is no stranger to working living vegetation into its designs. In this case, the “planted pergola” makes brilliant use of an irregularly shaped plot, with an undulating roof that stretches down to reach the ground and planted balconies tucked into the vertical spaces.

“As many new developments around the world can be harsh and sterile, we wondered if we could provide a more human-centered alternative by integrating surprisingly intense quantities of planting and greenery,” says Heatherwick.

“As a way of combining an architectural construction system with significant amounts of nature, we developed the idea of a garden pergola scaled up to district size. This concept has allowed us to bring an overarching logic to an eight-hectare piece of Tokyo whilst also making space for facilities such as housing, shops, hotels, spas, a school, and a temple within the sections framed by the grid.”

Some areas of the “planted pergola” penetrate the ground, reaching down into the basement levels to provide natural light. The design references traditional Japanese crafts like edo kiriko, a 19th-century glass etching technique.

The project is the first by Heatherwick Studio to be constructed in Japan, and it’s set for completion in March 2023. Other structures in the district are currently underway, including apartment towers with wood-clad interiors by architect Sou Fujimoto, hotels, and a seven-story school for 700 international students. All of them will be connected by an underground pedestrian tunnel that contains a food hall.

Developer Mori aims for Toranomon-Azabudai to be a “modern urban village” offering a park-like atmosphere in the heart of Tokyo. It’s been in the works for 30 years, and construction finally began on August 5th, 2019.

“It’s been a remarkable period over the last four years to work with Mori Building Company, to create this new part of Tokyo — going beyond the norms of typical large mixed-use developments to create something meaningfully embedded within the city,” says Hubbard.