Man has changed the things surrounding him – his environment – to suit his own needs through the power of “culture.” The history of the tower embodies this truth. As typified by the story of the Tower of Babel, man's passion to erect towers is condemned in the world of mythology as arrogant and disrespectful, representing the blasphemous act of trying to approach heaven and the desire to flaunt power through height. The vicissitudes of the tower, in a sense, constitute a dramatic history. The rise and fall of buildings, including towers, has tended to be compared to the evolution of living things governed by the law of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. In this flow of architectural history, Goju-no-to (the five-storied pagoda), Japan's first tower-like structure created by the eighth-century culture of the Tenpyo era, established a universal form for towers in Japan, to be handed down, uninterrupted, to the present. Japan's five-storied pagodas embody the experience of those who made history with their own hands, and as such exude a unique, imposing atmosphere.
The huge building which suddenly emerged out of the chaos of Tokyo, looking down on the park lake in Ueno, is without doubt reminiscent of a pagoda, with five stories each with the characteristic extended roofs. But unless we can calmly view this structure from this perspective, we may dismiss it as a sort of architectural mutant. It is, after all, a key facility of a certain hotel chain. But the management of this hotel chain bases its business policy on Japan's traditional Buddhist spirit, so there is no real incongruity in its key facility seeming like a five-storied pagoda. However, it may be logical to conclude that the pagoda-like form represents not so much a nostalgic desire to create an artistic piece of work as the result of the architect’s devotion to the cream of modern civil engineering technology.
Needless to say, any form created by the paramount technology of its age invariably contains elements of universality. Japan's five-storied pagodas also have many universal elements, not limited to their form. The new pagoda-like structure has a feature that is reminiscent of this: a water tank is placed on top as a device to limit the vibration of the building during earthquakes. This immediately reminded me of the Suien, a flame-shaped ornament that decorates the finial of the five-storied pagoda. Suien, which literally means water spray, also served as talismans against fire. Is it mere coincidence that a water tank is placed at the top of the new building?
Many of the buildings that have appeared in our cityscape recently are so hard to accept and understand that they seem completely removed from us. But the new pagoda-like building, which is quite dissimilar to the surrounding structures, exudes such a familiar atmosphere that we even feel a sense of dejavu. In fact, its outline might well be described as resembling a tree rather than a pagoda. The structure, which served as a mammoth Christmas tree last December with the night sky over Tokyo as background, continues to stand out above the streets like an evergreen.
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1994/5