1. Vision and mission
As a professional service firm offering a range of disciplines, from architectural and urban design to research, planning, and consulting, we are often approached by clients who have ideas about what they want to see built. In response, we try to think about how we can contribute to society or address societal problems that need to be solved. That’s my thinking, anyway. Here at Nikken Sekkei, the approach of contributing to society is a fundamental principle. This concept accelerated in the 1990s with the collapse of the so-called “Bubble Economy” (a prolonged period of falling asset values, including stock and real estate markets, along with a proliferation of outstanding debt). This led to a shakeout of architectural projects, leaving only the really important jobs. Among these were railway station and railway-related projects, including TODs (Transit Oriented Developments), the know-how for which we embraced and now actively market overseas.
The fall in national tax revenues due to the recession caused a fall in funding for public projects, so we focused on privately funded jobs. Before the recession, there were many public-private joint ventures (the so-called “third sector” of the economy). These gave way to the rise of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) aimed at lessening the public financial burden. Current PPPs include the plans for remaking the Shibuya Station area of Tokyo where both private enterprises and public-use spaces are closely intertwined.
2. Why clients choose Nikken Sekkei
Clients prefer Nikkei Sekkei because we undertake projects that others won’t do and/or have never done before. We are built in this way — to embrace the cutting edge. We do not typically compete for jobs that any architecture design firm can do. Clients don’t hire us because we are the fastest or the most economical; it’s because we welcome challenges. Since our founding in 1900, attempting the unattempted has been a primary focus of the company.
3. Describing services and completed projects
In introducing our work and pitching ourselves, we try to demonstrate that it’s not really a matter of the size of the project per se, but the societal value of a project, large or small. Of course, there are many projects in which we aren’t the sole designer. Take, for example, the redesign of Ginza Station (in central Tokyo, completed in 2020). We were responsible for the station design itself but remained conscious of the fact that our design influenced the surrounding areas and stations, too. Who and how were these areas going to be taken care of? This aspect of the industry, so-called “process design” (essentially, ensuring that all design components fit together), is also a critical element in responding to societal needs.
4. Ongoing challenges faced while continuing to grow the company
Deciding how to respond to the societal issues is a challenge. We apply our strength and ability to architecture, urban spaces, parks, and public spaces. These are “real,” tangible efforts in places, locations, and facilities. It’s not like the exhilarating 3-D digital gaming world; there is no virtual reality to create in what we do.
5. Achievements and awards
In an architecture firm, things are sharply defined in terms of who does what and who is responsible. But responding to pressing societal needs requires cooperation. What is really important in modern projects is to be able to overcome partisanship and form structures that allow for cooperation and proper management, etc. Teamwork is really important. As far as the urban development projects in which Nikken Sekkei is involved, I think we achieve pretty good collaboration. Of course, we have rivals in the industry, but when it comes to addressing the important societal issues of our times, these rivals are also our partners. Over the decades, the company has won hundreds of accolades for innovative, cutting-edge designs. One of its most internationally recognizable projects in recent years is the 634-meter tall TOKYO SKYTREE. Completed in 2012 for Tobu Railway Co., Ltd. and Tobu Tower Skytree Co., Ltd., it has become a national landmark and also ranks as the second-tallest structure in the world next to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. It has received widespread recognition, including the 2014 Building Contractors Society (BCS) award.
Over the past 12 months, and despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, Nikken Sekkei has continued to collect design awards. These include the Museum Tower Kyobashi (May 2021), which won the MEP Engineering Award category at the 18th Annual CTBUH (Council on Tall Building and Urban Habitat) Awards Program. The project features a low-energy hybrid ventilation system that harnesses natural wind. Earlier this year, DaiyaGate Ikebukuro was awarded Project of the Year – International at CIBSE – Building Performance Awards 2021, becoming the first Japanese project to receive the prize.
Four Nikken Sekkei projects were recognized at the MIPIM Asia Awards 2020 held in Hong Kong in January. These include Museum Tower Kyobashi (SILVER for Best Infrastructure, Community & Civic Building), Shibuya Station Area Redevelopment (BRONZE for Best Mixed-Use Development), Daimaru Shinsaibashi Store Main Building (SILVER for Best Refurbished Building), and the aforementioned DaiyaGate Ikebukuro project (GOLD for Best Office Development). Recent high-profile international design competition wins include the architectural and urban planning development concept for Moscow’s Rizhsky Freight Yard (2021), a sprawling, mixed-use project for Russian Railways. In 2016, Nikken Sekkei won the renovation design competition for Camp Nou, the home stadium of FC Barcelona, in a joint proposal with a local firm.
6. Expectations for the future
Among the major issues confronting the world such as environmental destruction, global warming, COVID-19, and natural disasters, we have chosen to concentrate our efforts on carbon neutrality and disaster prevention. This is where I think we can best contribute as a company. As an expert in my field, But also as an average person, I need to think in terms of how I live, what I eat, how I move from place to place, what I consume, etc., as it all adds up and points to the same issues at large.
7. Personal struggle/journey
As a university student, I was interested in the Daikanyama Hillside Terrace (a diverse complex of residences, shops, and offices in an upscale Tokyo neighborhood). Its concept to connect private and municipal public spaces particularly appealed to me. I understood that Nikken Sekkei worked on projects like this, so I was excited to do that there after graduation. Seven to eight years into my term at the company (around 1990), I had a chance to work on the SHIODOME SIO-SITE, and Saitama New Urban Center redevelopment projects. Shiodome is near Ginza, where land values are very high. Big companies also bought property there, so designing public spaces, especially the underground walkway and sunken plaza, and making subways easily accessible took quite a bit of my energy.
On the other hand, Saitama New Urban Center (located about 36km northwest of Tokyo) was much bigger and full of public facilities. We had to come up with a “master plan” to determine how we could best contribute to the city. These experiences helped my confidence later on when I worked on projects such as TOKYO STATION YAESU DEVELOPMENT and Tokyo Midtown.
8. Advice to emerging entrepreneurs
When offering advice, I often invokes a quote from Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), honored as the father of microbiology: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” This doesn’t mean pouring endless hours into studying for tests and such, but rather, having conviction and resolution in what you want to do. So, when you pick up a newspaper, for example, and you read something, you will spontaneously come to think of ways in which you can contribute with your own ideas. Many Japanese proverbs resonate in a similar way to Pasteur’s quote, but this one is especially good, I think.