17 September 2012

The Highway that Goes Through a Building

Or should that be the building that has a highway going through it? Whichever way you look at it, the Umeda Exit of the Ikeda Route of the Hanshin Expressway system in the Japanese city of Osaka is a head turner.

The name of the highway we have already had – the name of the office block is the slightly less exhausting Gate Tower Building.  Believe it or not, the area of Osaka in which it is situated, Fukushima-ku, is mostly residential.  Yet in the middle of this suburban area you have a somewhat intimately connected highway and 16-story office building.

Between the fifth and seventh floors is something which no town planner ever envisions in their wildest dreams but still – here it is.  A road runs through it. Inside the building, however, it is business as usual, despite the highway. Its occupants are so industrious, in fact, that it is known locally as The Beehive.

Elevators pass on either side of the highway. However, if you have been told you have an appointment on floors five, six or seven then someone is pulling your leg.  The Gate Tower Building’s elevator stops at every floor till its fourth and then will not obey any request for to halt before the eighth.

The building’s structure is strengthened for obvious reasons in this earthquake prone area. Yet the highway does not actually touch the building – it is a completely separate structure. However, for those in need of reassurance there is a helipad on the roof not. You might suspect that it would not be much use in a ground shaking emergency. And you would probably be right.

So what caused this situation? Things were self-evidently not originally planned this way. The land had been held since the 1860s by a wood and charcoal business.  With other energy sources replacing these, the business declined but the land remained in the ownership of the company. Those in charge decided to develop office space on the land after the old buildings were demolished.

There was a hitch, however.  The Hanshin Expressway was also in its final stages of planning – and guess where it went?  A slither of expressway is not as lucrative in terms of rent as a very large building and the original landowners would not give up their plans. It took five years of negotiation but what you can see in these photographs was the compromise.

Any number of people have privately criticized this concession between corporations as ludicrous. However, the Japanese are a people of great courtesy.  To spare blushes this strange building and highway combo is known as a Multi-Level Road System – that is all.

Image Credit Flickr User sfcityscape