Tokyo’s 50-year itch: why is Sony knocking down its flagship building?

The sony building in ginza
The Sony building in Ginza / © Aflo/Rex/Shutterstock

As the 2022 Olympics approach, Sony is demolishing its flagship store to create a temporary park. Is this an attempt to modernise the Japanese electronics brand – or just another nail in the coffin for Tokyo’s postwar architecture?

For half a century, the Sony Building in Tokyo has attracted domestic and foreign tourists to the upmarket Ginza district. The flagship building went up in 1966 at a time when the high-rise megalopolis that would eventually provide the set for Blade Runner and the inspiration for Akira was still in its infancy, and displayed world-changing products such as the Walkman and Trinitron TV.

Now, the consumer electronics company plans to demolish its own flagship store and temporarily replace it with a park. The loss of Yoshinobu Ashihara’s building will be felt in a Tokyo that constantly demolishes and rebuilds, wiping out its architectural heritage. But in a city like Tokyo where public space is woefully lacking – most of it indoors and devoted to retail – an urban oasis could actually help the city, not to mention the once-mighty company’s struggling brand.

Brutal and concrete from the outside, the Sony Building’s interior is something entirely different. Typical of Ashihara’s other buildings from this period, it has multiple-level floors that defy the conventions of the common retail complex. “I made the entire interior space continuous by placing 27 floors on successive different levels,” the architect wrote of the building. The result is a store where floors spiral round, like a staircase.

It was built at a time when Japanese architects were beginning to imagine a new, stronger and more confident city in the aftermath of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Fifty years later, that city has arrived – and seems determined to wipe out all trace of its past. […]