Tokyo International Forum


Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects

The Tokyo International Forum, Japan’s largest congress center, is situated on the boundary between Marunouchi, Tokyo’s central business area and the Ginza shopping & entertainment district.

Af Kirsten Kiser

Rafael Viñoly Architects won the 1989 International Design Competition, Japan’s first international architectural competition, held by the Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA).

The tracks of Japan Railways, the city’s principal system of transportation, bounds the eastern elevation with two of the most heavily used train stations, Tokyo and Yarakucho stations, located to the north and south.

The International Forum includes two theaters (one of which is among the largest in the world), over 6,000 square meters of exhibition space, several conference rooms, restaurants, shops and other amenities.

The main elements of the Forum are a 60-meter-high, hull-shaped glass-and-steel atrium on the west end of the site, and a cluster of block-like buildings that house the theaters, restaurants and shops along the eastern end of the site.

At night the Glass Hall actually glows and has been described as resembling a boat sailing on the foam of the ocean.
— Charles Blomberg, project manager and designer, Rafael Viñoly Architects

The two-block granite-paved plaza at the center of the complex serves not only as the entry point for the complex but also as a public space with seating among Zelkova trees and sculptures.

The atrium and other structures are linked by two levels of underground space, as well as several above-ground glass-encased catwalks.

A series of civic functions — a library, mediathèque, restaurants, cafes, shops, an art gallery, and a 24-hour multi-media theater — enable the activities that give the space its public character. In addition, the space is activated by the theater lobbies that overlook the plaza from the second-floor level. Fire stairs hung from the main structure serve as expansion space for the lobbies during intermissions.

Under the plaza, a concourse connects the public to local and regional rail networks. Containing a food court with shopping, continuing education facilities and an International Exchange Salon, the circulation of the concourse wraps around a central exhibition hall and becomes itself the main floor of the Glass Hall.

The soaring Glass Hall serves as the main reception area for the Forum. By using laminated glass the architects were able to allow sunlight into the below-ground lobby area. Laminated glass was also used for several walkways and bridges, giving them the appearance of flying across space.

A ramp along the length of the Glass Hall leads to the top of the building and is intersected by a number of bridges that, in addition to connecting spaces, work as horizontal struts to resist the wind pressure on the walls of the Glass Hall. Semicircular steel girders are suspended from the 210-meter-long ceiling in a design that mimics the wooden frame of a ship.  Two huge columns support the roof structure.

The Glass Hall facade uses approximately 20,000 square meters of 17.5mm laminated, heat-strengthened glass.

Laminated glass is made by sandwiching a plastic interlayer between two panes of glass; it is usually found in car windshields manufactured in the last 60 years. By using laminated glass the architects were able to meet both the aesthetic needs of the center’s design, as well as provide the safety and comfort features necessary for a highly trafficked structure.

In Japan, the major obstacle to acceptance is to demonstrate commitment. It seems difficult for us nowadays to be committed for the long haul. I moved to Japan and took most of my office along. Together with those hired in Tokyo, we had 250 people from our office on site together with 800 engineers.
— Rafael Viñoly