Garden in Ginza

Bird's eye view of the Sony Building at night around when the company was founded

Source : The Nikkei Shimbun (Morning), May 1, 1966

April 29 will forevermore be an unforgettable day for me. This is because our new building, in which we have invested so much time and effort and which we are immensely proud of, opened in a corner of Nishiginza in Tokyo. Having said this, there are certain things that I still feel apprehensive about. One of these is whether we, as an electronics manufacturer, were justified in constructing a building in an area with Japan's, and indeed the world's, most expensive real estate. Some people may think us crazy or egotistical to do this as an electronics manufacturer. In the first place, I too felt at the time that it was somewhat over the top. In truth, I was seriously worried until recently that we had erred in our decision. But in the end, the building was completed, and today I would like to tell the story of how what led to this point.

What Started as a Small Showroom

First, our company opened a small showroom in a corner of Nishiginza (Sukiyabashi) in 1959. This was followed by the opening of a small salon in New York at 585 Fifth Avenue in 1962. Then, the momentum to expand our showroom in Sukiyabashi reached a fever pitch, and before we knew it we had constructed a building with a design that was unprecedented in Japan. "Before we knew it" may make it seem as if we were somewhat irresponsible, but it is the honest truth that there was an "irresistable" momentum at work. The idea became reality exactly two and a half years ago. Once the decision to go ahead with the plan had been made, we put aside all conflicting opinions and criticisms and committed outselves to doing our utmost to draw out the full potential of the building.

Towards an Integrated Showroom Building

First, we decided to leave the design up to Yoshinobu Ashihara, who had designed Komazawa Olympic Park. Naturally, all of the above-ground floors were to become our showroom, but it would be a waste of such expensive land to use some of the space as office space. Besides, this would have gone against a policy that had been in effect since the founding of the company, of locating our headquarters right alongside our factory. So we also thought about renting out space as offices, but this too was pointless, as it would also be a waste to construct a building in such a location just to rent out the space. On several occasions we held all-night meetings to discuss what we should do. As a result, it was decided that we would turn the building into an integrated showroom building like the Merchandise Mart in the U.S., with various products from various companies on display.

Realizing this would require the building to have a design that would encourage visitors to move around and become engrossed in one product after another. This is when the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank L. Wright, sprang to mind. There, visitors first ascend to the top of the building in an elevator, then descend gradually down a spiral walkway while looking at paintings, arriving back at the bottom before they realize it.

“Fountain  of Love” charity event modeled on the Trevi Fountain
The giant outdoor fish tank, “Sony Aquarium”

The Greatest Garden in Japan

We suggested this to Mr. Ashihara, who told us that achieving the same effect on such a small piece of land (706 m²) would require a highly innovative design. After racking his brains, Mr. Ashihara came up with a "flower petal" structure. This involved dividing up a single floor into four sub-floors, and staggering the height of each sub-floor by an elevation of 90 cm around a central pillar, like spiraling flower petals. With this design, walking down four sub-floors in a circle would be equivalent to climbing down one full floor. We decided to go with this design without a moment's hesitation. When constructed, the entire building would have a series of connected sub-floors from top to bottom, turning it into a vertical promenade.

However, the elevator would have to be installed on the outside. Mr. Ashihara proposed that a space be left open on the corner facing the intersection and made into a garden. For land virtually worth it's weight in gold, leaving 33 m² of it open to the outside was about as extravagant idea as could be. But we embraced this bold and outrageous dream to turn the space into Japan's best garden, surely the most expensive in the country. We also decided that a showroom with nothing else would be boring, so we asked for restaurants, a shopping arcade and a car park to also be incorporated into the design. After many discussions, a blueprint was finally prepared after six months, and construction on the building continued for two years. Incidentally, we also put a lot of thought into the extravagant 33 m² garden. It was filled with green trees on weekdays for the enjoyment of passersby in Ginza, while at other times the trees were removed to turn the entire space into a pond so that people could enjoy the cool breeze. And on other occasions still, it was turned into an event venue, thanks to its adaptable design. With our innovative building and the garden of dreams in front, our hearts were filled with great expectations as we watched the doors open for the first time.

Akio Morita