Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Design of a “one-of-a-kind” building.

Response to the client’s request for a unique building.

The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower project was an open competition. Over 100 proposals from within and outside of Japan were submitted and more than 150 design presentations were made. The design proposal submitted by Tange Associates was selected. Led by Chairman Paul Tange, Principal Architect Masaki Nakayama and his team worked on the proposal. Nakayama says, “The head of Mode Gakuen spoke passionately about how a school is a place that cultivates dreams, so he wanted a building where new dreams can emerge and develop. At the time, I was three years out of graduate school. Five years later, after a process of overcoming various issues related to budget, planning, regulations, and construction, the building was completed. It was possible to get to this point due to Chairman Tange’s leadership and the enthusiasm of the head of Mode Gakuen.”

Redefining school architecture: the idea of stacking the school vertically.

Nakayama explains that there are certain important considerations when Tange Associates designs school buildings. “Of course, classrooms are important in a school, but we believe that the time between classes and after school is also an important part of student life. Anything that happens on campus during these times, such as discussion or chatting, consulting with teachers, or even falling in love, is meaningful to students. However, in contrast to a conventional school that may be three stories, in a high-rise building, students cannot see what is happening on the floors above or below. In a school setting, it is important to be able to move freely between classrooms and to be aware of what is going on around you. So, even though this project was a high-rise building, we designed the entire building as a stacked three-story school.”

Multiple discussions with Tokyo Metropolitan Government regarding contribution to the urban environment.

As well as being a place of learning, a school is a place that celebrates campus life. However, the obstacle here was the issue of space. It is difficult to find a large site in the city center. Nakayama explains that there was no choice but to compensate for the lack of space with height. “The capacity of the building was 1,000% of the site, but the client’s requirements for classrooms and space for campus events added up to between 1,300% and 1,500% capacity. To be able to accommodate that, we had to build upwards, and, to achieve height, we needed to have regulations relaxed. Tange Associates went to Tokyo Metropolitan Government to apply for the floor area ratio regulation to be relaxed.

“Our proposal explained the ways that the building took social contribution and the environment into consideration. For example, it offers connectivity to Shinjuku’s underground passage, makes an egg-shaped low-rise hall next to the school available for rental by the public, and employs a co-generational heat and cooling system. Further, the proposal noted the revitalization that the young energy of students would bring to the city area. After discussions with Tokyo Metropolitan Government a number of times, Tange Associates was successful in receiving special authorization for 1,370% capacity to secure floor area ratio and height.”

From the outside,
it looks like an oval cocoon,but inside,
three towers are connected.

The building’s name contains the English word “cocoon.” Nakayama tells us that the cocoon is both the design concept and also refers to the following idea. “The cocoon wraps itself around a living creature for protection before it begins its activities in the world. Students are in a transition period preparing to go out into the real world of work. So we thought that as a place of learning for young people, a school’s role is like that of a cocoon.

“This idea led to the design for the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. The exterior design is in the image of a cocoon. However, the interior is actually composed of three towers, each of which creates the identity of the three schools, Fashion & Design, Medical Care & Welfare, and Technology & Design. The three towers are not, however, completely independent of each other. The design connects the towers by corridors and creates open spaces that provide visual connectivity and offer places for interaction between students.”

Novelty and functionality into form.

The building’s form is also in the image of a cocoon. “We aimed for novelty and beauty but structurally, it is the form that makes a building stable. First, as it is a small site, we focused on maximizing the amount of greenery at the base. Meanwhile, to fulfill the requirement for many classrooms, we enlarged the middle section. Finally, to enhance the silhouette, we narrowed the building again toward the top. Balancing aesthetics and structure is extremely difficult. We formulated various scenarios in order to achieve the best balance, in terms of the requirements of the school and structure, with the result of the building’s current form. Soon after construction was completed, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. The Shinjuku area was quite badly shaken. It was a slow shake, but the slower the tremors, the more that high-rise buildings shake. However, Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower shook very little. This is because we had conducted simulations for long-period ground motion earthquakes,” explains Nakayama.

Overcoming budget limitations by changing the way of thinking.

In a sense, architecture can be said to be a battle with the budget. Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower was not an exception. Nakayama comments, “This design presented many challenges at the construction stage. For example, there were more than 200 classrooms half of which were special classrooms. Each had a different design. Besides that, the building cross-section is oval. If we had made the interior floor to floor height the same, the exterior wall lengths would all be different. If the exterior façade of every floor has to be customized, the budget would blow out of proportion. In order to remain within budget, we transitioned to the idea of standardizing the size of the exterior wall panels and instead adjusting the interior height of each floor. Doing this allowed us to contain costs because only the differences in interior finish had to be adjusted. We talked to a number of companies to find one that was enthusiastic to take on the construction challenges. Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower is the materialization of the passion and enthusiasm of everyone concerned. The client requested a one-of-a-kind school. Our idea was to create architecture that would function as part of the city. The ideas of the construction company and other collaborating partners helped to make these aims a reality. In the end, for Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, just as for other projects, it was the ideas of people that started everything. These passions resulted in the creation of a city landmark. It is now an iconic building that represents the urban landscape of Nishi-Shinjuku.”

Mode Gakuen Coccon Tower