What is the next generation of Tokyo’s “third places”?

Research Project Name

Tokyo’s Third Places

What We Did

We documented the situation of today’s Tokyo workforce and real estate, including government plans, key industries, demographics, and both current and future development sites. We then identified our potential users’ behavior patterns, and attempted to envision a “day in the life” of a worker in Tokyo, supported via online surveys and in-depth interviews of 20 people who live and work in the city. We used this information to identify the needs and priorities of the Tokyo workforce. Our team then proposed conceptual design solutions to address these needs, focused on spaces people occupy when they are not at home and not at work, commonly referred to as “third places.”

The Context

Tokyo is expected to see a massive amount of redevelopment over the next decade, resulting in upwards of 28 million square feet of new office space. As the city undergoes a change of such magnitude, the way its residents live and work will be similarly transformed, creating new opportunities for developers and the built environment to respond to new needs while increasing the market value of their existing or upcoming properties. Mixed-use development and public spaces such as plazas, parks, retail centers, and cafés are common strategies considered to meet these needs; we believe solutions that go beyond these standards can deliver even greater value. Our research seeks to identify these opportunities, and develop nontraditional and unexpected design solutions to meet the needs of Tokyo’s diverse working population.

The Results

Tokyo workers are facing a shortage of time driven by long work days and long commutes. The long hours spent getting to and from home, often far from the city center given Tokyo’s massive population and geographic reach, are exacerbating this challenge, and preventing many workers from achieving a sense of well-being. Overall, Tokyo workers’ lifestyles are dominated by work; it is often challenging for them to find time for non-work-related activities. Even when at the office, the challenges of dense urban environments are top of mind for workers—employees face problems of noise and lack of meeting rooms when at the office, and lack of public internet and appropriate workplaces when away from it.

As a result, Tokyo workers are currently struggling to balance life, work, and play. Work is taking the brunt of their time and effort, and even it could be better supported. We see opportunities for a next generation of the third place to help better achieve balance and enrich quality of life by promoting more effective use of time and space. “Jitan,” the Japanese word for the shortening of time, is the core concept behind our investigation and design solutions. We hope to promote more effective use of time, a high quality of life, and a sense of well-being through the offering of specific programs, services, and experiences—and placing these amenities in the locations where they will deliver the most value.

What This Means

We developed three concepts to demonstrate opportunities to improve the well-being and experience of the diverse Tokyo workforce. While each addresses life, work, and play together, the balance between the three aspects varies by scenario, potential users, and specific needs of each proposed location.

Distributed Urban Hospitality

Sometimes work needs to happen away from the office; for many Tokyo workers, this remains a struggle. Located in central Tokyo, these spaces would provide supplementary meeting and collaboration spaces with a high level of personalized business hospitality services and experiences. Distributed among existing office buildings and hotels, this concept creates new places to work, meet, and innovate around the city. The goal: help employees achieve their highest level of performance and efficiency, no matter where they are, and use the time gained to devote to non-work activities.

Immersive Leisure Hubs

Busy urban workers often struggle to incorporate leisure into their hectic daily lives, while also feeling crunched to stay abreast of the newest trends. This concept focuses on the integration of amenities and services that enable workers to shift easily from work mode to more play-focused activities. Conveniently located inside or near a commuter hub or terminal station, it capitalizes on areas with concentrated consumer activity, and leverages partnerships to create experimental places infused with the newest developments and trends. The goal: create an experiential and experimental space for workers to quickly unwind while being exposed to new ideas and products of interest.

Community/Amenity Innovators

For those who live far from their office location, the reduction of time-related stress is of paramount importance, and finding time to engage the community is a particular challenge. Creating dynamic places that support connection and interaction near home, paired with services that address daily needs and activities from grocery shopping to dry cleaning, is an opportunity to improve the experience and give time back to those living in suburban locations. The goal: less time spent commuting and running errands; more time spent with family, friends, or doing other non-work activities that support well-being.

What’s Next?

We plan to continue developing these prototype concepts for the next generation of third places using actual and potential projects, collaborating with major real estate developers, and conducting more in-depth research on potential users. These will feed more detailed design scenarios and proposals.

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Nachiko Yamamoto, Daichi Amano, Hisayuki Araki, Nyan Parekh, Taro Uchiyama, Masana Amamiya, Nao Matsumoto, Takuma Mitani, Sachiko Munakata, Ikue Nomura, Agata Takeshita, Kayla Wong, Professor Ying Hua (Cornell University)

Year Completed