"We wanted to create a showpiece," says electronic giant NEC's Mark Pearce of the company's newly-opened 43-storey headquarters building. "We wanted to show the world what we could do."
One might easily be tempted to dismiss this as puffery were it not for the evidence of one's eyes. Given the fabulous cost of building land in Tokyo, the company could have been excused if it had adopted the "pack 'em in at any price" policy so prevalent elsewhere in the city. In contrast, NEC's HQ is the epitome of self-restraint. A tapering tower has been preferred to the traditional box shape and over half the site's square footage is given over to trees. Green concerns produced a 14,000 square-metre hole in the building, designed to minimise pedestrian-level wind shear by allowing wind to blow through rather than around it.
The same restraint is seen inside. The 12-storey atrium, at 49,500 cubic metres - equivalent to 139 London buses - is the largest in Tokyo. Turned over to office space, it could have housed another 2,000 people, says Pearce. The showpiece concept is also reflected in the decision to design the tower as an intelligent building. A computerised central control room in the basement monitors and manages security and environmental systems throughout the building. Air-conditioning, heating and lighting are regulated not only floor by floor, but by sections within floors. Control achieves savings as well as a comfortable working environment. Everything switches off automatically at 8.30pm, workers staying later request an over-ride through special panels on each floor.
Savings also come from a system that detects strong sunshine and lowers the window blinds. A peculiarly Japanese feature is a rainfall sensor that flashes an "umbrella" warning to the building's 6,000 staff as they leave for the evening. Not only are the security and fire systems intelligent as well, but so is the internal communications network. The showpiece policy is here rather more self-serving. Termed "Super Aladdin", it's an NEC office automation network that the company is using itself as a development testbed for. "By 1993," explains development manager Nissiko Masaji, "the system will have 6,000 terminals - one for every employee." Around 2,000 employees are on line sending electronic mail to each other and using the system's filing, word processing and bulletin board facilities. The end point is the paperless office, although Pearce admits that the company is not there yet. It's still necessary to employ a team of "paper police" to check rubbish to ensure that people aren't putting recyclable paper in the wrong bin. A case of a building being more intelligent than some of its occupants, perhaps?