For the most part, 16-story buildings in Osaka don’t stick out that much. That is unless of course, a highway cuts through them, allowing cars to race through the fifth, sixth and seventh floors.
The Hanshin Expressway is a 149-mile network of expressways running around the Japanese cities of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto. The highway’s most famous and unique feature is a small section of road that passes directly through three floors of an office building.
Back in the early 1980s, plans were underway to redevelop a deteriorating area of Fukushima-ku, Osaka. The project had been approved and local property owners were eagerly awaiting their building permits. But then a rather large obstacle emerged: a major extension of the Hanshin Expressway had already been given the go-ahead, and its planned route took it right through the redevelopment area.
Local property owners refused to budge, creating a five-year period of negotiation. This resulted in a change in city and highway planning laws to accommodate the unified development of highways and buildings in the same space. This, in turn, required some innovative thinking, especially when it came to a stretch of road that somehow needed to pass by a 16-floor office building.
The solution resulted in one of the strangest looking sites in the world. The side of the Gate Tower Building simply opens up like a mouth to release traffic coming off of the Hanshin Expressway. Futuristic-looking and against all classic notions of creating high rises, the Gate Tower Building is actually the result of a compromise between the Japanese government and landowners who had staked a claim on the land back in the mid-19th century.
Amazingly, the highway hardly affects business inside the Gate Tower Building, as the owners installed noise-proofing walls and flooring. Visitors entering the ground floor of the building will see the elevator marked with floors numbered 1 to 4, and then 8 to 16. The floors in between simply say “Hanshin Expressway” and are, naturally, inaccessible.
The elevators run on the outside of the building so they can easily pass by the road, which is covered, soundproofed, and doesn’t actually touch the building at all as it runs through it. The highway is instead held up on pillars, which were designed to complement the façade of the building. Office workers, therefore, aren’t continually disturbed by the whoosh-whoosh of passing traffic, and their coffee cups remain static rather than slowly vibrating across the table.