Tokyo On The Go: Excellent Architecture: The Cocoon Tower


One thing I love about Tokyo is its amazing range of interesting and creative architecture. Whether it’s classic, centuries-old temples or sleek, modern high-rises, Tokyo has it all for the architecture buff.

But hands down my favorite building in Tokyo is Cocoon Tower that punctuates the heart of the Nishi-Shinjuku business/skyscraper district in Shinjuku. In fact, it’s right up there with the Sydney Opera House, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid and the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong as one of my favorite buildings in the world.


Officially known as the Mode Gakuen Coccon Tower, it is a 204-metre-tall (669 ft.), 50-story tower that houses three educational institutions: fashion school Tokyo Mode Gakuen (for which the building is named after), HAL Tokyo, a information technology and design college, and the medical college Shuto Ikō, each operated by Mode Gakuen University. It is the second-tallest educational building in the world (surpassed only by the main building of the Moscow State University) and is the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo.


Literally a vertical campus, the building can accomodate 10,000 students. Each floor of the tower contains three rectangular classrooms that surround an inner core, which consists of an elevator, a staircase and a support shaft. Every three floors, a three-story student lounge is located between the classrooms that face east, southwest and northwest.


Construction of the Cocoon Tower began in May 2006 and was completed in October 2008. Before selecting a design for its new Tokyo location, Mode Gakuen held a competition asking architects to submit design proposals for the building. The only condition was that the building could not be rectangular. Mode Gakuen received more than 150 proposals by approximately 50 architects.

The winning proposal was submitted by Tokyo-baded architecture firm Tange Associates. According to the firm’s designers, the cocoon shape symbolizes a building that nurtures the students inside. White aluminum and dark blue glass exterior form the structure’s curved shell, which is criss-crossed by a web of white diagonal lines that give the structure its cocoon-like appearance.


With its sleek, almost space-age design, the building has been praised for offering a new solution for school architecture in Tokyo’s tightly meshed urban environment. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat had this to say about the Cocoon Tower: “Turning the traditional horizontal configuration for school design literally on its side by projecting it vertically, the Cocoon tower presents an incredible case-study for creating a university in the sky. Not only is the organization of the spaces both radical and logical, the resulting aesthetic is quite startling.  Those charged with creating our cities of the future should stand up and take note.”


Beyond it’s architectural excellence, which I never tire of seeing, the Cocoon Building also acts as a directional beacon of sorts. Because of it’s close proximity to the Shinjuku train station, I always know what part of Shinjuku I’m in by which way the building is facing. If I see the “Mode HAL Iko” wording on the front facade of the building, I know I’m at the station’s west entrance.

On this trip my hotel was in western Shinjuku, so to get back there I just had to head towards the Cocoon Building, which was a block from the hotel. This is very important because the Shinjuku Station is vast, and finding the proper entrance/exits can be confusing. Having the building as a directional marker is a real help in navigating Shinjuku.


As you can see, I’ve photographed the Cocoon Tower many, many times. I even tried to get into the building, but since I’m not a student or staff and I didn’t have a pass of any kind, the front desk attendant would not let me in to see and photograph the interior. Which is okay, because marveling it’s amazing exterior is just fine by me. So when in Shinjuku, be sure to stroll around the grounds of the Mode Gakuen Coccon Tower, especially if, like me, you’re an architecture buff. I’d give you directions, but the building is omnipresent, and you really can’t miss it. If you get confused, just head west.


About Stephen Kelly Creative

Hi, I'm Stephen Kelly, a writer, editor, photographer and graphic designer living in beautiful San Francisco, CA, USA. Amongst the things I love are writing, photography, movies, music, fitness, travel, Batman, all things Australian, food and fun, all of which I hope to reflect in this here blog. Welcome aboard ... now let's get busy!
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12 Responses to Tokyo On The Go: Excellent Architecture: The Cocoon Tower

  1. I was in Tokyo, Japan a year and a half ago. It was the first time I had ever been outside of the United States. Shinjuku Train Station scared me half to death! Every one was moving so fast, upstairs, downstairs, round in circles. I was afraid I was going to get lost forever. By the time, I got back home….I think I slept for a month!

    • Hi Mary … and thanks for stopping by. Agreed! I’ve been there three times and it’s still kinda scary, although not as much as the first time. And yes, that Shinjuku train station is a madhouse. It’s so easy to get lost!!!

  2. Allan G. Smorra says:

    Well done, Stephen. This vertical campus theory would work well in SF’s limited square footage. Your photos do justice to this structure and I really like the night shots. The colors come through as a stark B&W graphic against the dark sky. Good choice! Ω

    • Hi Allan … and big thanks for the kind words! I was thinking the same thing, especially in a tight city like SF where space comes at a premium. Hopefully, should that happen, here’s hoping city planners share the same sense of design aesthetics combined with functionality.

  3. One of the loveliest buildings I have ever seen! Thanks for sharing your photos, and for travelling around for those of us who don’t get to do as much of it.

  4. kayrpea61 says:

    Fantastic captures, Stephen. I’m sure I once heard that there was nothing over 5 stories allowed in Tokyo because of the earthquakes. How times have changed, not to mention building standards!

  5. I’ve never been there, but I want to go. And as you say: architectural excellence.

  6. Pingback: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid | Stephen Kelly Creative

  7. Jeremy says:

    I share the same passion for architecture and this cocoon is one of my favorites too.

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