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Tokyo Skyline Soars

FOR a city twice destroyed in this century, first by the earth below and then by bombs above, Tokyo has come late to the age of skyscrapers. The preferred style of urban growth has been sprawl, not tall - to avoid tragic topplings if a big earthquake should strike like that of 1923.With nowhere to go but sideways, buildings have stayed low while property prices in Tokyo have gone sky-high. The odd effect has been to create huge real-estate wealth for Japanese firms, which then buy other nations' tall trophies, such as New York City's Rockefeller Center. A couple of decades ago, when city planners decided anti-quake technology was adequate, they picked a special site in the Shinjuku district to be the land of rising skyscrapers. In all, a phalanx of 14 structures comprising a new Tokyo city hall has been built in a few square blocks. Topped by twin blue-green towers that evoke the awe of a cathedral but are packed with microwave transmitters, the building is 802 feet high (48 stories) - a record for Japan but small compared to Chicago's 1,454-foot Sears Tower. Still, the city hall is a monument to Japan's rise to economic superpower status, says professor Hiroshi Kashiwai of Tokyo University of Art and Design. Designed by the firm of Japan's most famous architect, Kenzo Tange, the striped granite surface evokes patterns from 17th-century Edo (the old name for Tokyo) while imitating the glorious grid of the Empire State Building. On rare days when Tokyo's smog lifts, visitors on upper floors can see Japan's Mt. Fuji. In line with the nation's wizardry in gadgetry, the tower is wired with "intelligent" technology. A disaster prevention center, for instance, includes large screens that can display maps of disaster-hit areas or pictures from helicopters. A supercomputer-linked card system checks the arrival and exit of 13,000 city bureaucrats. The contractors claim the structure can withstand an earthquake twice the strength of the 1923 quake, although occupants would have to endure swaying for over an hour afterward, l ike ants on a conductor's baton. Few of Tokyo's 12 million people hold neutral opinions about the project: Some call it extravagant, others are proud. Many living in tiny apartments wonder if the $1.14 billion might have been better spent on housing. "In Tokyo," said Construction Minister Yuji Ostuka recently, "only the official buildings are getting bigger, while housing is getting smaller."

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