Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Osaka Head Office Building: Design

Explore the high-quality design and robustness of the Sumitomo Building, referring to photos taken upon its completion.

Early example of modern architecture in Japan

The Sumitomo Building was a large-scale architectural project undertaken during the transition from neoclassical to modern architecture.

From the mid-Taisho to the early Showa era (1922-1930) when the Sumitomo Building (present-day Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Osaka Head Office Building) was being designed and constructed, grand new company headquarters were built in rapid succession in major cities throughout Japan. Influenced by the neoclassical architecture that had prevailed worldwide since the late 18th century, these buildings typically drew heavily on the classical orders, as evidenced by their numerous columns and stately façades*, being reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman temples.

The Ionic order is employed for the exterior of the Sumitomo Building at the east, west, and north entrances, each of which is framed by a pair of relatively simple Ionic columns.

One’s gaze is drawn to a series of windows. The simple design, sharing some of the attributes of contemporary office buildings, is rational and functional in conception, without superfluous decoration. Emphasizing the thickness of the walls, the windows look as if they have been cut into the walls .

This design is in tune with the emphasis on practicality characteristic of modern architecture that emerged in the early 20th century as the standard bearer of modernity. Embodying this powerful new architectural trend, the Sumitomo Building is an eloquent testament to the modernity and innovative spirit of Sumitomo’s Construction Department, which was responsible for the design.

With its exterior walls of a creamy mellow shade, this building seems bright and supple. Although, typically, blocks of natural stone cut to the desired dimensions are affixed to the exterior walls of buildings, many artificial stone blocks were used for the Sumitomo Building. Rhyolitic tuff, known as yellow Tatsuyamaishi, was crushed and mixed with travertine marble from Italy and formed into blocks with fine rebars. Three types of blocks that vary in color tone were prepared and allocated to the four sides of the building to create a natural gradation of tone.

*The front of a building

Magnificent hall with Renaissance ambience

The highlight of the Sumitomo Building is the main hall on the first floor. Walk through the door and you find yourself in a spacious five-story atrium. The somewhat small doors emphasize the sheer size of the hall. The ceiling, now covered to ensure waterproofing, was originally glass to introduce natural light.

In contrast to the exterior, the columns are of the Corinthian order with elaborate capitals. The granite column bases are embellished with bronze work. Polished to an attractive luster, this ornamentation enhances the overall effect.

Travertine is used extensively: the columns are faced with travertine and the walls are mostly clad with this light-colored stone to give the hall a warm welcoming atmosphere. Travertine from a quarry near Rome was imported. As this was the first building in Japan to use travertine marble from abroad, its construction caused quite a stir in architectural circles at the time.

Geometric patterns with plant motifs are deftly executed touch on the arches above the doors, the latticed ceiling, and the beams. Designs of this type are common in Renaissance churches. The black marble counter with its inlayed gold line also contributes to the grandeur of this distinctive interior.

The hall was previously used as a venue for concerts. One’s imagination takes wing, thinking about this capacious hall, with its classical columns and ceiling replete with complex patterns, overflowing with the sounds of wonderful sonorous music.

Mediterranean-style space on the roof

From the cafeteria on the sixth floor, stroll out onto the terrace. The travertine exterior wall with a large arched window creates a space reminiscent of a street in some sunny European town where employees can enjoy a break.

Whereas the terrace is now roofed, there used to be a Spanish-style patio open to the sky for relaxation.

Ascend the external stairs from the terrace and you enter a corridor that runs around the entire building. With Romanesque-style towers here and there, it is as if you were in a historic Mediterranean town.

Through the arch one sees busy expressways and high-rise buildings soaring skyward. The stone towers have stood immutable, silent witnesses to the ever-changing cityscape as the Taisho era was succeeded by the Showa, then the Heisei, and now the Reiwa era.