Retro Japan: Mushroom-shaped towers in central Osaka provide air for 400,000 people every day

OSAKA – Giant mushroom-shaped structures loom in the city lights outside JR Osaka Station at sunset. At first glance, it might be hard to tell what these are: air intake towers for the sprawling Whity Umeda underground shopping mall, visited by around 400,000 people every day.

The air intake towers of the Whity Umeda underground mall are seen from below in the Kita district of Osaka on June 29, 2020. This photo was taken with permission. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura)=Click/tap on photo for more images.

Located at the northern end of Midosuji Avenue in the Kita district of Osaka, the structures were installed to ventilate the underground shopping streets of the Umeda entertainment district when the commercial facility opened in 1963.

The towers were designed by representative Japanese architect Togo Murano (1891-1984), who designed significant buildings including the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace in Hiroshima City, designated as an Important Cultural Property, and the Nippon Life Insurance Co. Hibiya building in Tokyo.

Osaka’s Umeda air intake facility consists of five towers with a height of between 13.5 meters and 18 meters, and some of them are connected near the top. The squares, pentagons and hexagons of the steel frames of the towers are covered with stainless steel plates, like a patchwork. The organic design, composed of bold curves, has both functionality and formative beauty.

The Whity Umeda Underground Mall has some 180 tenants. Even though times have changed, the air intake towers bring life to the shopping arcade below and are the landmarks of the Umeda district.

(Japanese original by Takao Kitamura, Osaka Photo Department)

The air intake towers of the sprawling Whity Umeda underground shopping district are seen surrounded by wide roads in Osaka’s Kita district in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on June 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura)= Click/tap on photo for more images.

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The Japanese version of this article was originally published on July 12, 2020.

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This series explores the architectural marvels and secrets of Japan’s past. Read more articles about retro Japan here.

Retro Japan in photos: The air intake is a lifeline for the inhabitants of Osaka’s underground mall

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