on Tokyo

Gordon Hatton, vice president of Pembroke Real Estate’s Tokyo office, on trends in his industry

The Tri-Seven Roppongi building is Hatton’s most recent project with Pembroke Real Estate

As a boy growing up in the Saskatchewan city of Regina, Gordon Hatton vividly remembers the celebrations that marked Canada’s centenary year. He could never have anticipated that, half-a-century later, he would be marking the nation’s 150th birthday in Tokyo, a city that has been home for the past 28 years.

“It was a very interesting and exciting time in Canada,” Hatton told The Canadian. “There was a real sense of optimism in the country, a growing confidence, and the anniversary also coincided with the 1967 World Expo in Montreal.”

Hatton, a vice president and head of Japan at US-based Pembroke Real Estate, and head of the property developer’s Japan operations, returns to Canada about once a year to see friends and family. But he confesses to sometimes feeling a little out of touch in his homeland.

“I guess it is reverse culture shock,” he said.

And, like many long-term residents of Japan, Hatton had no intention of settling here permanently when he first arrived in 1989.

Hatton was a student of architecture at the University of Manitoba when Shimizu Corporation, one of Japan’s biggest construction firms, began a scheme according to which one of its staff would spend a year at the university. Under a subsequent reciprocal program, alumni came to Japan for a year and Hatton was selected for the scheme.

“I had already been working as an architect in Toronto for five years, but when I arrived here it was the peak of the bubble and just a delightful time to be in Japan as a young architect,” he said. “At that time, it was not unusual for 95 per cent of the cost of a project to be the land, which was great from a designer’s perspective, as the cost of a few design embellishments were immaterial in the budget, and clients would gladly sign off on whatever the architect wanted to build. Hence we see some rather exuberant buildings from that era.”

Hatton met his wife, also a young architect at Shimizu Corporation, before moving back to Toronto. Just 18 months later, they made the decision to return to Japan and he joined Takenaka Corporation, working on projects that ranged from a Jusco shopping centre — now Aeon — to the Korakuen Hotel in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture. During that time, he became one of the few foreigners to obtain a Japanese architectural licence to go along with his Canadian qualifications. He then spent a decade in charge of project management for Bovis Lend Lease in Tokyo.

One of the first projects Hatton took on after joining Pembroke Real Estate was the Tri-Seven Roppongi building, which opened in March 2016 and is where the company has its headquarters. An international property developer, Pembroke acquires, manages and develops properties in major markets around the world.

The real estate market has undergone significant developments in recent years, said Hatton, including an influx of foreign funds that have made Japan — and Tokyo in particular — one of the top investment markets in the world.

“Another notable difference for me would be the shift towards developments that consider urban design and place-making strategies, not just individual building design,” he added. “This is evident not only in the major redevelopment projects, but in the collage of interesting, small urban interventions that give the back streets of Tokyo such delightful human scale and vitality, and stimulates the dialogue between new and old.”

And while the sector faces challenges — not least a shortage of skilled construction workers — Hatton prefers to focus on the positives.

“Rather than challenges, the take-away for me would be how much of a pleasure it is to work with so many people who take real pride in the quality of craftsmanship they bring to their jobs,” he said.

“We go very deep into the details on our projects and this is something I very much enjoy, spending time on construction sites, visiting glass factories, stone yards and tree nurseries to hand-select the materials, refine the detailing or work through technical coordination issues with various experts, from carpenters and engineers to investors and end-users.”

Photos: LIFE14

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