Final Fantasy VII: Real-life counterpart of The Shinra Building faces demolition 

Final Fantasy VII fans are set to lose an important but little known aspect of game history next year with the demolition of Tokyo’s GUNKAN Higashi Shinjuku Building – designed by a famed “Mad Architect” and a key inspiration behind the game’s setting.  

The classic RPG Final Fantasy VII follows ecological terrorist group Avalanche as they try to prevent the energy conglomerate Shinra from draining the planet’s life source. The industrial landscape of Midgar, which dominates the first half the story, is key to setting up this struggle. The game’s themes of oppression and ecological destruction would have less impact if it wasn’t for design aspects such as Midgar’s metal plate (which separates the slums from the wealthy districts) and the shadowy tangles of pipes that make up the imposing mako reactors that leach energy out of the planet. Embodying the threat that protagonist Cloud Strife and party face is the towering structure of the Shinra building, symbolizing the destructive power of the corrupt energy corporation that rules the planet. 

According to a post by Yusuke Naora, art director for the original Final Fantasy VII, the architecture of Tokyo’s GUNKAN apartment building inspired the bleak industrial design of Midgar and the Shinra HQ. Final Fantasy developer Square Enix’ head office is located near GUNKAN but with the game company set to relocate to Shibuya soon, Naora plans to pay the building that inspired him a final visit.  

Built in 1970 under the moniker 3rd Sky Building, GUNKAN was designed to resemble a battleship with its boxy units fanning out from the mast-like central column. The apartment complex juts out from between the surrounding buildings in the bustling Okubo area of Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward like a ship cutting through waves.  

The brains behind GUNKAN, Yoji Watanabe. was dubbed ‘The Mad Architect’ for his unconventional naval-inspired building designs. Another of his creations is the ‘Slanted House’ (Naname no Ie) in Niigata Prefecture; designed for his younger sister and her husband, it is a two-storey residence resembling a submarine and has no stairs (a ramp allows you to travel between floors). 

GUNKAN’s roof. The cylindrical structures on the ‘mast’ are actually water tanks (Image Source: Social Apartment)

Over the years, GUNKAN’s unusual appearance has attracted a cult following in Japan. After undergoing renovations in 2011, its reopening as office units and shared apartments attracted many visitors. Posters on X recall that the chance to explore the whole building from top to bottom, and to look out of the small square windows, left a lasting impression on them. The ship deck-like roof in particular seems to have resonated with many people, some of whom posted photos and fanart.  

FFVII fans have until sometime in 2024 to view this piece of game history in person or can  settle for exploring it via Youtube


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