The ACROS building, lovingly known as Mt. ACROS to locals, is one of this city’s greatest, and greenest, landmarks. Towering over Tenjin Chuo Park and the surrounding skyline, ACROS occupies an important part in the consciousness of what residents see when they imagine Fukuoka. Holding great symphonies and international conferences alike, this space dominates the cultural and international life of Fukuoka, as well as the nearby landscape. Seeing as I had never journeyed up the architectural marvel all the way to the top before I decided I would give it a go and pick up my certificate while I was at it.
The entrance to the stairway which snakes its way up the garden lies right next to the Chuo Park side entrance of the building, steps away from the cavern-like door. It’s marked by a small red and white sign, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled as it’s quite easy to miss!
Designed by world-renowned architect Emilio Ambasz in 1994, the $380 million building is constructed in the style of Ambasz’s maxim “green over gray”, and is one of the most important examples of green architecture in the 1990s. As you take the 60 m zig-zagging stairs to the top, you’ll be surrounded by over 35,000 types of vegetation, representing upwards of 76 species. As I climbed higher and higher, I couldn’t help but reflect on the tranquility of the scene, a reminder of the quiet forests not far from where I grew up right in the center of town. This twinning of the urban and the countryside is no mere whimsical dream of an increasingly wheezy climber however. In a 2010 essay entitled “Sustainability’s Transubstantiation”, Ambasz writes that the goal of ACROS was to prove that greenery could exist in the city, that through environmentally friendly choices of building materials which promote energy efficiency like earth for insulation, he could give 100% of the land that the building’s footprint covers back to the community . You could have the building and the land it rested on too, the true goal of architecture for the community.
I reached the top of the 14-storey step garden and took some time to lick my wounds, those being the numerous bug bites I had acquired on the journey up (bug spray is very much recommended). All in all it is about a five to six-minute walk to the observatory, or if you’re feeling particularly leisurely, a 10-minute stroll. It’s quite a comfortable walk, so those of any age or fitness shouldn’t feel in the least intimidated. In fact, it’s so comfortable that I climbed it twice, having forgotten to take the obligatory summit selfie first time around. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to pick up a certificate for making it to the top, which are given out on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. That being said, even being certificate-less wasn’t too much of a dampener when I took the time to look around at the view.
It’s rather a strange sensation, sitting on top of a forest five minutes away from Tenjin Station, but that’s the magic of ACROS. It’s a refuge for city workers and tourists alike, catching their breath against the hustle and bustle of the city below. People clad in the black and white of the workplace take five minutes just to relax at the summit, to really see the city that they spend so much of their lives in. Parents and their kids spread out on the cool concrete steps, patting each other on the back and tucking into well deserved snacks. ACROS’s step garden may not rival Yakushima for natural beauty, but it lets us see this city in a new light and for that it’s well worth the trip.
• Open: Mar. ~ Apr. 9:00~18:00, May ~ Aug. 9:00~18:00, Sep. ~ Oct. 9:00~18:00, Nov. ~ Feb. 9:00~17:00 (Certificates issued between 4/6 to 5/26 on Sat., Sun. and hol.)
• Closed during inclement weather (*call in advance to confirm)
• Free (*smoking, pets prohibited)
• ACROS Fukuoka
• 1-1-1 Tenjin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
 As surmised and presented by Forbes magazine.
Report and Photos by Kenji Newton for Fukuoka Now