Photo/Illutration Trees stand higher than at present to render the buildings behind the Atomic Bomb Dome hidden from view in this image envisioned by Hiroshima city that would be realized through structure height control. The area shown in this image is targeted by the restrictions. (Provided by the Hiroshima city government’s urban planning division)

HIROSHIMA--Officials here are imposing building height limits near the Atomic Bomb Dome to preserve the iconic townscape was seen by more than 1 million visitors annually before the COVID-19 pandemic.

To stop the landscape from being marred, Hiroshima city on Jan. 4 started restricting the dimensions of apartments and other structures to be constructed or upgraded to the north of the dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“This important scenery should be passed down for posterity as the symbol of the peace city of Hiroshima,” said a Hiroshima city document on the height restrictions, referring to the view of the dome seen from the nearby Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

When seen from the main building of the museum, the landmark dome stands behind the Cenotaph for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb in the arrangement designed by architect Kenzo Tange (1913-2005).

The northern areas were targeted by the city's height restrictions because buildings there can be viewed from the museum in the backdrop of the Atomic Bomb Dome.

The regulated regions include Naka Ward’s Motomachi area, Nishi Ward’s Oshiba district and Higashi Ward’s Ushita region.

The limits differ depending on the location and distance from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. While buildings situated 1 kilometer from the museum can stand up to 44 meters tall, 201-meter ones are allowed 5 km away.

The criteria were determined by taking into account the growth and transplanting of trees on the grounds of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park that are expected to render structures at the back of the Atomic Bomb Dome hidden from view.

The city government designated the areas to the north of the dome as a "height control district" under the City Planning Law to make the height restrictions legally binding. The construction of establishments violating the restrictions can be legally halted.

The discussions over the height limits started in 2006, when a plan to install an apartment building in close proximity to the Atomic Bomb Dome was put in the spotlight.

In line with the move, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which surveys and assesses World Heritage locations, adopted a recommendation at a meeting calling on Hiroshima to impose regulations.

The introduction of height criteria initially did not go smoothly due to landowners’ opposition. But then U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima in 2016 gave the project a burst of momentum, leading to the decision to control buildings’ specifications in certain areas north of the Atomic Bomb Dome.

According to Hiroshima’s urban planning division, two buildings, including one for the Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are the only existing structures that do not meet the new standards.

The commerce chamber’s office will be relocated to a new high-rise scheduled for completion in fiscal 2027 as part of the redevelopment project of Naka Ward’s Motomachi district. The current building will be torn down afterward.

Yoshiaki Shimizu, the municipality’s division head responsible for urban design, called the scenery around the Atomic Bomb Dome “Hiroshima’s most significant sight that must be protected as the top priority.”

“As advanced technologies have been developed to set up even taller buildings, how far the situation would worsen with no restrictions put in place cannot be even predicted,” said Shimizu.

According to Shimizu, Hiroshima city officials are planning to consider placing more areas under the height limits in the future.