The Ohbayashi Corporation is one of the largest general construction companies in the world, integrating engineering, design, contracting, construction and management. It has gained a reputation for solving difficult engineering problems by developing new methods and technologies for specific projects. Hundreds of structures in Japan and throughout the Pacific Rim stand as monuments to Ohbayashi’s engineering ability.
Japan embarked on a national program of modernization after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 which stimulated demand for newer, larger and more durable buildings. Yoshigoro Ohbayashi took advantage of the favorable market conditions in 1892 and opened a small construction business in Osaka. After six years, completing modest construction jobs, he was joined by a talented young man named Kanezo Shirasugi. Ohbayashi and Shirasugi completed several more projects while refining their engineering and construction skills. In 1901 Ohbayashi was awarded its first major contract: the grounds and buildings for Osaka’s Fifth National Industry Fair, completed in 1904. The following year Japan and Russia went to war for control over Manchuria and, in turn, dominance in the Far East. Ohbayashi erected 100 barracks and 10 field hospitals for the Japanese army in only three weeks, helping to contribute to the subsequent Japanese victory.
The company was reorganized as a limited partnership in 1909. Shortly afterwards, Ohbayashi finished building the landmark Tokyo railroad station, which was one of the few structures to withstand the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Soon the company was awarded its first heavy construction contract to build a railroad tunnel linking Osaka and Nara. Yoshigoro Ohbayashi’s son Yoshio was placed in charge of the company in 1916 while still a 22-year old student at Wasedo University. Two years later the company was incorporated and its name changed to Ohbayashi Gumi.
In the early 1920’s Ohbayashi executives were invited by the Fluor Company to study modern construction methods in the United States. These executives brought back the technology learned in the U.S. to Japan where it was assimilated by Ohbayashi’s design engineers. Ohbayashi erected three major structures during this period, including the Mainichi Newspaper Office, the Sumitomo building in Osaka, and the Merchant Marine Building in Kobe, all of which are still standing today.
The earthquake in 1923 leveled much of Tokyo and created a firestorm which destroyed many more buildings. Ohbayashi was called upon to construct new buildings which were both earthquake-resistant and fireproof. The demand for Ohbayashi’s modern buildings helped the company to expand rapidly. One of its products is Koshien Stadium near Osaka, popular for its bi-annual high school baseball tournaments.
When Japanese militarists came to power in Japan a decade later, Ohbayashi was employed to complete a considerable number of building projects for the state. The company does not discuss its role in the Japanese war effort.
After the war Yoshio Ohbayashi turned the company over to his son-in-law because his marriage had not produced any male offspring. His daughter’s husband Yoshiro adopted the family name and subsequently became head of the house of Ohbayashi. The practice of a man taking his wife’s name in marriage is common in Japan when a family has no blood relative male descendants.
During the American occupation of the immediate postwar period, reconstruction was slow. Japan was forced to remit war reparations which reduced the amount of capital available for construction. However, when North Korean military forces invaded South Korea in 1950, Japan’s role in the Western alliance was changed. The country was to be reconstructed as a modern industrial ally in an effort to balance Western strategic interests in Asia with communist China and Soviet interests. Ohbayashi was in an ideal position to benefit from the accelerated demand for new construction. The company won contracts for the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, the Tokyo railroad station annex, and the Mainichi Osaka Center completed in 1956. Also during the 1950’s, Ohbayashi completed its first hydroelectric dam.
In 1961 Ohbayashi developed a new method for building concrete walls with technology adapted from Soletanche Company of France. The technology, called OWS (for Ohbayashi Wet Screen), was first used in the construction of the New Osaka building and remains an integral part of Ohbayashi’s construction method. The company further diversified its scope of operations in 1964 when it laid its first highway. Ohbayashi has had a major role in the construction of every major expressway in Japan ever since.
When the island of Singapore declared its independence from the Malaysian union in 1956, a massive land reclamation project was planned for the island’s east coast. Ohbayashi was chosen to execute the engineering and five of the project’s seven phases. By the time the reclamation was completed in 1984, Ohbayashi moved 100 million cubic meters of earth to reclaim 2170 hectares (8.37 square miles) of land, upon which were built several housing projects and Singapore’s Changi International Airport.
During the 1970’s Ohbayashi developed an innovative new tunneling method and a light weight air membrane dome roof. In 1978 Ohbayashi constructed its headquarters in Osaka with the intention of showcasing the company’s expertise in energy-efficient designs. A second facility, the Technical Research Institute, is considered the most energy-efficient building in the world.
Ohbayashi recently completed work on the world’s largest liquid natural gas storage facility at Sodegaura, and an underground drainage and reservoir system near Osaka designed to hold flood waters from the Hirano River. Ohbayashi also engineered an earthquake-proof “dynamic” floor for the Sumitomo Bank which is designed to insulate sensitive computers from violent geologic activity. Numerous other construction projects are completed each year, including the restoration of national treasures like the Katsura Rikyu Detached Villa, building nuclear power plant containment vessels, and manufacturing concrete tiles for “Bullet” trains.
Ohbayashi not only completes hundreds of projects each year in Japan, but also an increasingly large number of projects overseas. In 1984 the company’s name was anglicized (from Ohbayashi Gumi to Ohbayashi Corporation) to reflect its growing internationalization. The Ohbayashi Corporation was chosen to supervise the renovation of Shanghai International Airport in China. Over 60 dams have been built by Ohbayashi in a number of southeast Asian nations. The city of San Francisco chose Ohbayashi to install a major sewer main under difficult conditions through soft and unstable soil. Other American projects include the Toyota automobile plant in Georgetown, Kentucky and an irrigation tunnel for farmland in Utah. Since it became a member of the U.S. Civil Engineering Society in 1986, Ohbayashi is expected to become eligible for even more projects in the United States.
Yoshiro Ohbayashi believes his company will continue to be a leader in the construction industry for many years. “A well-built building,” he says, “will last anywhere from 25 to 250 years. As contractors and architects, we must be able to envision what life will be like, and design structures to match.”
Architectural critics have generally given Ohbayashi excellent marks in all phases of its work. With an impressive portfolio of accomplishments and with a worldwide network of offices, Ohbayashi can be expected to remain one of the leading construction corporations in the world.
Thai Ohbayashi Corporation, Ltd. (Thailand); P.T. Jaya-Ohbayashi Corporation (Jakarta, Indonesia); Ohbayashi Malaysia SDN. BHD (Malaysia); Ohbayashi America Corporation; United Development Corporation (USA); James E. Roberts-Ohbayashi Corporation (California, USA); Ohbayashi Hawaii Corporation (Hawaii, USA); Ohbayashi Associates Hawaii, Inc. (Hawaii, USA); Kauai Development Corporation (Honolulu, USA); Saudi Japan Construction Company, Ltd (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia); PM Ohbayashi (B) SDN. RHD (Brunei); Citadel Corporation (USA); Ohbayashi Europe B.V. (Netherlands).