By Carter B. Horsley
This is probably the best book on architecture
to be published since "The A. I. A. Guide to New York City,
Third Edition," by Elliot Willensky and Norval White, was
published in 1988 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
A reasonably-sized, soft-cover book, it combines
excellent black-and-white photographs with superb commentary,
pertinent facts and transportation directions.
There are other good books on contemporary
Japanese architecture that are larger in format and have color
illustrations, but they are highly selective and by no means comprehensive.
This book, on the other hand, amply documents Japan’s incredible
design creativity that has been pre-eminent in the world for more
than a third of a century and shows no signs of waning.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Japan’s
architects have dominated the architectural world since the mid-1960’s
and that its "team" of great architects would easily
better those of the rest of the world, which is not to say that
Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Cesar
Pelli, Renzo Piano and other "master" architects have
been idle and not produced impressive works.
While many of the works included in this book
are famous, many more are far less well known, at least in America,
and the aggregate impact is staggering. The shock is almost like
the Italians rediscovering ancient Greek and Roman art, although
the current renaissance of architecture as a vibrant and exciting
art form cannot really be solely attributed to the Japanese oeuvre.
Indeed, the international architectural scene is very much alive
with many major talents (see The City Review articles on skyscrapers
and new forms in architecture).
Part of the problem is that until recently
there have been few monographs available on many of the leading
Japanese architects and part of the problem is also that many
of the works are relatively isolated. In his introduction, Bognar,
who , notes that " ." In addition, the insular and low-keyed
nature of the Japanese has been the opposite of the hype so common
in the West in recent decades.
Clearly, much of the Japanese aesthetic draws
on many old traditions. Yet any notions that its focus is on serenity,
or gracefulness, or conciseness, or understatement are apt to
be confounded by the bewildering experimentation and flamboyant
surprises that abound across Japan.
One is tempted to look for the romance of poetry
in Japanese architecture and such searches can be very rewarding,
but what is more impressive is the great depth of talent, the
often blunt, heroic and outrageous inventions, and, very often,
the completely non-contextual nature of the work.
In the West, a fine facade flourish may suffice
for a work to be considered distinguished even though it may merely
be covering a conventional building.
In Japan, most buildings are intriguing outside
In recent years, the influence of the Japanese
architects have begun to spread: Arata Isozaki has been
active with a few modest projects in the United States, such as
the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles and the
recently demolished interior of the Palladium discotheque on East
14th Street in New York, and Yoshio Taniguchi recently
won the very important commission to expand the Museum of Modern
Art in New York (see The City Review article).
On the other hand, some important non-Japanese architects have
done some projects in Japan such as Zaha Hadid’s 1990 interior
of the Monsoon Restaurant in Sapporo, Aldo Rossi’s 1989 Il
Palazzo in Fukuoka and Steven Holl’s and Rem Koolhaas’s
residential blocks in 1991 at the Nexus World Housing project,
also in Fukuoka.
Quickly skimming through this slim, but rich
volume, one is instantly struck by how avant-garde Japanese architects
were in the 1960’s. Much of these "metabolist"
projects achieved considerable fame as they struck a resonant
chord with much of the ambitious megastructure plans of other
architects of that era such as Peter Cook and the Archigram group
in England. What is remarkable is that so many incredible Japanese
projects were actually built in comparison with some of the "far-fetched"
plans of the avant-garde elsewhere.
More surprising, however, is that the burst
of creative energy in the 60’s did not burn out. Many of
the great "stars," such as Kenzo Tange, continued
to produce very important buildings, and were joined by many other
architects of the highest caliber such as Shin Takamatsu,
whose 1993 Kunibiki Messe Convention Hall in Matsue is illustrated
on the cover of the book, shown above.
This book has 280 specific building entries
but also references 360 more. The book, however, includes only
a few individual residences. It has detailed indices and more
than 30 maps. The author notes that many of the buildings in the
book, "though they may be prominent public structures, are
buried in the densely built, kaleidoscopic, radically heterogeneous
urban fabric that deprives them from both easy accessibility and
good, commanding visibility.
Bognar provides an excellent overview of Japanese
architecture in his introduction.
He regards the end of the 20th Century in Japan,
beginning in the early 1980’s, as "a new age of experimentation."
"Prompted by the rapidly rebounding economy,
the quickly advancing consumer and information societies, and
the evolution of another urban renaissance that can be called
a new, ‘accelerated urban culture’ in Japan, the previous
aversion toward the city softened, while its flexibility, vitality,
and resilience were discovered anew. This change in architects’
attitudes has by now led to a new ‘form’ of urban architecture
in which a broadening range of interpretations of, and approaches
to, the city are brought to play’ these include poststructuralism,
deconstructivism, and new modernism, among others. Divergent as
they are in their concerns, these new urban sensibilities share
a basic position, namely that the radically heterogeneous, volatile,
and chaotic conditions of the Japanese city, best represented
by Tokyo, can be the source of not only destructive forces, but
also tremendously creative energies, and even of poetic inspiration.
"The architecture of the 1980’s in
Japan can be characterized by an important shift of emphasis from
the previously dominant industrial technology, or ‘hardware,’
toward a highly sophisticated industrial technology, or ‘software.’
As a result, recent designs, while not abandoning the tectonic
culture and engineering bravura of earlier modernism, manifest
an increased fascination with the ephemeral and phenomenal or,
in short, the sensual in architecture. With their image-value
multiplied, buildings in growing numbers appeal to the human senses
as much as, and often far more than, they challenge the speculative
or critical mind; instead of striving for monumental permanence,
they foster ambiguity and perceptual instability with an implicit
indeterminacy of meaning.
"In recent years, architects have increased
the use of lighter, yet ‘ordinary’ industrial materials
(Teflon-fiber fabrics, stainless steel, perforated aluminum, wire
mesh, etc.) to erect buildings that, by virtue of their lack of
heavy materiality or substantial corporeality, and by way of their
fragmentary compositions, are intended as parts of the rapidly
changing environment rather than as dominant, permanent objects
with deterministic forms. In a characteristic Japanese manner,
boundaries are frequently defined without being rigidly established.
Areas are surrounded by multiple layers of screens and other thin
elements, which take advantage of lightweight and translucent/transparent
materials (LCD glass, synthetic films, infrared-reflecting polycarbonate
membranes, etc.) as well as the latest technologies in lighting,
including lasers, and various computer-controlled spatial articulations.
In this way buildings can be more effectively engaged in, but
also protected from, their environments."
Bognar provides excellent historical perspective,
although he is rather conservative in estimating the awesome stature
of its current architectural achievement.
"Throughout its history Japan has actively
sought to enrich its culture through 'Japanization,' a process
by which ideas from abroad are transformed, refined, and absorbed
into Japanese life. As a result, Japan has been able to match,
and frequently even surpass, the accomplishments of the very origins
of its inspirations. The Chinese and Korean civilizations were
the most important early sources for Japan. This influential period
was followed by more than two centuries of isolation during the
Tokugawa (or Edo) Era (1603-1868). The Meiji Era (1868-1912) once
more opened up the country to extensive influence, this time from
the West. Understanding modernization as a matter of its survival
as a sovereign nation, Japan was determined to catch up to Western
social, commercial, political, and cultural developments....To
expedite these rapid changes, the Japanese invited many foreign
experts, including specialists to design and supervise the construction
of major public buildings and lay the foundations for a Western
system of architectural education. Among them was the British
architect Josiah Conder (1852-1920) after coming to Japan in 1877
not only designed such prominent buildings as the Old Ueno Imperial
Museum (1882) and the Mitsubishi Building (1894), both in Tokyo,
but also taught the first generation of Western-trained architects,
including Kingo Tatsuno (1854-1919) and Tokuma Katayama
(1853-1917) at Tokyo Imperial University," Bognar wrote.
After an "eclectic and conservative"
period, Japanese architects, he continued, "began to question
the appropriateness of anachronistic academicism" and critics
fell into two camps:
"The first camp favored an attitude to
design - called wakonyosai in Japanese - that, although
benefiting from Western technology, was supposedly of 'Japanese
spirit.' In reality this search for a national expression produced
nothing more than another kind of eclecticism, which became known
as the Imperial Crown style or teikan-yoshiki....The second,
smaller group consisted of young architects who were growing dissatisfied
with the revision and recycling of historical styles and who distanced
themselves from such past architecture, whether Western or Japanese.
In 1920 several graduates of the Tokyo Imperial University formed
the Japanese Secessionist Group or Bunri Ha Kenchiku Kai,
which, although limited to ten years of activity, exerted a liberating
effect on the contemporary architecture of Japan. Among its founding
members were Sutemi Horiuchi (1895-?), Mamoru Yamada
(1894-1966), and Kikuji Ishimoto (1894-1963), all of whom
came under the influence of both Viennese Secessionism and German
Expressionism. Since the original impulse of Bunri Ha was
to reject all prevailing, mainly stylistic, tendencies, the group
slowly paved the road toward the introduction of the International
Style," Bognar wrote, adding that Bunzo Yamaguchi
(1902-78), Tetsuro Yoshida (1894-1956), and Togo Murano
(1891-1984) would add important and influential modern works.
Foreign architects were also important. "In
1916, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) arrived to build the new
Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1923)...., while simultaneously working
on several smaller projects, such as the Yamamura House in Ashiya
(1924). More significant than Wright's highly individualistic
architecture, however, was that of his assistant, the Czech-born
American architect, Antonin Raymond (1888-1976). Raymond, even
before the completion of the Imperial Hotel, established a design
office of his own in Tokyo, which he maintained, with the exception
of a few years during World War II, until his death....Other Europeans
drawn to Japan included Bruno Taut (1880-1938), who spent the
years 1933-36 there and contributed to the reevaluation of traditional
Japanese architecture through his writings....Taut's publications,
while drawing world-wide attention to such historic monuments
as the Katsura Villa, Kyoto..., and the Ise Shrine..., also served
to foment the theories of modernism in Japan immediately prior
to World War II," Bognar observed.
Some Japanese architects, at the same time,
studied abroad: Bunzo Yamaguchi and Chikatada Kurata
(1895-?) studied with Walter Gropius and Kunio Maekawa,
Junzo Sakahara (1904-69) and Takamasa Yoshizaka
(1917-80) worked in Paris in Le Corbusier's office.
After World War II, Maekawa and Sakakura, according
to Bognar, "emerged as architectural leaders: in his Kamakura
Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (1951), Sakakura recaptured the
delicacy of his Japanese Pavilion in Paris (1937). Equally significant
was Antonin Raymond's Reader's Digest Building in Tokyo (1951)....Kenzo
Tange (b. 1913), who in effect entered the architectural scene
only after the war, came to prominence with the completion of
his Hiroshima Peace Center in 1955, which signaled the beginning
of the widespread use of reinforced concrete in Japan. The influence
of Le Corbusier was felt increasingly, and eventually he was invited
to design the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno, Tokyo (1959)."
Tange's 1957 City Hall in Tokyo, which was
demolished for a newer and grander one by him, was extremely elegant,
but within a few years Japanese architects and Tange began thinking
and planning on a far greater scale. "Tange's Tokyo Plan
(1960)...proposed a linear extension of the city over Tokyo Bay,
forming a civic axis along which growth and change would be possible.
In 1961, Tange founded URTEC, a team of architects and urbanists
with whom he developed systematic planning methods applicable
to both individual buildings and the layout of cities. Megastructures
became prominent in planning circles during the 1960's and Tange's
Yamanshi Press and Broadcasting Center in Kofu (1966) with its
powerful, cylindrical shafts rising through and supporting the
entire building, is perhaps the most relevant archetype....Under
the personal influence of Tange, the movement known as Metabolism
was formally launched at the World Design Conference held in Tokyo
in 1960. The Metabolists believed that architecture should not
be static but be capable of undergoing 'metabolic' changes; instead
of thinking in terms of fixed form and function, these architects
concentrated on changeability of space and function. Their ideas
call to mind futuristic statements about new, modern cities with
moving and variable parts; thus the Metabolist designs, with their
interchangeable elements, and often capsules, can also represent
a high-technology realization of the speculative work by the contemporary
Archigram Group in London. While the mutual influence and a similarity
of intentions between the two groups are evident, the Metabolists
wee carried along by Japan's healthy and expanding economy and
a spirit of vigorous - often very naive - optimism. As opposed
to their British counterparts, they actually were able to realize
many of their ideas. The original members of the Metabolism Group
included the architects Kiyonori Kikutake (b. 1928), Fumihiko
Maki, Masato Otaka (b. 1923), and Kisho Kurokawa
(b. 1934), plus the architecture critic Noboru Kawazoe (b. 1926)
and the industrial designer Kenji Ekuan (b. 1929). In the group,
Kikutake played a key role, both as a theorist and architect.
He designed numerous futuristic urban projects, most of which,
such as the Floating City (1960) were to be located over the sea.
One such project was partially realized in his Aquapolis of the
Okinawa Marino Expo '75, which acquired a shape reminiscent of
an oil rig....Although Kikutake's buildings are clearly of the
twentieth century, it was the young Kurokawa who captured the
essence of Metabolism, and whose work typified the movement's
aspirations in striking science-fiction-like forms."
A commitment to high technology was reflected
in Kurokawa's interest in capsule's as demonstrated by his Takara
Beautillion of the Osaka Expo '70, the Nagakin Capsule Tower in
Tokyo (1972), and the Sony Tower in Osaka (1976). Kurokawa's most
famous design was probably his Helix City proposal, unbuilt, in
Bognar notes that large construction firms
such as Shimizu, Obayashi, Takenaka, Taisei, Kajima and Nikken
Sekkei corporations developed impressive in-house design teams.
During the 1960's, one of the brightest stars
to emerge was Arata Isozaki (b. 1931). "Beginning his career
as a disciple of Kenzo Tange, and, so, an initial sympathizer
with the ideals of Metabolism, Isozaki produced numerous large-scale
and innovative urban projects like the Joint Core System (1960)...,
the City in the Air (1961)...., and Future City (1962). Yet, even
these early, unrealized designs revealed features that pointed
beyond the Metabolists' preoccupation with technology and 'mechanical
changeability' toward a unique form of mannerism that Isozaki
was to fully develop in the 1970's," Bognar noted.
Fumihiko Maki, who studied at the Cranbrook
Academy of Art and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, was
perhaps the most interested of his peers in the city. "Japan
has a historical tradition that, in lack of Western-type urban
plazas and piazzas, emphasizes the significance of the street,
where city life is enacted. Inspired by various traditional types
of urbanism and working from his notion of 'group form,' Maki
became the leading proponent of Japanese contextualism,"
Signs are important to the Japanese and "among
those who investigated the systems of signs in the city, along
with a new understanding of 'architecture as language,' was ArchiteXt,
a loose-knit association of young architects who first exhibited
in Tokyo in 1971. ArchiteXt had five members: Minoru Takeyama
(b. 1934), Takefumi Aida (b. 1937), Mayumi Miyawaki
(b. 1936), Takamitsu Azuma (b. 1933), and Makota Suzuki
(b. 1935)....Takeyama's pursuit of architectural 'heterology'
and Azuma's concern for 'polyphony' express the diversity of approach
that characterized ArchiteXt; in addition, the group was responsible
for promoting so-called 'pop architecture,' 'defensive architecture,'
'vanishing architecture,' and what Aida named the 'architecture
of silence,' Bognar continued.
Many of this group's works "reveal an
introverted or defensive attitude towards their neighborhoods;
in this respect they were the forerunners of the residential architecture
of such younger architects as Toyokazu Watanabe (b. 1938),
Toyo Ito (b. 1941), and especially Tadao Ando (b.
1941). Other architects who devoted attention to architectural
communication include Kito (Monta) Mozuna (b. 1941) and
Team Zoo - Atelier Zo (established 1971)," Bognar
maintained, pointing out that many architects, including Hiroshi
Hara (b. 1936), began to "turn their backs on the city,"
confronted with commercialism, pollution and alienation.
Along with Kazuo Shinohara (b. 1925),
Isozaki, Bognar argued, "became the most influential designer
of his generation in the so-called 'new wave' of Japanese architecture."
Bognar cites his "Fukuoka Sogo Bank in Fukuoka (1971)...,
the Gumma Prefectural Museum of Modern Arts in Takasaki, the Kitakyushu
City Museum of Art..., the Fujimi Country Clubhouse in Oita, all
three of 1974, and Kamioka Town Hall (1978). By implication they
simultaneously criticized the trivializing commercialism of the
city while endorsing its potential and vitality. Arguably this
is also represented by the more recent Tsukuba Center building
(1983) and the Shufunotomo Plaza in Tokyo (1987), with their references
to French neoclassicism. His latest work, such as the projects
for Paternoster Square in London (1988) and Art Tower Mito (1987)
continue to reflect Isozaki's response to historical/classical
postmodernism, although the design of the tower seems to point
beyond this declining paradigm in architecture." The Mito
project has a spectacular, titanium clad 330-foot-high tower resembling
a DNA spiral that is sensational as it much of the rest of the
"The 1980's witnessed the maturation not
only of Ando, but also his entire generation. Many of them had
been previous disciples of older masters, such as Shinohara and
Hara, while others followed their own, independent paths from
the very beginning. Among the latter, Yoshio Taniguchi (b. 1937)
emerged as the most remarkable example. His growth as an architect
and urbanist is well represented by a series of significant public
buildings that began with the much-acclaimed Ken Domon Museum
of Photography in Sakata (1983), and has led to such recent masterpieces
as the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art in
Marugame (1991) and the Keio-Shonan-Fujisawa Junior-Senior High
School in Fujisawa (1992)....Although a straight-forward approach
to design and the 'simplicity' of the modern language of architecture
- along with a heightened sensibility toward the natural environment
and phenomena - continue to characterize Taniguchi's work, his
latest projects reveal an increased sophistication in spatial
articulation and skill in shaping the urban fabric in which they
either find themselves or, alternatively, what they intend to
(b. 1941) "has developed an approach that regards 'architecture
as another nature,'...[and] combines her concern for the natural
environment with a keen interest in new materials and technologies,
all filtered through what she calls a 'feminine' sensibility.
Her masterpiece is the Shonandai Cultural Center in Fujisawa,
which was completed in 1991 and is shown in a photograph in another article in The City Review.
Bognar cites several buildings by Shin Takematsu
(b. 1948) for their "stunning, science-fiction quality":
the Origin buildings (1981-86); the Week Building (1986); and
the Syntax (1990), all in Kyoto, the Kirin Plaza in Osaka (1987),
and the Kunibiki Messe Convention Hall in Matsue (1993). Kirin
Plaza is shown in a photograph in another
article in The City Review and is perhaps the finest high-tech
building ever erected as well as one of the most original and
spectacular, despite its small size.
Among the many other masterpieces featured
in the book are the following: