By Carter B. Horsley
This very small, but excellent pocket guide
presents about 100 of the most interesting projects in Tokyo built
since 1983, when Arata Isozaki built his great Tsukuba Center
Building that tossed classical elements into a very modern mixer,
all with very good black-and-white photographs and crisp commentaries.
At a time when most lovers of architecture are inured to paying
several times the cost of this book for a larger book with color
photos of just a couple projects, this is a wonderful, lucid tome.
The author is an architect and a partner in
YEP, a multi-disciplinary design practice in Japan, which has
been the world's awesome design leader for two decades.
Noting that the Kanto earthquake of 1923 and
the bombing of World War II devastated much of the city, Tajima
observes that "the post-war period saw the adoption of radical
modernisation without reference to past customs and aesthetics,
a situation that produced the phenomenon of the 'salary man' -
the workaholic who wishes for nothing more than an economically
stable life without the weight of a social and cultural heritage."
"If Tokyo had ever contained the common concept of a city
as a kind of moral order, this no longer existed. Instead, it
was a developing marketplace whose success depended on the enthusiasm
of its participants, willing to embrace new ideas and technology
and unfettered by doubts about the evils of progress, looking
to the future instead of relying on tradition and the past,"
The titans of modern Japanese architecture
- Kenzo Tange, Isozaki, Shin Takematsu, Hiroshi Hara, Fumihiko
Maki, Kisho Kurokawa, Atsushi Kitagawara, Toyo Ito, TAO Architects
and Tadao Ando - are, of course, well represented, but so too
are foreigners such as Peter Eisenman, Sir Richard Rogers, Coop
Himmelblau, Mario Botta, Sir Norman Foster, Nigel Coates and Rafael
"Whatever the intelligence of the design,
architecture in Japan is renowned for the consistent high quality
of its detailing and precision finishing, a phenomenon that owes
much to the position and organisation of contractors
fabric of the cityscape and investigations into its meanings provide
fertile ground for future directions. At street level, multi-layered
compositions of vast signs and flashing neon mask facades and
submerge buildings in sensory displays. Vending machines every
30 metres proffer everything from drinks and meals to disposable
cameras and sex aids in a relentless consumer barrage that indicates
a city constantly on the move and on the spend," Tajima notes.
While not all the new masterpieces of Japanese
architecture are included, those represented here more than adequately
convey the awesome range of the great imagination and design sensitivity
that has led the world for two decades.
Among the truly sensational works included are Kijo
Rokkaku's 1989 Tokyo Budo-kan, a martial arts center, shown at
the left, that is thematically based on Unkai-sanjin, the
Japanese word for "sea of clouds, a man in mountains,"
and which utilizes diamond shapes: "This is represented by
Rokkaku's 'vertically condensed square,' its lowest corner the
point of autonomous balance, the moment of readiness for movement.
And it is a gesture that is repeated again and again, creating
the diamond pattern that dominates the building's vast spaces."
Also noteworthy is Peter Eisenman's 1992 NC
Building, a six-story structure, shown above, in which "everything
(except the lifts and toilets) is distorted and displaced,"
Tajima writes, adding that "each of the 493 windows is of
a different size" and "the result is a structure that
appears to be on the point of collapse, frozen at a moment of
transition, shifting and sliding as if during an earthquake
is visually striking and direct, a childlike metaphor."
And Makoto Sei Watanabe's 1990 Aoyama Technical
College is an organic explosion that leads Tajima to ask, "Is
Tokyo as monstrous as Watanabe's vision would have us believe?"
Of course not, as only a few pages later one encounters Itsuko
Hasegawa's 1990 Shonandai Culture Centre.
"The urban hinterland of metropolitan Tokyo gives
way to anonymous buildings strung along the roadside which gradually
coalesce into a denser, though incoherent development interspersed
with parking lots. This project provides a much-needed communal
heart, as well as a space for cultural activities and recreation.
Alone among the finalists in the 1986 competition, Itsuko Hasegawa
rejected an historicist, formulaic approach, avoiding banal quotations
from the repertory of world architecture: the Mayan temple, the
agora, the amphitheater. With a playful sense of decoration, she
has assembled shells, marbles, fragments of coloured glass and
animal footprints among fairytale silver 'trees,' a river and
two cosmic spheres. The scheme provides an enthralling setting
for a performance billed as 'second nature' in an architecture
Hasegawa describes as an 'artificial landscape.'
The Shonandai center, shown at the left, is
immensely popular and is, as Tajima comments, magical.
The author notes recent economic vicissitudes
in Japan and his commentaries add important historical perspective
both to the urban context and the oeuvre of the individual architects.