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la cittĂ metabolista laboratorio di progettazione urbanistica con sociologia urbana A prof. antonio di campli Torino, 22 marzo 2012

Urban design has, over the last two decades, regressed into complacency. It is now suffering from endless compromise, a stifling desire to please everybody, and as a result has given up its own propellant, which was to provide an alternative to the status quo of urban development.


this partnership between critical and projective thought, we will search to

liberate ourselves from this hideous consensus returning to the moment preceding the complacent turn: late modernism.

In the 1960s, Kenzo Tange taught at MIT where he worked out ideas of Metabolism that lay behind his famous was entitled

“Plan for Tokyo 1960.” The studio he taught at MIT

“25,000 People Over Boston.”

It is time to return to some of these ideas and critically assess them, but also to see in what way a


urban design today.

or a


city” can reinvigorate

1945. tokyo after bombing

The technology developed by Japan before the Pacific War was fundamental in the creation of a great a powerful army and Navy. Yamato battleship (1937) was the biggest ship ever built and far more powerful than the contemporary Western warships. The same could be said about the Zero Sen fighter, which witnessed how the Japanese had always had a special interest in the field of technology, and used their knowledge and experience based on pre-war military industry and research to rebuild their modern and new industrial system after the war.

Cartoons, movies and comic books based on fantastic stories populated by monsters and robots were very popular in Japan at the end of the 1950s. Among the others, monster Godzilla-Gojira (1955) and comics like Atomu-Astroboy (1951), Genjin (1960), Tetsujin (1963) well witnessed the anti-traditional and future-oriented culture predominant at the time, as expression of the anxiety of the new generation of young Japanese to remove the wounds of the recent past and restart form the beginning (metaphorically represented by the recurrent theme of the “destruction� faced by the city in the movies), as well as of their passion for the new advanced technologies which announced the dawn of the fascinating techno-society of the future.

Seven young japanese architects, Kenzo Tange, Takashi Asada, Kisho Kurokawa, Kiyonori Kikutake, Fumihiko Maki, Masato Otaka, Kiyoshi Awazu + Noboru Kawazoe (writer) and Kenji Ekuan (designer), pursuing a new approach to urbanism, founded an avant-gard group in 1960 and published its radical manifesti called: Metabolism: The Proposals for a New Urbanism. Numerous urban visions, along with experimental architectural practices, meant that the Metabolism became emblems of Japan’s postwar cultural resurgence. At the root of Metabolist urban utopias was a particular notion of the city as an organic process. It stood in opposition to the Modernist paradigm of urbanism and led to ambitious design concepts as:

city as process

artificial land

marine civilization

metabolic cycle

megastructure group form

1958 Nascent Metabolists, and their mentor Kenzo Tange, gather at Kikutake’s housewarming party for his recently completed Sky House. Metabolism, it was a joint manifesto, or rather, a polyphony of voices. Kiyonori Kikutake: “The person who brought us together and who unified us was Noboru Kawazoe. He was a critic and the editor of a magazine called Shinkenchiku (Japan Architect), and he worked hard to tie us together in a single whole. He was our leader, our lynchpin. I hardly knew any of the other architects who became Metabolists�.

metabolism is the life system of organisms, the organic function of material and energy exchange between living organisms. This metaphor suggests that the component elements of cities and buildings be classified according to a hierarchy of metabolic cycles which relate the progressive rates of change and functional obsolescence.

Metabolists emerged at the World Design Conference in Tokyo in 1960

In Metabolism: The Proposals for the New Urbanism Kikutake claimed: “We do not suggest a proposal for the future city. The state of confusion and paralysis in metropolitan areas and the lack of systematic planning is forcing us to make these proposals... The huge city of Tokyo is badly sick. She has lost the proper control of the city because of her mammoth-like scale. She is even trying to conceal her illness and to justify present conditions by relying on the adaptability if her inhabitants�

parole chiave: raggruppamento (unitĂ cellulare) cittĂ  rete spazio strada struttura intermedia (connettore) spazio condiviso (spazio semi-pubblico) hanasuki (simbiosi di elementi eterogenei) megastruttura (Super Domino) disco meccanico struttura circolare(cittĂ  ad anello) eco-corridoio

Megastructure This term was coined by Fuhimiko Maki. According to his definition (Investigations in Collective Form, 1964), megastructure refers to a strategy in urban design that tends to house the program of a whole city or part of a city in a single structure. Although he traced its origins to italian ancient hill-towns, Maki insisted that megastructure was “made possible by present technology�.

Reyner Banham described megastructures as composed of elements in 2 extreme scales: a single structural framework and numerous modular units. “The dinosaurs of modern movements”. They had different life cycles, thus making the system capable of unlimeted extension. In the Elusive City, Jonathan Barnett gave a more concise definition: “the city as a building”.

Ise Shrine The shrine buildings are rebuilt every 20 years as a part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things and as a way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next. The rebuilding of the main shrine takes place on an adjacent site next to the old, and each rebuilding alternates between the two sites.

city as process

kiyonori kukitake, marine city,


ocean city tower-shaped city marine city ocean city unabara concepts of artificial land and the distinction between major structure and minor structure the major structure of the tower city was a concrete cylinder of 300 meters tall that wolud house the infrastructure of the entire city, including transportation infrastructure, utility pipelines, public services. the concrete cylinder worked as a vertical artificial alnd upon which up to 1250 dwellings units could be attached, creating a community for 5000 people. The module were replacable units, scheduled to undergo self-renewal every 50 years.

cylindrical communities

As preface at his project for a prototype of marine city in 1958, Kikutake wrote: “This proposal for marine cities is the first of its kind in the world. It was the Soviet success in shooting their Sputnik rocket into space [1957], which led to the publication of this memorable proposal. (‌) Continental civilization has been continuously troubled with strives over territory. Going into the latter half of the twentieth century, however, we can establish cities able to move to wherever necessary by producing as much artificial land as is needed. We should made these floating marine cities such that bring the peaceful oceanic civilization to mankindâ€?.

kiyonori kikutake

“…The marine city is a proposal to build the world of tomorrow. (…) (It) is not simply an attempt to expand the land. It is also clearly not an idea to escape from the land. As for escape, the planning is too great, and as expanding the land, the concentration of composite technical and economic power is too great. The sea will likely continue to reject unplanned and disorderly projects. It is reclamation which desecrates this love of cleanliness of the sea. That the condition for the establishment of a superior society cannot be brought about by reclamation is clear from the relation between man and land. It may be said that technology will lose its meaning unless man’s power is concentrated deliberately and coordinately. Techniques for colossal construction cannot bear to be used and must not be allowed to be used for destructive confusion in the name of construction.”

In other words it is a project that required carefully advanced planning and design and a higher spirit to live in, so that it was thought as an urban model which rejected the confusion of the existing land cities and aimed to promoting a new sense of order and urban control, as well as the improvement of society and engineering technologies. Furthermore marine city was conceived as a temporary device: “Marine cities will be extinguished without any hesitation when they become unnecessary or cease to satisfy the needs of society. (…) The “marine city” is not necessarily anchored at any fixed place. It may be shifted to any desirable location necessary. The marine city is a mobile city.”

le1250 unità abitative prefabbricate, cilindriche costruite in acciaio, sarebbero state disponibili in sette tipologie per famiglie da 2 a 8 persone, con 72 metri di circonferenza. Tutti gli impianti igienici e di cucina sarebbero stati di plastica, fusa in un solo pezzo. L’innesto, partendo dal basso verso l’alto secondo l’effettivo numero di residenti, sarebbe avvenuto tramite magneti. Un modulo danneggiato o divenuto inadatto sarebbe stato staccato e rimpiazzato. Allo stesso modo, sarebbero state semoventi anche le torri. In complesso la città, chiamata in giapponese “Unabara”, avrebbe contato mezzo milione di abitanti, e si sarebbe composta di due anelli concentrici, quello interno per le abitazioni e quello esterno per le fabbriche.

kisho kurokawa floating city on lake kasumigaura,


cluster with fragment of roof-top transport system (note the model cars)

This project was prepared as a housing project to be built on the surface of a lake in connection with planning of the New Tokyo International Airport in Narita. Vertical separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, on the roofs of the structure, is provided: the motorways and walks from a transport system which interconnects the structures of the city.A harbour is provided at each unit for use by surface crafts.A spiral escalator system provides a means of vertical transportation between the rooftop and lake transport systems. Each home owner is free to use whatever building materials preferred when constructing their homes on manmade land which has a spiral configuration and is provided with terraces.

The structure of the city must be planned by multiplanar transport system which is centered on activities of daily life.In particular, the spiral system, or the helix structure, will probably bring a third order to urban space. The unity-space helix is the prototype of a city with three-dimensional growth potential. This was the prototype of the Helix Plan prepared for the second publication issued by the Metabolism Group.

kisho kurokawa helix city, tokyo


kurokawa, floating factory metabonate

artificial land

kisho kurokawa, the agricultural city,


Intended for the replacement of the agricultural towns in Aichi destroyed by a typhoon in 1959, the accommodation was to be raised above the ground to deal with future Flooding. The grid was intended to be between 300 and 500 metres; Kurokawa challenged the assumption that the city and the country need be in antagonism.

It seems to me that there exist a city versus village concept with an emphasis toward cities whe we say “ the flow of agricultural population into cities” or “dispersion of urban population”. I am of the opinion that rural communities are cities whos means of production is agriculture. Agricultural cities, industrial cities, consumption cities and recreation cities sholud each form an integral part of a compact community. A distinct urban system should exist between those cities. Agricultural cities have a potential as future cities. And that is the reason why it is necessary to have a basic plan for their future expansion. The basic unit of the rural area of Japan is 500 m x 500 m community centered around a shrine, a grammar school and a temple. According to the proposed plan, roads, waterservices, electricity, monorails for work and other facilities are installed 4 meters above ground. This will enable common handling and administering of agricultural works. The level of the facility frame is the level of expansion of social life. And this is where shrine, schools and administrative institutions are established. The basic housing unit (vide) is in the shape of a mushroom, a one to three storied structure with a wooden frame aluminium roof. The mushroom shaped house has a ferro-concrete facility shaft to which living quarters and other facilities are attached. Water, electricity and gas are provided as municipal facilities. The equipment shaft is the center of the mushroom structure as well as the equipment base which provide such architectural equipments as bathrooms, kitchen units, washbasins etc. The surrounding living area is a medium to facilitate circulation of architectural equipments. A 500 m x 500 m frame is the basic unit of the community. It consists of twenty five 100 m x 100 m blocks for 200 people.

Soviet Disurbanists, Magnitogorsk

F. L. Wright, Broadacre City

Mushroom shape house. Architecture of the coming age emerges from disregard of existing concepts. The concepts of a wall, a roof, a floor, or of a window have lost their function as a sustaining concept of modern man. One of the main characteristics of modern age is the urge to expand toward the universe. As a result of its expanding social life, mankind had eliminated the wall which hitherto obstructed the view toward the horizon. The expansion of the roof and the wall first occurred when mankind came to regard space as that of a mass society rather than a family unit society. Modern society is in need of a space which had hardly existed in past social life. the architectural space of urban communities is threadbare from a horizontal point of view. This gave rise to an urge for walls for more private areas. An overly expanded community area resulted in intensifying man’s loneliness. The purpose of a wall in urban area and living area has ti undergo reconsideration. Only when there is a wall space which enables a man to express himself safely can an expanding space be organized functionally. Again, when community space instead of keep expanding only horizontally, begins to expand toward the universe, the roof which only makes us realize horizontal expansion will have to undergo a basic change.

I should like to introduce a living space surrounded by walls and a ceiling with a view of stars. In other words, architecture, which hitherto was inseparable with the earth, is separating itself from it by expanding toward the universe. Thus, horizontal artificial foundation and vertical artificial foundation will be regarded as new architectural base. Only then architecture keep pace with the progress of society. In a mushroom shape house, the slanting wall, which is also the roof, is urging from the pillar or equipment shaft. the roof entirely covers uo the living space. Although one can only see a limited expansion of the outside world from the living space, the level of the tea ceremony sapce presents a limitless horizontal expanse. The ceiling with a skylight makes us realize the expanse of the universe. The living space within the roof wall can be changed by rearranging architectural equipment installed along tje shaft (equipment shaft).

kiyonori kikutake, sky house,


Raised on stilts 7 meters high, Sky House hovers above Japan’s surface, metaphorically free of its dangers and rules. Sky House grew with Kikutake’s family: in 1962, the first of 3 capsules was plugged into the exposed underbelly of the house to accommodate new children. Kikutake later reflected that the movenets were too small and stifled the children’s activity

kenzo tange, hiroshima peace center,


kenzo tange, boston harbour project,


The gigantic triangle-shaped frame was thought to be the long lasting structure of the project, and was conceived as prototype of new settlement for the contemporary city generated by the possibilities of the modern technology. It combined into a single structure the different scales of the human activities, from the super-human scale (the scale of the technology), to the scale of people (the scale of human interactions), and the scale of individual. Inside the triangular shaped frame there were spaces for the activity of the community schools, churches, markets. Every 3 level was provided with pedestrian streets and along these were rows of independent houses, whose type and form was chosen directly by the owners.

The whole project is based on conceptual separation between the primary frame of the structure destined to last for a long cycle of time, thought as a “new nature�, and the secondary structure composed of houses which can modify their shape and style according the personal taste of the individuals, as they are thought changeable in short cycles of time.

kenzo tange

This complex living machine recalled many previous solution promoted by Rationalism like Le Corbusier the“Plan Obus” in Algiers (1931), and “l’Unite` d’Habitation” (1951), proposed by Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier, Plan Obus, Algiers, 1931


kenzo tange, tokyo bay plan,1960

The plan consists of a series of loops stretched across Tokyo Bay. There are 4 major loops, each of which contains 3 medium loops. Each medium loop contains three minor loops which are residential neighbourhoods, except in the third major loop where one contains government offices and another industrial offices. In the second major loop, one medium loop is the railway station and another is the port.

The transportation system is 40 meters above existing Tokyo; it only touches the ground at points of interchanges. This system connects to all major highways and railroads. The traffic circulation along the civic axis: The traffic circulation system is detached from the ground and suggests a strong separation between traffic and pedestrians. It is designed to carry up to 5,000,000 people daily. The grid on which the street system is based on consists of squares with side length of 1 kilometer. Public buildings are located between the two parallel highways while residential areas are attach from the outside.

The perpendicular organic growth of the residential area: The residential buildings are attached to the civic axis through a perpendicular street system. Like leaves of a tree the residential area seems to grow away from the civic axis. The buildings reside on huge platforms on the water and propose the old relationship between the population of Tokyo and the sea. The buildings appear random in size and position but alike in shape.

transit networks, public buldings (A, B) and residences (C)

3) The 2 main shapes of business buildings: The business buildings are also detached from the ground and sit on so called “cores� that are organized on a grid consisting of squares with side length of 200 meters. The height of the core’s ranges among 150 and 200 meters and leaves approximately 40 meters open space below the buildings. While one of the building types (A) relies strictly on the grid the other (B) has the shape of a spine pointing to public open spaces.

kisho kurokawa, the urban connector Kurokawa proposed 2 types of urban connecotrs as megastructures: bamboo type community and the wall city

Kurokawa coined the concept of the Urban Connector, inspired by Sabsovich and Ginzburg’idea of Social Condenser (es. Narkomfin) The urban connector referred to a superscale structure which served as the medium between urban scale and human scale, and between the collective and the individual. It would gather individual forces into collective power integrating the environment as a whole- Kawazoe argued: “The Gigantic City will be an apparatus designed to connect, on the one hand, machinery, energy, and the speed an a vast scale with, on the other hand, human beings who have been reduced to individuals... To express it more accurately, there will be a huge engineering structure to control nature and the city - that is, what is called the major structure, the structural unit, ot hte urban connector. This will be constructed as a “perch” or “nest” of the individual human beings who move about and grow and develop. Within this structure all necessary city utilities will be provided, ad each individual will be able to attach thereon his own dwelling”. Noboru Kawazoe, “City of the Future” in Zodiac 9 (1961): 110.

Kurokawa proposed 2 types of urban connectors as megastructures: Bamboo Type Community and the Wall City.

kisho kurokawa, bamboo type community,


kisho kurokawa, wall city,


In this project Kurokawa addressed the issue ef strenghtening the tie between work and dwelling space. The wall-shaped megastructure serves as the basic skeleton of the city; the wall contains infrastructure for transportation, utility and public services. Individual houses would be attached on one side of the wall, and work spaces on the other.

KK: “ Family life is disintegrating. Gone are the days when a living unit was a space only for one family unit. A living unit is now based on one generation and will eventually change into a person per unit... the entire city will turn itself into a gigantic compact architectural construction, where the fixed living space of a city will be inseparable from the working space”. These ideas recall the images of El Lissitszky’s radical project of Cloud Prop: a series of identical horizontal skyscrapers suspended over the major traffic intersections in Moscow like clouds supported by a few vertical cores. El Lissistszky argued in his book Russland (1929): “Up to now, in these buildings one cannot notice anything of the new conception of the open street; of the conception of the city as an aggregate of new relationships; a notion even in the case of the old city, allows new mass and space relationships to come into being. The new social attitude to the building task has thrown up some radical propositions; buildings tyoe have arisen which attack the old city in such a way as to have a changing impact in its entity”.

El Lissitzky, Cloud Prop (1923)

resort center hawaii dreamland, yamagata, 1966

Design Concept. “This building is based on a Metabolic Architecture of Cell. It is also a Ring Architecture (Loop Architecture) of circulation. Architecture of no-center is another manifesto of the “Age of Life.” The origins of Japanese leisure activities were pilgrimages and excursion trips. Travel and recreation are related to religion, pleasure and romance. This plan signifies architecture for travelers. People move around inside the center which is filled with entertainment facilities.”

kurokawa, linear city, metamorphosis,


Vasto - San Salvo Intermunicipal Plan, 1973

“The radius expansion of large cities has reached the limit of structural growth. The linear structure of network city must be constructed to reform the radius pattern of urban structure with its single-cell type public and service centers located in the heart of the city. Shrinking stage of cities of matured countries need to reconstruct urban area, to make a compact linear ? Network city. In the linear city, nature and urban life are in parallel, there is no city center and there is considerable growth potential.�

“Super high-rise building will be designed freely on fractal surface, along with land surface and land form�

kisho kurokawa

nakagin capsule tower,


kurokawa, box-type mass-produced apartments, 1962

kurokawa, takara beautilion, expo

‘70, osaka

megastructure vs group form

Fumihiko Maki in Investigations on Collective Form not only conceptuaized the urban form of megastructure but quickly turned to criticize this planning method for its rigidity and monumentality. he opposed it with the concept of group form. Instead of a static structure, Maki called for a more subtle internal order that underlay the natural evolution of cities. He distinguished 3 types of ‘collective form’: Compositional form – fixed relation between different preformed buildings Megastructural form – large frame, housing all the urban functions Group form – additive collection of similar units

fuhimiko maki

Maki’s Golgi Structures (1968), named for Nobel Prize-winner Camillo Golgi, who developed techniques for visualizing nerve cell bodies, alternate dense urban areas with unstructured open spaces. Encasing the latter are light-absorbing cells that facilitate communication, energy distribution and mechanical systems.

fuhimiko maki, golgi’s structures,


In this way he encludes communication properties of nerve cells in his architecture. The open spaces provide mobility and freedom for the inhabitants, making them user-friendly and focused on social interaction. This “High Density Conceptual Urban Structure� correspond to a network of circular buildings fanning out variously in closed-off or half-open shapes, accommodating a large number of inhabitants.


civilisation had replaced the private enterprise of

killing. The steady increase of such unintentional murders as traffic accidents, and moreover the low price attached to an individual life, usually less than one million yen, gradually nullified his profession as a killer, lowered his wages, and hurt his sense of self-esteem.


mechanism called the city, which was the inevitable

product and the physical supporter of modern civilization.


city, therefore, was the killer of all killers and, worse still, being anonymous, it was a curious enterprise to which no responsibilities are attached… The aim of his company, therefore, was to destroy cities by all possible means.”

Arata Isozaki, City Demolition Industry, Inc. (1962)

In 1962, Isozaki published his text City Demolition Industry, Inc. in Japan Architect magazine, where he constructed a schizophrenic split between being a city planner/ architect, and being a killer. The article is an enigmatic rumination on the running theme that “construction in its full sense is always destruction as well” (see: Isozaki, ‘On Ruins’ Lotus n. 93, 1997).

Isozaki, Re-ruined Hiroshima, 1968

Re-Ruined Hiroshima was one of the drawings that Arata Isozaki presented as part of his Electric Labyrinth installation at the 14th Triennale di Milano in 1968. “Haunted by the remaining destruction of Hiroshima twenty-two years after the atomic bomb was exploded there, Arata Isozaki has projected images of his megastructures onto a photomural of the razed city. In this image his constructions are also in ruins. It is as if he had rebuilt Hiroshima, and it had once again undergone destruction. Ruins provide an important metaphor for Isozaki: “They are dead architecture. Their total image has been lost. The remaining fragments require the operation of the imagination if they are to be restored.”

arata isozaki, city in the air


Isozaki’s City in the Air (Joint Core System) project was defined “By incorporating elements of space, speed, and drastic change in the physical environment, we created a method of structuring having elasticity and changeability.” In this project massive pylons support elevated transportation, housing, and office systems as well as parks and walkways, suspended above the existing city.

monsters and machines of modern architecture

the metabolist city  

the metabolist city

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