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ABPL30050 Modern Architecture: MoMo to PoMo

From Metabolism to Contemporary Japanese Architecture Kenzo Tange & Toyo Ito: their works and visions of city

Metabolism as an Architectural Term Kenzo Tange and the City on Water Toyo Ito and the Wind Architecture Do We Define Cities, or vice versa? Bibliography

Steve Qingchen MENG 531549 Tutorial Group 3. Tutor Vicki McLean Word Count: 2323

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Metabolism as an Architectural Term Metabolism was first invented as a word for a biological transformation that is essential to sustain an organism’s life. It refers to the reproduction and replacement of old cells to new cells. Since the 1960s however, it became also known as a group of young Japanese architects, an avant-garde modern movement, and ingenious if not insane designs. The 20th century saw both the brutality of modern warfare and the rapid growth of technology, which are the cause of each other. The excitement of new technologies and machinery blew away the restrictions from the past and pushed people’s imagination into a new territory. New ideologies appeared everywhere, especially in Europe, such as Italian Futurism, German Expressionism etc. Architectural styles also associated with these ‘ism’s. A lot of the designs of the avant-garde architects at the time relied much upon the promises of technology and thus remained theoretical. Meanwhile in countries such as the UK, German, Japan and China, who suffered great loss during the war, the reconstruction was in maximum speed. Architects experimented and implemented different ideas into new styles. Metropolis became the pride and the centre of the nation, thus all urban planning revolved around the rebuilding of the city. This is the context from which Metabolism was born. It was all started by the 1960 World Design Conference held in Tokyo. A group of young Japanese architects presented their visions of the future metropolis, under the direction of Kenzo Tange (丹下健三) who already established his fame by the design of Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The key members of the Metabolism are Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki etc. They pointed out that cities are like… A manifesto was published afterwards. However as a group, they never formed a single unified definition as what ‘metabolism’ is. Thus in this manifesto each architect expressed his own perception of the term, supported by sketches and designs. The metabolists’ fundamental idea is that city should be seen an organic process rather than a static entity. The opening of the manifesto states: ‘Metabolism is the name of the group, in which each member proposes future designs of our coming world through his concrete designs and illustrations. We regard human society as a vital process – a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural historical process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals.’1 Another key belief of the Metabolists is that through the revolution of architecture and city design, a new social order and modern culture would be formed. However Metabolism was rejected by the authorities at the time and most of their designs remained unbuilt. This essay will discuss one main figure of the Metabolist movement – Kenzo Tange, and a famous architect in the post-Metabolism era – Toyo Ito (伊東豊雄). By studying some key works of these two architects, the essay will conclude on how their designs were formed and how their visions about modern cities differ. Kenzo Tange and the City on Water Kenzo Tange was born in 1913, trained and taught Architecture at Tokyo University. His reputation as a leading contemporary Japanese architect was established after the completion of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The extensively long horizontal hall and the generous use of concrete of the Museum showed his adaption of Le Corbusier’s style. This astonishingly mature work was actually his first building.2

Kiyonori Kikutake et al., Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha , 1960). 2 Robin Boyd, Kenzo Tange (New York: George Braziller, 1962). 1


Though Tange was generally recognised as the leading figure of the Metabolists, he was never a formal member of the group. Instead, he trained a lot of the architects in that group and mentored the programme. On the World Design Conference in 1960, which marked the birth of Metabolism, Tange showed two projects by Kiyonori Kikutake (菊竹清訓): the Tower-shaped City and the Sky House.3 Both are futuristic designs that demonstrated the city as a living entity that comprises of different organs. Where the city itself is a long-lasting foundation that provides infrastructures, the individual dwelling houses are ‘plugged onto’ and should be amended or replaced on a regular basis. However, it was not until the Boston Bay Project (see figure 02) did Tange’s design meet with the Metabolist ideas. In 1959, Tange traveled to United States and instructed fifth year MIT architecture students to design a residential community for 25, 000 to be erected on Boston Bay.4 Having in mind Kikutake’s another design ‘Marine City’ (see figure 01) which was city floating above water, Tange came to design two gigantic structure floating above sea.

Figure 01

Figure 02

Connected by highway, two A-frame-shaped blocks were built upon artificial landscape with numerous individual apartments ‘plugged onto’ them. This is a clear demonstration of Metabolist idea about city and infrastructure as a mega component, and individual living components are added on later and can be replaced and renewed. As later commented by Kawazoe, the integration of megastructure and minor-structure characterised this project as particularly Japanese concept non-existent in western culture.5 The same concept was utilised on Tange’s iconic metabolist project, the Plan for Tokyo 1960 (see figure 03). It can be seen as the extended implementation of the Boston Bay in Tokyo Bay, a startling similar concept yet in every sense more complicated and sophisticated. To deal with the urban growth of Tokyo at the time, Tange reinvented the city plan and proposed a wild floating artificial space that is unthinkable today as it was fifty years ago. Stretching across the 30-kilometre Tokyo Bay, it forms a new Civic Axis of the metropolis. Within each ‘loop’ that connects to each other is a specific functional area with the New Tokyo station at the centre. Expanding horizontally are residential areas, just like the Boston Bay, apartments are plugged onto an A-frame structure, capable for replacements and amendments. Tange also expressed his prospect of a very organized city through the grouping of same-functional areas, however this plan was never accepted because it’s too utopian and idealistic.

Zhongjie Lin, Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement (Oxon: Routiedge, 2010), 20. Lin, Kenzo, 51. 5 Noboru Kawazoe, “A New Tokyo: In, On, or Above the Sea?,” in This is Japan 9, 1962, 57. 3 4


Figure 03

Figure 04

Though Tange’s wild plans drew lots of public attention, both praises and criticisms, it was rejected by the authorities who preferred solving the problems by going through series of policy changing and urban planning. Nevertheless, Tange still practised his idea of expandable architecture on other smaller projects. One example is the Yamanashi Broadcasting and Press Centre (1966) (see figure 04). This office building is a typical ‘showpiece’ emphasizing the ‘Plan for Tokyo’. In this building, services were grouped together in concrete columns and different functional areas were placed on separate floors. The concrete columns were deliberately left on different heights to indicate possibility for further extension. Tange’s design on this project showed the remaining Corbusian influence on him, and the bold and the honesty of a Metabolist architect. Toyo Ito and the Wind Architecture I want to design architecture like an unstable flowing body. (Toyo Ito, RIBA speech, 1993)6 Ito was born in 1941 in Seoul. After graduating from Tokyo University Architecture Faculty, he went on to work for Kiyonori Kikutake (another key Metabolist architect). Ito often described his works as to have the properties of wind, which is light, fluid and unexpectedly changeable. Comparing to the radical ideas of manipulating environments and reconstructing urban space from the Metabolist-era, Ito took on a more passive design method. One example from his later works shows that Ito was keener in responding to the existing landscape, and trying to find the best solution to fit in the context. The Tod’s Omotesando Building (2004) (see figure 05) in Tokyo used concrete structures that simulate a row of zelkova trees. This exterior pattern serves not only to the visual graphic, but also the actual structural system to create a floor-less outlook. Since the flow of the architecture has always been Ito’s key design intent, the design team was seeking an innovative to combine the presence of weight (concrete) and the absence of strength (glass). The final design was conceived and made to be a surface with tree silhouettes folded into an L shape. As trees are free-standing structures themselves, there’s an inherent strength flow in the arrangement of them. The end result is this elegant paper-like building outstanding from its surrounding yet not uncomfortably contrasting. The irregular crossings of tree branches also created chances for interesting fenestration.

C. Jencks, “Toyo Ito: Stealth Fighter for a Richer Post-modernism”, in Architecture Monographs No 41: Toyo Ito (London: Academy Editions, 1995), 11. 6


Figure 06

Figure 05

Another work by Ito which also expressed his interest in form-making and the intimacy of the architecture with landscape is the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002 (figure 06). It was a temporary pavilion which was required for events holding and a cafeteria. The team’s design intent for this building was to create a structure without internal columns.7 Though the structure may at first glance seem random, but it was defined by an algorithm of an expanding and rotating square. Aluminium panels and glass were used to create the pattern, giving it a light-weight appearance. Charles Jencks commented on Ito’s sophisticated use of new materials available and the expression of the elegancy in traditional Japanese architecture, ‘If metallic building can be as delicate, humorous and flexible as this, the twenty-first century can rewrite the doleful history of machine age architecture which has bored and imprisoned us by turns.’8 Do We Define Cities, or vice versa? Interestingly, both Kenzo Tange and Toyo Ito had worked internationally and received oversea commissions, yet they both focused their views on the most populated city in Japan, and in the world, Tokyo. At the time of Tange’s design for Tokyo Bay, Tokyo was facing exploded increase of population. On the other hand, from the end of 20th century till now, people had seen the dramatic growth in modern technology and both the positive and negative effects this change had upon the society. The once proud and the excited attitudes of the ‘high-tech’ futurism slowly receded. Instead, contemporary architects like Toyo Ito started to rethink the abuse of technology and the tendency which technology has starts to shape, control, manipulate and replace human interactions. Ito writes, We may yet have acquired an additional organ within the body which can inhale noises like objects. Our bodies are constantly yet imperceptibly exposed to the air of technology; we respond to it, and synchronise our biological rhythm with it. Unconsciously, we may already be developing a robotised existence.9

El Croquis: Toyo Ito 2001-2005 (Madrid: Iva Incluido, 2005), 174. Jencks, Toyo, 13. 9 T. Ito, “Architecture in a Simulated City”, in Architecture Monographs No 41: Toyo Ito (London: Academy Editions, 1995) 7 8


In his poetic writing, Ito expressed his concern on our constant submergence within technology. He perceives the city to have a parallel and imaginary space that’s made up of the collage of everyday information, a simulated city and simulated life; and similarly we have a real body as well as a virtual body.10 In response to these features of the modern society, Ito developed a number of architectural methods, or metaphors, such as Architecture of the Wind, Fluid Architecture and Blurring Architecture. These terms define Ito’s design intention to be light, transparent, fluid in form and to be like a membrane that filters the information in, instead of completely separating. This brought to the difference of these two architects’ visions on the city. Tange with his background and influence from Metabolism, sees dramatic opportunities lie ahead with the availability of modern technology. His designs were more aggressive, active and manipulating. On the other hand, Ito responds with his passive designs in response to the invasion of information. In other words, Ito sees that cities, together with its numerous media and uncontrollable information define who we are, instead of being an entity occupied by and serve us. Thus his designs are more delicate and cautious, responding to the environment with concern and a sense of protection. Therefore the question comes down to do we define cities, or are we defined by cities? With the growing concern of environmental problems, public awareness has been gradually raised regarding the overuse of natural resources, carbon emission etc. In highly populated countries and regions, the governments usually encourage the development and usage of eco-friendly building systems to minimise the impact on the land. However, some ideas from the Metabolists have been realised such as extending the living area on artificial landscape, or highly compacted apartments such as the Nakagin Capsule Tower (figure 07) by Kisho Kurokawa. The building is composed of two concrete towers, each with a number of apartment units attached on the side. It is a great expression of the Metabolism, yet the tower raised concerns later about its resistance against earthquakes. Approaching the completion of the Plan for Tokyo 1960, Tange was also preparing for the Japan’s first World Exposition in Osaka. Though Tange regarded this as the opportunity to present an image of the future city, his ambition was not fully appreciated. To the architect’s disappointment, people enthusiastically took part in the event, but treated it only as a ‘form of entertainment’11 The Metabolism slowly receded the stage before it was even widely accepted. It also announced the commencement of the era of postmodern Japanese architecture.

Figure 07

J. A. Cortés, “Beyond Modernism, Beyond Sendai”, in El Croquis: Toyo Ito 2001-2005 (Madrid: Iva Incluido, 2005), 17. 11 Y. Hajime, “The Social Ambition of the Architect and the Rising Nation”, in Kenzo Tange: Architecture for the world (Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2012), 59. 10


Bibliography Text: Boyd, Robin. Kenzo Tange. New York: George Braziller, 1962. Cortés, J. A. “Beyond Modernism, Beyond Sendai”. El Croquis: Toyo Ito 2001-2005. Madrid: Iva Incluido, 2005. Ito, Toyo. “Architecture in a Simulated City”. Architecture Monographs No 41: Toyo Ito. London: 1995. Jencks, C. “Toyo Ito: Stealth Fighter for a Richer Post-modernism”. Architecture Monographs No 41: Toyo Ito. London: 1995. Kawazoe, Noboru. “A New Tokyo: In, On or Above the Sea?.” This is Japan 9, 1962. Kikutake, Kiyonori et al. Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism. Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha (美術出版社), 2009. Kuan, S & Lippit, Y, ed., Kenzo Tange: Architecture for the World. Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2012. Lin, Zhongjie. Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement. Oxon: Routiedge, 2010.

Images: 1. Sketching for floating city, Kiyonori Kikutake, sketch, Japan Focus,, accessed 13 May 2013. 2. Kenzo Tange: Urbanización del Puerto de Boston 1958, photograph, tststs,, accessed 13 May 2013. 3. Plan for Tokyo 1960, photograph, My Architectural Moleskin,, accessed 13 May 2013. 4. Yamanashi Broadcasting and Press Centre, photograph, Appalachian State University,, accessed 13 May 2013. 5. Vond Studios, 22 Dec 2008, photograph, Yanko Design,, accessed 10 May 2013. 6. Nacasa & Partners Inc., photograph, Toyo Ito & Associates Architects,, accessed 13 May 2013. 7. Nakagin Capsule Tower, photograph, Metalocus,, accessed 13 May 2013.


From Metabolism to Contemporary Japanese Architecture  

Essay on Japanese Metabolism and post-Metabolism architecture. Key architects include Kenzo Tange and Toyo Ito.

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