day 20_Yokohama

Yokohama is certainly the ugliest and most-generic-looking city I visited on my journey through Japan. It is a major port city which rapidly developed into the second-most-populous city, after Tokyo, only in the second half of the 19th century. The walk from the main train station to the FOA's international port terminal was long, boring, and quite frankly, I was ready to turn around and go back to Tokyo. But after passing the new bland high-rise developments sprawling along the bay (thank you very much globalization), large boulevards flanked by western food chains, and a bizarre conglomeration of building types with a giant Ferris wheel in a middle, I finally saw it.

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I wasn't sure whether it was a ship or the actual terminal. 'Docking' in the distance, it looked rough, industrial, as a giant concrete-steel whale that got stuck on the shore.

 International Port Terminal by FOA

International Port Terminal by FOA

day 18_Tokyo_urban farm

Stumbled upon it one day, while roaming the streets of Tokyo... and after entering I was amazed how pleasant the interior environment was! The green facade was not bad either, but the pairing of a typical office building with urban farming was just so clever and simple. Why don’t we have more of this in our cities?

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 close-up of the 'living' facade

close-up of the 'living' facade

Pasona Group Headquarters statement: “Aiming for an amicable working environment with ‘Symbiosis with Nature’ as a concept, there are numerous mechanisms that are eco-friendly in the office. Fruits and vegetables grow in the office walls and ceilings. Also, there are more than 200 types of vegetables and fruits in the veranda of the building. It is a healing spot where you can enjoy all four seasons while living in the city.”

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day 17_Tokyo_fancy Ginza

  

 Kumiko Inui, Dior (2004)

Kumiko Inui, Dior (2004)

 Toyo Ito, Mikimoto (2005)

Toyo Ito, Mikimoto (2005)

 Jun Aoki, Louis Vitton (2004)

Jun Aoki, Louis Vitton (2004)

 Jun Mitsui & Associates, De Beers (2008)

Jun Mitsui & Associates, De Beers (2008)

 Renzo Piano, Maison Hermes (2001)

Renzo Piano, Maison Hermes (2001)

day 15_Hiroshima_Tange: Peace Memorial Museum and Park

I purposely avoided any Kenzo Tange building in Tokyo. I wanted to see the Peace Memorial Museum and Park first, since this was Tange's first work that brought him recognition not only in Japan, but also in the West. Tange introduced a new architectural language to postwar Japan which had been stifled by traditional vocabulary in the prewar period. Unfortunately, the new language exhibited here became almost a cliché for Japan’s postwar Modernism afterward. The master plan, which he was so praised for, cannot be more modernist – the strong axis cutting through the park visually connects the main exhibition hall with the Atomic Bomb Dome Monument (see below). The use of concrete, the flat roof, the rational frame structure, all of it was modern in every way. Nevertheless, Tange is considered one of the most influential architects in Japan’s history - I like to think of him as Le Corbusier of the East. With his monumental designs, constant reinterpretation of tradition and modernity, and his interest in technological expression, Tange played an instrumental role in the development of modern Japanese architecture, and perhaps more importantly, he was critical in the development of the Metabolist movement - the last avant-garde movement in architecture (again, more detailed explanation of Metabolism coming shortly. One thing at a time.). The Peace Memorial Park and Museum clearly show Tange’s fascination with Le Corbusier’s sculptural forms and his grand visions for the modern city. I remember reading that Tange was determined to “try to uncover the secret of [Le Corbusier’s] appeal.” I’m not sure whether he succeeded in his determination here in Hiroshima; however, with the unique blend of Western modernism, Japanese traditions, and a hint of brutalism, he created a building with a very recognizable Japanese identity that certainly appealed to me.

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There is a certain lightness that the building possesses, despite the massive pilotis - columns - that support it. But even those appear as such only when viewed perpendicularly, from below the belly of the building. From a distance, they appear to be thin planes that are barely capable of supporting the rectangular volume above. Not to mention the undulating curves that delineate the profile of each column. The outermost columns look like a wavy piece of fabric (something I did not expect at all in the rational modernist structure!). The curvature and a slight slant give each column an uneasy sense of instability, as if they could shift and fold under the weight of the building any minute.

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The concrete surface appears smoother, lighter, and cleaner than I expected, resistant to weather and urban decay that is so typical of many pour-in-place concrete brutalist structures (unless the building is under incredibly strict preservation laws). And even Le Corbusier's brise-soleil (permanent sun-shading devices) gets a new Japanese twist to it, as if Tange was trying to infuse the heavy modern Western architecture with the fineness of structure, transparency and airiness of traditional Japanese buildings.

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 One of the two 'hanging' staircases.

One of the two 'hanging' staircases.

 The strong axis cutting through the park.

The strong axis cutting through the park.

 The Atomic Bomb Dome Monument, one of the few structures still standing.

The Atomic Bomb Dome Monument, one of the few structures still standing.

day 15_"My Dream After 50 Years"

I want to be a shell.  I want to be a shell. In the peaceful world I do nothing but opening and closing my shell. Nothing can be better than this. This is the "heaven of lazy people." Soon the time will come that everything will be done by machine. The only thing we have to do will be dreaming. It seems that I have become a shell, deep into all kinds of illusions. Suddenly I think of a wonderful plan. Yes, let's do it! I get up.

I want to be a god. 

I want to be a god. I hear the voice from the heaven. I am a prophet. Well, maybe I am a god myself. I order architects to build four-dimensional "universal architecture," so the plan must be drawn in three-dimensional geometry. Who will draw it? Masato Otaka? Kiyonori Kikutake? Or Noriaki Kurokawa? But the architects can only build three-dimensional space. I am the only one who can grasp the four-dimensional space. So I deserve to be a god.

I want to be a bacterium.

I want to be a bacterium. Mad, dogmatic, and fanatic are the negative words put on me. But being a god is too insipid. Perhaps I stick too much to the image of "myself." I must cast away my self-consciousness, and fuse myself into mankind and solely become part of it. I have to reach the state of selflessness. In the future, man will fill the whole earth, and fly into the sky. I am a cell of bacteria that is in constant propagation. After several decades, with the rapid progress of communication technology, every one will have a "brain wave receiver" in his ear, which conveys directly and exactly what other people think about him and vice versa. What I think will be known by all the people. There is no more individual consciousness, only the will of mankind as a whole. It is not different from the will of the bacteria.

_ a poem by Noboru Kawazoe, an architectural critic and former editor of Shinkenchiku (New Architecture), published in 1960 as part of the Metabolist manifesto.

I will return to Metabolism and its protagonists in the next few days, but for now, I just wanted to post this essay. Today I visited Kenzo Tange's Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which had a great impact on me (images to follow shortly). I feel like this essay is somewhat representative of the feelings Japanese architects had during the post-war era, questioning their role in society and the future of mankind in general.