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.


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.


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.

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.

day 15_Journey to Hiroshima

I have not spent much time in the resurrected city of Hiroshima, but the half an hour walk from the train station to the Peace Memorial Park revealed a city just like any other. In fact, it was really not that memorable. I am not going to go into a description of Hiroshima’s terrifying history and the truly remarkable rebirth, but there is one thing I would like to mention. During the train ride from Osaka to Hiroshima, I noticed a somewhat unique pattern of urban development which crystalized for me when the train reached Hiroshima. Ten to twelve-story massive structures were dispersed throughout a field of mostly residential houses or small businesses no more than two to three stories high. The tall structures densified within and around cities, but never formed a cohesive centralized area as one would expect. Rather, they always stood in isolation, provoking disquiet. The areas looked like cities in a perpetual state of becoming—but never quite there yet.

I can only assume that these repetitive ‘monsters’ are newer housing developments built within the last ten to twenty years. Even though some of these large structures could pass for social housing, most of them appeared to be in great condition, with exterior balconies and large windows.  From what I understand, Japan just does not have urban slums, such as those in India, Brazil, or even France. (After a quick search online I found out that the average lifespan of wooden houses in Japan is around twenty years, and concrete ones about thirty. The whole country seems to be in a constant state of renewal.)