Japanese Architecture In Late Showa Period


Japanese architecture in late Showa periodAfter the war and under the influence of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, Japanese political and religious life was reformed to produce a demilitarised and democratic country. Although a new constitution was established in 1947, it was not until the beginning of the Korean War that Japan (as an ally of the United States) saw a growth in its economy brought about by the manufacture of industrial goods.

In 1946 the Prefabricated Housing Association was formed to try and address the chronic shortage of housing, and architects like Kunio Maekawa submitted designs. However, it was not until the passing of the Public Housing Act in 1951 that housing built by the private sector was supported in law by the government. Also in 1946, the War Damage Rehabilitation Board put forward ideas for the reconstruction of thirteen Japanese cities. Architect Kenz? Tange submitted proposals for Hiroshima and Maebashi.

In 1949, Tange's winning competition entry to design the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum gave him international acclaim. The project (completed in 1955) led to a series of commissions including the Kagawa Prefectural Office Building in Takamatsu (1958) and Old Kurashiki City Hall (1960). At this time both Tange and Maekawa were interested in the tradition of Japanese architecture and the influence of local character. This was illustrated at Kagawa with elements of Heian period design fused with the International Style.

In 1955, Le Corbusier was asked by the Japanese government to design the National Museum of Western Art in T?ky?. He was assisted by his three former students: Maekawa, Sakakura and Takamasa Yoshizaka. The design was based upon Le Corbusier's museum in Ahmedabab, and both of the museums are square and raised on piloti.
Due largely to the influence of Tange, the 1960 World Design Conference was held in T?ky?. A small group of Japanese designers who came to represent the Metabolist Movement presented their manifesto and a series of projects. The group included the architects Kiyonori Kikutake, Masato ?taka, Kisho Kurokawa and Fumihiko Maki. Originally known as the Burnt Ash School, the Metabolists associated themselves with idea of renewal and regeneration, rejecting visual representations of the past and promoting the idea that the individual, the house and the city were all parts of a single organism. Although the individual members of the group went in their own directions after a few years the enduring nature of their publications meant that they had a longer presence overseas. The international symbol of the Metabolists, the capsule, emerged as an idea in the late 1960s and was demonstrated in Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower in T?ky? in 1972.
In the 1960s Japan saw the both the rise and the expansion of large construction firms, including the Shimizu Corporation and Kajima. Nikken Sekkei emerged as a comprehensive company that often included elements of Metabolist design in its buildings.

The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo saw a large boost to new design. Venues were constructed and the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, built between 1961 and 1964 by Kenzo Tange, became a landmark structure famous for its suspension roof design, recalling traditional elements of Shinto shrines. Other structures include the Nippon Budokan, the Komazawa Gymnasium and many others. The Olympic Games symbolised the re-emergence of Japan after the destruction of World War II, reflecting the new confidence in its architecture.
During the 1960s there were also architects who did not see the world of architecture in terms of Metabolism. For example Kazuo Shinohara specialised in small residential projects in which he explored traditional architecture with simple elements in terms of space, abstraction and symbolism. In the Umbrella House (1961) he explored the spatial relationship between the doma (earth-paved internal floor) and the raised tatami floor in the living room and sleeping room. This relationship was explored further with the House with an Earthen floor (1963) where a tamped-down earthen floor was included in the kitchen area. His use of a roof to anchor his design for the House in White (1966) has been compared with Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Houses. Shinohara explored these abstractions as "Three Styles", which were periods of design that stretched from the early sixties to the mid seventies.
A former employee of Kenzo Tange was Arata Isozaki who was initially interested in the Metabolist Movement and produced innovative theoretical projects for the City in the Air (1961) and Future City (1962). However he soon moved away from this towards a more Mannerist approach similar to the work of James Stirling. This was particularly striking at the Oita Branch for Fukuoka Mutual (1967) with its mathematical grids, concrete construction and exposed services. In the Gunma Prefectural Museum (1971–74) he experimented with cubic elements (some of them twelve metres to a side) overlaid by a secondary grid expressed by the external wall panels and fenestration. This rhythm of panelling may have been influenced by Corbusier's detailing on the Museum of Western Art in T?ky?.
Japanese cities where they lack European-like piazzas and squares often emphasise the relationship of people with the everyday workings of the street. Fumihiko Maki was one of a number of architects who were interested in the relationship of architecture and the city and this can be seen in works like ?saka Prefectural Sports Centre (1972) and Spiral in T?ky? (1985). Likewise, Takefuma Aida (member of the group known as ArchiteXt) rejected the ideas of the Metabolist Movement and explored urban semiology.

In the late seventies and early eighties Tadao Ando's architecture and theoretical writings explored the idea of Critical regionalism – the idea of promoting local or national culture within architecture. Ando's interpretation of this was demonstrated by his idea of reacquainting the Japanese house with nature, a relationship he thought had been lost with Modernist architecture. His first projects were for small urban houses with enclosed courtyards (such as the Azuma House in ?saka in 1976). His architecture is characterised by the use of concrete, but it has been important for him to use the interplay of light, through time, with this and other materials in his work. His ideas about the integration of nature converted well into larger projects such as the Rokk? Housing 1 (1983) (on a steep site on Mount Rokk?) and the Church on the Water (1988) in Tomamu, Hokkaid?.
The late eighties saw the first work by architects of the so-called "Shinohara" school. This included Toy? It? and Itsuko Hasegawa who were both interested in urban life and the contemporary city. It? concentrated on the dynamism and mobility of the city's "urban nomads" with projects like the Tower of Winds (1986) which integrated natural elements like light and wind with those of technology. Hasegawa concentrated on what she termed "architecture as another nature". Her Sh?nandai Cultural Centre in Fujisawa (1991) combined the natural environment with new high-tech materials.
Highly individualist architects of the late eighties included the monumental buildings of Shin Takamatsu and the "cosmic" work of Masaharu Takasaki. Takasaki, who worked with the Austrian architect Günther Domenig in the 1970s shares Domenig's organic architecture. His Zero Cosmology House of 1991 in Kagoshima Prefecture constructed from concrete has a contemplative egg-shaped "zero space" at its centre.