Kisho Kurokawa New Wave Japanese Architecture

KKEco KKKExhibition Catalogue

The day before 1 visited him in his eleventh floor office overlooking the lush gardens of the Emperor's residence, a rare patch of green in central Tokyo, Kisho Kurokawa had given a lecture to over 800 influential business people on his views for the future tendency in the Japanese economy. His thirty year old belief that mankind is about to leave the machine age and enter a new "Age of Life" era has now officially been adopted by the Japanese government as its policy for the future. The name of this philosophical vehicle transferring the most technologically advanced nation in the world into the 21st century is called "Tomoiki", meaning co-existence-living. The English naine for this philosophy is Symbiosis.

Even by Japanese standards this prolific architect and writer has worked with extraordinary commitment and devotion since the early Sixties. His book "Inter-cultural Architecture" won the Grand Prix of literature in Japan and the English edition was last year voted best critics book by the American Institute of Architects. He is particularly proud of a modest handbook produced by a Buddhist Order and based on Symbiosis to teach Japanese monks (many of whom are devoted to the mighty yen and to selling their services), the meaning and relevance of Buddhist practice in contemporary society.

Even by Japanese standards this prolific architect and writer has worked with extraordinary commitment and devotion since the early Sixties. His book "Inter-cultural Architecture" won the Grand Prix of literature in Japan and the English edition was last year voted best critics book by the American Institute of Architects. He is particularly proud of a modest handbook produced by a Buddhist Order and based on Symbiosis to teach Japanese monks (many of whom are devoted to the mighty yen and to selling their services), the meaning and relevance of Buddhist practice in contemporary society.

Dr. Kisho Kurokawa who was born in Nagoya and later educated at the select Tokai Buddhist high school there, is now Professor of Architecture at Tingshau University in Beijing, China. He is known as the founder of the highly influential Metabolism movement in the early 1960's and for his famous capsule hotels. In Europe he first came to public attention when he would have won the Pompidou Centre competition but for the veto of Pompidou himself, who disliked the idea of having "yellow" architecture at the Beaubourg! Happily, since' then Kisho Kurokawa Associates have produced several buildings in France, at La Defense, Aix and Nimes and are currently developing an important comprehensive arts complex for the suburb of Leuvain-la-Neuve, Brussels.

England has proved difficult, but Kurokawa did provide the outstanding installations for the Royal Academy's "Great Japan Exhibition" 1982 and in June of this year held the brief "4 Museums" exhibition at the Sadler Gallery. His practice is about to commence the daunting task of producing a new wing to Rietveld's Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Appropriately enough, van Gogh collected Ukiyo-e prints and dreamt about visiting the floating world. His work is an early example of symbiosis in Fine Art. We are all the richer for his lust for life and his liking for sunflower yellow.

Kurokawa, now in his sixtieth year, is an influential ambassador of culture. He is about to commission architects for the World Architectural Exposition scheduled for 1998 at the Japanese Railways station near Nara, the most beautiful and well preserved city in Japan. As a panelist of numerous international competitions, he has a good vantage point - rather like the view from his window - for compiling a credible attempt to document the astonishing new developments which are blossoming in the land of the rising sun. His latest book, New Wave Japanese Architecture, is a unique account of these radical developments. Kurokawa's essay introduces us to recent projects in the context of Japan's distinctive but sometimes mysterious and exclusive cultural and spiritual traditions. He has selected 28 most vigorous contemporary Nippon architects, including such familiar names as Tadao Ando, Arata Isozaki and Shin Takematsu. Two projects by each are featured, with drawings and excellent photographs and a brief text by the architect summarising the background and aspirations of each design. These architects are spread across the post-war generations but each has their roots in the "invisible" spiritual traditions of Japan. The book aims to provide a glimpse of buildings which may influence future generations worldwide.

The essay considers the culture of Japan, the character of the people, the importance and emphasis in Oriental culture on spiritual traditions of Buddhist philosophy, psychology, conditioning etc. Kurokawa discusses provisionality, a doctrine of impermanence, (just like my local builder - Ed.) the aesthetic of the temporary, dynamic floating world expressed in asymmetrical, coreless architecture which rejects consistency. We read about the emphasis on materials, the way of tea "wabi", the natural splendour of the Zen gardens. In contrast to the Western convention of moving from the general to the particular, it is the Japanese way to examine the inherent quality of the details and move from the part to the whole. Uniquely, Japanese art and architecture do not reveal their strength and distinctive qualities when viewed as a whole but rather when we examine their details and a whole new microcosm opens up.

In summarising the vast variety of talents offered by this book Kurokawa gives a fascinating account of Japanese mentality and customs which he then expands to encompass architects of the New Wave to whom he concedes a separate category. His main analysis describes five thernes, Tradition, Symbolism, Relation, Provisionality and the Poetic realm. These five are the themes of architecture and cities after the modern period. They provide the key concepts for the analysis of contemporary Japanese architecture and the New Wave that will grow to shape the architecture that will follow modem architecture, the architecture of the 21st century.

Symbiosis is the way forward to a new dynamic relationship between conflicting demands. This, Kurokawa identifies as the special feature of Japanese new wave architecture which transcends individual talents and expression. Architects who fail to employ the richness of symbiosis, such as his former pupil, Tadao Ando with his extreme simplification, is accused of not working in the Japanese manner. Ando's minimalism and highly individual style is set in the Western ideological mode. He is even more scathing about Isozaki, described as schizophrenic, sacrificing Oriental ways in favour of Occidental modernism.

Thankfully for A&A readers, this substantial book is an illustrated guide containing exceptional photographic documentation of buildings and models, including meticulously sketched schemes. Shin Takamatsu, a small practice in Kyoto, average age 26, employs the skills of an industrial designer airbrush artist. High quality sketch schemes and video animations are used after the client presentation, for exhibitions and publications. The neutrality of airbrush as a medium, despite its finesse unfortunately gives results which appear impersonal and indifferent to human tactile sensibility. It is to be hoped that the actual buildings do not inherit this tendency towards slickness with the glossy appearance of metallic vessels.

Japan is the most advanced information technology nation and in such a society the arts are pushed to the centre stage, creating a climate of great critical awareness. Developers engage up and coming architects whose distinctive designs produce added value in the information society. The added value productivity of the arts is recognised and ensures that design is as important as the functional elements of the building. The shift away from the image of the machine to the invisible information and micro technologies has led to the elevation and autonomy of the facade. The facade has become independent of the mechanical and structural rationales.

On the subject of art in relation to architecture, Kurokawa recommends bold interaction with the building: "Hold the dagger firmly and make a strong intervention", he advises,"..something which challenges the consistency of the building and creates dynamic tension". As a member of the government's 2025 group, looking into the future land use of Japan, he regularly recommends that a percentage of the capital cost should go to an artistic dimension. Maybe he should be challenged to write Percent for Art into his brief when commissioning for the 1998 World Architectural e

An Interview and Book Review. 1993  Art & Architecture Journal No 37

 

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