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Retrospective: Japanese architect of renown-Kenzo Tange

As part of MGS Architecture's ongoing series on award winning international architects, Varsha Trehan profiles three Japanese architects who set the trend and broke the boundaries of traditional design with a unique fusion of their Japanese sensibilities with a global influence.

Kenzo Tange (September 4, 1913-22 March 2005)

Retrospective: Japanese architects of renown-Tange, Maki and Ando
World renowned architect, famous for developing a style that was a "remix" fusion, Kenzo Tange revived awareness of Japanese architectural traditions with a contemporary architectural form. Treating every project as a springboard to the next challenge of a new project, he moved into the future.

Background Influences

Born in Osaka, Tange completed his junior high school in Imabari, Ehime prefecture. It was during his graduate studies at the University of Tokyo's Department of Architecture that he turned towards urban design. His attraction for Renaissance architecture especially Michelangelo's work and the monumental structures of Rome and Greece saw him introduce the public meeting space or "communication" space as a revolution to the Japanese culture.

His designs for a Far East memorial building sponsored by the Japanese Architectural Institute and a Japanese-Thai cultural center in Bangkok were award winners in 1942 and 1943, even before he graduated in 1945.

On graduating, he joined the office of Kunio Maekawa, a prominent disciple of Le Corbusier. Maekawa was also influenced by Antonin Raymond in Japan. Under the umbrella of this mentor, Tange's design philosophy was then nurtured and groomed over a period of four years.

Tange, as an assistant professor in the University of Tokyo Graduate School was involved with teaching. The Tange Laboratory was a cauldron of ideas bubbling over from the minds of young associates. Tange's own creativity blossomed with these interactions and expressed itself in his work throughout his career.

Retrospective: Japanese architects of renown-Tange, Maki and Ando

In 1949, he submitted the winning entry for the competition to redesign post-1945 Hiroshima. With an exposed concrete structure and architectural elements his design for the Hiroshima Peace Park and Peace Memorial reflects the Le Corbusier influence and marked the start of his private practice. The Pritzker Prize citation described his Gymnasium for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics as "among the most beautiful buildings of the 20th Century". Kenzo Tange and URTEC (acronym for urban architect) was formed in 1957.

Retrospective: Japanese architects of renown-Tange, Maki and Ando
During the 1960s Tange, and later Fumiko Maki, led a distinctly Japanese movement in modern architecture called “metabolism”. His plan for the structural re-organization of Tokyo, 1960 adapted an urban matrix with structural order, expression and urban 'communication space'. He had responded to the basis of an urban structure that would permit growth and change. This architectural notion was carried forward in his award winning proposal for the reconstruction of Skopje, Yugoslavia.

At the Tokyo Cathedral, where later in 2005 Kenzo Tange's funeral was held, there was an architectural exploration of the plastic nature of the suspended structural form. It marked his transition away from the Corbusian influence.

The mid-70s to the early 80s saw Kenzo Tange going international over a stretch of over 20 nations. Benchmarks in design were the OUB Center (1985) and the UOB Plaza (1995) redefining the Singapore skyline with its height of 280m. While the Kuwait Embassy and Chancery Building in Tokyo and the University of Oran in Algeria show a development of a metabolic architecture his later smaller individual projects reflect his return to the aesthetics of the late modern movement.

In a joint effort with Naburo Kawazoe, Tange has expressed his aesthetic principles in publications like Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture (1960), with a foreword by Walter Gropius, and Ise: Prototype of Japanese Architecture (1965).

Kenzo Tange advocated the progress of architecture through permitting a leeway to young architects to their expression. If the expression of reality is considered modernism, then the architectural expression of a shift from an agrarian to an industrial to an information-based society must also be a type of modernism.

Through his career span Kenzo Tange earned to his credit several awards, both national and international. Notable among them are The Gold Medal from American Institute of Architects, U.S.A., Diploma of Merit from International Olympic Committee, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal in Architecture, U.S.A., Medal of Honor by Pacific Rim Council on Urban Development, ROC and The Order of the Legion of Honor, France.

MGS Architecture January 2007


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