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Name   Kurashiki Town Hall
     
Architects   TANGE, KENZO
     
Date   1960
     
Address   2-6-1, JP 710-0046
     
School   METABOLISTS
     
Floor Plan    
     
Description    
   

One of the most heartening proofs of the continuing vitality of modern architecture is the way Japanese architects have not gone the expected way, Western pundits critics and informed circles generally had the forward path, for Japanese architecture mapped out as a confluence of the native Sukiya tradition (informal, black-and-white in the manner of the Katsura Palace) and the Mondriaan wing of European abstract art; the outcome was expected to be something like Mies van der Rohe, and they had even picked the architect who was going to do it: Junzo Sakakura, designer of the sweet and elegant Japanese pavilion at the Paris exhibition of 1937.

It is with real relief that one reports that everybody was wrong, and that Sakakura’s fine-drawn early architecture has been trampled underfoot in the stampede to create the real Japanese modern architecture. under the undoubted leadership of Kenzo Tange, who established himself in half-a-dozen years as one of the world's outstanding architects. Tange's architecture, most eloquently summed up in the Town Hall he designed for Kurashiki, under the enlightened patronage of the Ohara clan, is an architecture of enormous mass, fortress-like solidity, aggressively three-dimensional plasticity. Where the West had expected steel to be used as the equivalent of the slender wooden posts of the Sukiya tradition. Tange uses concrete beams as the equivalents of the tree-trunk columns and thundering wooden bracketing of Japanese monumental architecture. The town hall stands on a ponderous concrete chassis raised on substantial, no-nonsense columns that batter (i.e. taper) inwards towards the top, like the lower walls of some shogun fortress. The longer side-beams of this chassis erupt at the ends in two sub-beams, like the ends of some planking system, and the same sort of device, but protruding in hath directions and interlocking, happens at the corners of the roof slab. In between, the main walls are apparently built up of horizontal concrete planks (some of them omitted to make windows) which collide and interlock at the corners of the block in a manner that says ‘log-cabin’ in any language. The originality of all this is so striking and so exciting that it is difficult to believe that Tange has arrived at it in a matter of five years from his prim, square, Mieso-Corbusian city hall for Tokyo.

Whatever Mies had to contribute to Tange’s style is buried and forgotten now, but the Corbusian inspiration shows through even at Kurashiki. The council chamber has been fairly described as Ronchamp-inside-out, or floating cocoon within the structure of the building. The slope of the ceiling becomes the rake of the ramped seating of a complementary outdoor auditorium on the roof, and this contributes an irregular diagonal element to the silhouette, in contrast to the square block below, much as Le Corbusier often uses roof-top irregularities to sot off the standard grids of his facades.

 But the entrance hall reveals a positively meta-Corbusian style. The stairwell is dark, overscale. The stair ascends in straight flights, left-handed with a half-landing, cantilevered out from walls that are roughly shutter-patterned exposed concrete, relieved — if that is the word - by window openings that are like nothing so much as mediaeval firing-alite. The effects have been called Piranesian, which in justifiable as long as the term is only applied to the lighting, the spatial play. But there in nothing of Piranesi or his inflated classicism about any element that one could actually touch, with the hand. These, as we now begin to see, are the inevitable result of a union of French rationalist thinking about concrete as a manner of building in post and beams (Tange clearly knows his Corbusier), and o Japanese manner of thinking of architecture as the massive combination of heroically sealed horizontals and uprights. The result transcends both, and gives an architecture whose reciprocal effect on theWest may he sensational. For, with the appearance of Tange, Japanese architecture vases to be a colonial export from Europe, and becomes an independent national style in its own very emphatic right. What is more, Tange himself becomes a figure of world influence, particularly afterthe world had seen his two swimming pools for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Hix reputation could give strength to those with whom he was associated - when Japan's revolutionary 'Metabolist’ group of visionary architects burst upon the scene in those same years, their projects for giant urban megastructures gained credibility from the fact that Tange was also doing megastructures in the same vein.

 

Banham R. Age of the Masters: A Personal View of Modern Architecture. Harper & Row., 1975. P. 82-84.

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