Kyoto, the former capital of Japan and its center of traditional culture, is situated in the country's heartland; its larger metropolitan area is interwoven with two other major centers in the Kansai region: Osaka and Kobe. One of the few Japanese cities not to have been bombed during the Second World War, Kyoto houses numerous ancient buildings. Major socioeconomic changes transformed most Japanese cities since the mid-19th century and did not bypass Kyoto; nonetheless, these historic structures form the backdrop and reference for contemporary architecture.
Kyoto was established in 794 as the capital city on a site surrounded on three sides by mountains and crossed by two main rivers, the Kamogawa and the Katsuragawa. It is one of the few Japanese cities laid out on a grid following the design of imperial Chinese cities. Inspired in particular by the Tang dynasty city of Chang'an, its regular layout contrasts with the maze of Tokyo's urban landscape and the organic design of most other Japanese cities.
European and American architecture, introduced to Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, was considered a status symbol in efforts to modernize Japan. It was particularly well-suited to the outward-looking new national center, Tokyo, but it also entered the architectural world of Kyoto when the city was struggling to redefine its role after the loss of the capital city function. The Ryukoku University Main Building (1879), the Daiichi Kangyo Bank (1906) by Kingo Tatsuno, or the Kyoto Prefectural Library (1909) by Goichi Takeda are examples of Western influences. Not all accepted the new forms. The French Second Empire style, such as Kyoto National Museum (1895), and particularly its predecessor, the Nara Imperial Museum (1894), by Tokuma Katayama, provoked debate at the time of construction.
In reaction to these Western-style buildings, the new Nara Prefectural Office (1895) by Uheiji Nagano combined the size and layout of a contemporary building with an overall Japanese look in the design of the roofs and the entrance space. Conceived as a modern "Japanese-style" architecture (kindai wafu-kenchiku), and not an imitation of traditional forms, the new Japanese style quickly spread to other building types and places in Japan. Examples in Kyoto are the Nijo Station (1904) and the Minamiza Kabuki theater (1929), the latter featuring reinforced concrete in combination with traditional forms. The traditional Kyoto landscape was particularly suited for the Kitamura House (1963) by Isoya Yoshida, a Japanese architect convinced that Japanese could not rival European buildings and who focused on reinterpreting and modernizing traditional Japanese forms.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Kyoto also saw the construction of several modernist buildings, such as the Toba High School Main Hall (1931), the Kyoto Institute of Technology University Main Building (1931), and the Kansai Denryoku Kyoto Branch (1937), the latter by Goichi Takeda. Their number, however, is significantly smaller than in Tokyo. The few modern buildings in Kyoto that received international attention were conceived in the postwar period. Nonetheless, even these buildings responded to the historic environment. Kunio Maekawa's Kyoto Hall (1960) preceded the Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall by a year; while displaying many similar features, the forms and materials used in Kyoto are restrained compared to Tokyo so as not to compete with the nearby Heian Shrine. Contemporary architects largely respected the horizontal Kyoto skyline; the only vertical landmark introduced was the Kyoto Tower by Mamoru Yamada (1964). The most surprising building in the subdued Kyoto environment is the Kyoto International Conference Hall (1966, addition 1973) by Sachio Ohtani, a member of the Metabolist group. Based on a hexagonal structural system practically without vertical columns or walls, the building pays homage to the roofs of traditional Japanese buildings and particularly the Ise Shrine using modernist forms. The particular spirit of the city and its narrow paths inspired even a foreigner, David Chipperfield. His Toyota Auto Kyoto building (1991) reflects the old city in its interweaving of different functions and relates to the mountains surrounding Kyoto.
Whereas few foreigners built in Kyoto, Tokyo-based architects who adapted their formal language to the particular context designed numerous major contemporary buildings. Fumihiko Maki's Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (1986) is limited in height in accordance with the historic/scenic zone where it is built, and the gridiron pattern of the facade reflects the grid plan of the city. Arata Isozaki's Kyoto Symphony Hall (1995) is associated with Kyoto's commemoration in 1994 of the 1200th anniversary of the city's founding. The three geometric-form volumes - a rectangular box, a cylinder, and a cubic lattice - are arranged on three urban axes hidden in ancient Kyoto.
The largest and most important urban change is the construction of the new Kyoto Station building (1997). Conceived during the bubble period as part of a larger regional development project focused on the Kansai airport, it reflects Kyoto's attempts at attracting tourists. Following the privatization of the Japanese national railway JR, the new owner, JR Nishi Nihon, conceived a redevelopment plan in cooperation with the city of Kyoto. Aimed at revitalizing the station area, it integrates numerous functions usually found in the vicinity of a station such as hotels, department stores, theaters, shops, and restaurants. The new building, designed by the Tokyo architect Hiroshi Hara, resulted from a 1990 competition. Hara proposed a high-density, low-rise structure to conform with the horizontal landscape of Kyoto but consciously opted against assimilation with traditional architecture. Instead, he conceived the 230,000-square-meter building in the spirit of the great railway stations of the 19th century. Transportation functions take up only 15 percent of the ground floor, and the great glass roof covers primarily the commercial functions. The entrance hall takes the form of a valley between two mountains, the western "slope" being designed as a huge staircase. A "skywalk," featured previously in Hara's Umeda Sky Building (1993) in Osaka, provides a promenade inside the roof structure and links both wings of the building to allow a wide view over the city. The commercial function took precedence over an additional link across the rails.
For the time being, only one underpass and one overpass connect the 470-meter (1,540 feet) building with the south of the city. The traditional urban landscape of Kyoto is the backdrop to numerous contemporary small-scale buildings, many of which are designed by architects of the Kansai region. Tadao Ando's minimalist architecture and the exotic, mechanical structures of Shin Takamatsu have become particularly famous. Ando has created one of his best urban projects in Kyoto: the Time's (1984) and Time's IT (1991) building complex. Located in a popular neighborhood close to the Sanjo-Ohashi Bridge, the building faces a busy street while extending alongside the river, the Takasegawa. Ando used this location to create a layered system of interwoven interior and exterior spaces accessible through various staircases as well as a curving deck at the water level that functions as an oasis of calmness in the bustling city. This area is also home to several buildings by Takamatsu, the Pontocho-no-Ochaya (Yoshida House) (1982), Cella (1991), and Maruto Building 4 (1987).
The fantastic architecture of Takamatsu, reminiscent of 1920 Expressionist sketches, is based on mechanical references and High-Tech forms. The Ark Building (Nishina Dental Clinic) (1983) is one of Takamatsu's most powerful images of machinery, a horizontal silvery cylinder laid over a rectangular concrete volume crowned by lanterns reminiscent of smoke stacks. His buildings feature strong contrasts in materials, such as the combination of highly polished granite and copper rivets in Origin (1981). The building has been extended as Origin 2 (1982) and Origin 3 (1986), the latter displaying an aggressive look more typical of Takamatsu's design. On Kitayama Street in the north of Kyoto, Takamatsu designed the Week Building (1986) and the Kitayama Inn '23 (1987), as well as the noted Syntax Building (1990). The latter, a four-story construction with two basement levels, houses shops and restaurants. Its most astonishing characteristic is two cantilevering features on the rooftop stretching their arms over neighboring houses seemingly searching for future connections. Tadao Ando's B-Lock Kitayama (1990) and his Garden of Fine Arts (1994), a peaceful oasis in the bustle of the city, are also located on this street.
Other notable examples of small-scale architecture in Kyoto are the Maruto Buildings #15 (1990) and #17 (1991) in Kyoto's Gion district by Hiroyuki Wakabayashi, who uses a language similar to that of Takamatsu. Wakabayashi, known for his avant-garde buildings, has also responded to the historic environment by transforming a traditional building for his office: the Studio Arch Wakabayashi (1990). Closer to Ando's formal language are Waro Kishi's houses in Kamigyo (1990), Nakagyo (1993), and Shimogamo (1995) that demonstrate his capacity to use simple elements to make complex forms and his desire to translate Japanese elements into modern design.
Many recent buildings have been erected on the outskirts of the city or even in the larger metropolitan area. Jun Tamaki's Tofu (1997) house for an elderly couple is built on a housing estate on the western side of Kyoto. This white building suggests a block or lump, filled with some homogenous material, floating above the ground surface. It is organized around a central area that functions as reception, dining, living, and bedroom and gives access to the other service rooms. Large deep windows underline the lump-like character of the building. Another site for contemporary construction is the Kansai Science City in the hills of the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara area, where the Kyoto-Kagaku Research Institute by War Kishi is located.
Traditional forms continue to influence contemporary construction in Kyoto. The importance given to the city's history is reflected in the recent discussion to build a replica of the Paris Pont des Arts as a pedestrian bridge over the Kamogawa to celebrate the Year of France in Japan. The proposal, seen as an opportunity to showcase public art in Kyoto, was abandoned in 1998 after heavy criticism for borrowing from the West in the context of traditional Kyoto.
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture,Vol.2 (G-O). Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.