Tokyo | Bibliography | Hiroyuki Suzuki

Hiroyuki Suzuki is an architectural historian and professor at the University of Tokyo during early 70s, and was a strong proponent for modernist approach to Japanese architecture. In his book “Contemporary Architecture of Japan, 1958 – 1984,” he mentioned several interesting focus for direction of Japanese architectural development in relation with 1960 societal change. From his point of view 1960s were the time when industrial development had driven the approach of Japanese architecture.

1955 – 1964, era defined as “Legenda Aurea” (latin for Golden Legend)

“The government’s income-doubling program laid down the condition under which architects would expand their range of activities, while the launching of Nissho-maru, a 130, 000 ton supertanker on July 10, 1962, proclaimed the real beginning of petrochemical industry. The architects’ role was to delineate the spatial form for the ever-expanding society. Most of the architects in the early 1960s built in ferro-concrete in an attempt to clearly express the structure and construction of the design – a method ideally suited to the spirit of the times.”

“It was during the 1960s that what [Kurokawa] called “the structure” was the ruling concept in architecture. Architects were seen as prophets who disclosed the future as a structure. Whatever direction society might take, everybody realized that they were looking towards the future. However, if it was the dynamism or the growth and development of society that inspired architects to create images of the future, that same dynamism also very naturally should have inspired the actual activity of construction, which in fact it did. The architectural industry more than the visions of architects were the real center of strength.”

Although the post is quite general in terms of its reference to Japanese architecture as a whole, substantial number of  examples given are located in Tokyo. Tokyo can be viewed not only the physical center of Japan, but also as the mental root of modernist Japanese ideas of Metabolism.

Hiroyuki Suzuki describes mid 1960s to early 70s as the “The Era of the Amoral”. The use of “amoral” as the topic name is interesting as the era was indeed inundated with technical advancement, to which the advancement of architectural ideas was difficulty catching up with the speed of urban sprawl and construction of the city. Some quotes are taken from the book.

“New Towns like Senri, Kozoji, and Tama were nothing less than adjuncts to large high-density cities. The residents of the new towns were a working population whose livelihood depended on the cities, and their life patterns became the standard for all Japanese. Family life and office were separated in both time and space, in conformity with a lifestyle typical in modern society. The architects who had proposed audacious images of the city at the beginning of the 1960s would hardly participate in the process of large-scale reorganization of the nation’s land and the transformed purpose of its living space. They could only hope to play a small part during this transition.”

“From then on, architects’ visions rapidly receded from real social concerns. Outpaced by actual events they hid behind the fictiousness of art. Yet Japanese society during that time was clearly different from anything in the West, though it was modelled on Western society. Already highly industrialized, it had no analogy among conventional societies.”

“Japan was now bringing its own particular modernisation program to completion. From the point of view of design, total floor space in traditional Japanese wooden buildings fell below that of concrete or steel-frame buildings just before the opening of the Olympics (from the standpoint of cost, this shift had occurred five years earlier). Almost all public buildings, schools, offices and hospitals were being made of concrete or steel and could effectively be compared with other current architectural expression worldwide. But the housing situation in Japan presented a particular problem. Although the Housing Loan Corporation Law of 1959 and the Japan Housing corporation law of 1955 – the two pillars of Japanese housing policy – provided an impetus to construction with both direct and indirect loans, an overwhelming number of houses designed directly by architects were independently financed.”


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