Hiroshima/ Isamu Noguchi: Bringing back Traditional Japanese architecture

Although Kenzo Tange was the main curator of the planning of the Memorial Peace Park, there were other influences that contributed to the overall design of the park, and one of them was Isamu Noguchi. Noguchi was the game changer in the planning of the park. He was the protagonist who instigated the emergence of Japanese tradition in the park planning.

Noguchi was a renowned Japanese-American sculptor. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Japanese-Americans in the United States had a dramatic personal effect on Noguchi, motivating him to become a political activist. He did not belong to any particular movement, but he dedicated himself into spreading awareness of patriotism among the Japanese-Americans. During his stay in Japan from the 1950-1952, he encouraged the Japanese to “discover Japan” and to reevaluate their cultural roots.

In 1950, Tange and mayor of Hiroshima invited Noguchi to participate in the planning of Memorial Peace Park. His engagement led to some modification from Tange’s original proposal. Noguchi was given the task to design the cenotaph. His design derived purely from early Japanese art and culture, and it resembled Japanese traditional artifacts, such as ancient curved beads called magatama, terracotta tomb haniwa(figure 2), or the bronze ceremonial bell called dotaku(figure 3).

Figure 1: proposal of Cenotoph by Isamu Nogachi
Figure 1: proposal of Cenotoph by Isamu Nogachi

Features of design:

1. Two facing structures: a rectangular platform serving as a liminal space and a dome-like arch serving as the main sanctuary.

2. The main sanctuary featured an underground space into which visitors would have been able to descend through a stairway to face a granite box inscribed with the names of nuclear victims

Figure 2: Haniwa figure of house clay, from the Kofun period (300 CE to 710 CE)
Figure 2: Haniwa figure of house clay, from the Kofun period (300 CE to 710 CE)
Figure 3: Dotaku, from Kagawa Prefecture
Figure 3: Dotaku, from Kagawa Prefecture

 

Image reference: Tokyo National Museum, http//webarchives.tnm.jp/archives/, accessed 25 July 2012.

Unfortunately, due to Noguchi’s nationality, his proposal for the cenotaph was rejected by the committee of the Construction of the Peace Memorial City. Tange took over the design afterwards, incorporating both his own design and Noguchi’s rejected design.

Eventhough there were many American influences on the planning of the park indirectly, the direct step in of Noguchi was not acceptable to the Japanese, but because of Noguchi, debates about redefining Japanese culture and traditions were reignited, and the transformation from a modernist style back to the traditional Japanese one was slowly implemented.

Reference:

The Noguchi Museum, http://www.noguchi.org/noguchi/biography

Journal: HYUNJUNG, C (2012) Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Making of Japanese Postwar Architecture. Journal of Architectural Education. 66 (1). p.72-83.

1 Comment on “Hiroshima/ Isamu Noguchi: Bringing back Traditional Japanese architecture

  1. The research so far as done well to investigate the relationships between national sentiments, US interests, “traditional” Japanese culture and planning priorities, but there needs to be more documentation on the physical architectural/planning implications of these relationships. It would be interesting to see the memorial park plan versus the completed version. It would be interesting to see the memorial park in the larger context of the city. It would be interesting to see the city fabric before and after the attack with notations highlighting the major similarities and differences. Without physical evidence these cultural observations have very little weight, despite their relevance.

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