1960 A Plan for Tokyo : City as Process

When the living functions of organisms differentiate, and perform the composite function of life, the centripetal pattern evolves into a system of parallel lines grouped around an axis formed of a spine and arteries.”


Illustration of the growth of an organism in Tange’s Plan for Tokyo to justify the city’s linear extension

Tange, like the Metabolists, compared the transformation of the city structure with the evolution and growth of living organisms, both from a radial form to a linear form. Most organisms initially grow in radial form, but as they mature and are required to perform more complex functions, the radial pattern is no longer suitable so it evolves into a linear one, and cities are likewise. Although the project remained unrealized and the practicality and efficiency of the linear transportation system was questioned. His mega-form arouses debates surrounding the concept of ‘metabolic cycle’ and architecture’s adaptability to growth and change.


Model of Tange Pivotal City.

Tange sees the city as an organic process that is constantly flowing and changing. In the Plan for Tokyo, Tange proposed a linear megastructure based on a ‘fixed’ open network of highways and subways around which a ‘transient’ program, A-frame residential units, would accrete according to the demand of the residents.


Kenzo Tange and student of MIT | Urbanización del Puerto de Boston | 1958 | Models


These A-frame megastructure units were similar to his previous urban project in the Boston bay area, 1958. They should operate as artificial land where residents could construct their own house.[i] Tange tried to translate the theory of longer lifecycles (the A shape structures) and the shorter lifecycles (the individual residents) in his plans.

Peter Smithson, member of Team 10, criticizes that the A-shaped residential blocks with their gigantic dimensions contain basic design mistakes, which many have problem in receiving daylight. In addition, he thinks that the concept of each men building their own house would be too ideal in this over-populated city.

The main structure was criticized by Architect and Metabolist Fumihiko Maki, that it would soon be outdated. Although the megastructure allowed for changeable infill, it could become obsolete. The mega-transportation system that aim to separate the pedestrians and automobiles would sacrifice human scale in the city. Once built, it could be highly efficient, but hardly flexible. ­­

Also, the megastructure approach had no distinction between the scale of the city and the architecture. The scheme was overly simple comparing to a real city, which is much more complex. In addition, the massive infrastructure works would take many years and cost a fortune.

To conclude, the plan for Tokyo were left unimplemented but it has great influence to the future development of urban planning in Tokyo and the reclamation of the coast of Tokyo bay. The bold proposal build a new vision of Japan’s urban planning in the 60s. Rem Koolhaas commented the Metabolist’s proposals and projects as “the last movement that changed architecture”.


Work cited

[i] Maki F. Investigations in Collective Form, Washington University press, 1964, p. 11

Zhongje Lin. Urban structure for the expanding metropolis: Kenzo Tange’s 1960 Plan for Tokyo, Locke Science Publishing Company, Inc. summer,2007

Zhongje Lin. Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan, Routledge, 2010


1 Comment on “1960 A Plan for Tokyo : City as Process

  1. The idea of comparing the growth of a city to that of a human organism reminds me of the concept of Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine (a utopian city with radial design), and that of Ville Radieuse ( a linear city based upon the abstract shape of the human body with head, spine, arms and legs. In Ville Radieuse, the design includes the idea of high-rise housing blocks laid out in long lines in shifting position, free circulation and sufficient green spaces. Was there any connection between Tange and Le Corbusier’s similar concept on city planning? Was Tange inspired by the latter one?

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