1960 A Plan for Tokyo

In 1960, the population of Tokyo had been increasing exponentially, as a result of large-scale industrialization. Roughly a quarter of the population lives in the greater Tokyo region and lead to urgent need of expansion.

Kenzo Tange, Tokyo Plan 1961

Photo of  Kenzo Tange presenting the Plan for Tokyo

the cities had grown too old to cope with the current rate of expansion” Kenzo Tange, 1961

In 1961, Kenzo Tange and his team published A Plan for Tokyo, 1960- Towards a Structural Reorganization, proposing a radical change of the fundamental of the city, in order to accommodate the city’s continued expansion and regeneration. The ‘Pivotal city’, designated for 10 million inhabitants, features a central spine carrying a sophisticated highway system 40 meters above the ground with the use of megastructure, creating a city in the air across the Tokyo bay. Tange envisioned that the city would be flexible and can adapt to changes over time, as he took account of the life span of different elements and incorporate them with different structural system.

Model of Casabella, Kenzo Tange
Model of Casabella, Kenzo Tange

With automobiles on the street, however, everything is different.” Kenzo Tange, 1961

Mobility is certainly the main factor that gave life to the scheme. As a member of the CIAM meeting, Tange was deeply influenced by European modernism and Architects like Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier. He was familiar with Kahn’s Plan for Philadelphia, which suggested that traffic might be more than a mechanical necessity and use it as the generator of the design. [i] In the Tokyo’s plan, Tange tries to take a step further and developed mobility as the drive of the city’s operation. He contended that the speed and scale that automobiles had introduced into urban life were changing people’s conception of space. This new sense of space, in turn, required a new spatial order in the city. [ii] Since the existing transportation system could no longer meet the demands of contemporary society, Tange attempted to replace it with a new hierarchical system serving the automobiles.

The plan for Tokyo also showed Tange’s deep awareness of city as process. In 1960, when the Tokyo’s Plan were published, the World Design Congress were held at Tokyo. A group of young men, known as the “Metabolists”, introduced the concept of ‘Metabolism’ with an avant-garde city design manifestos. Although their design was not as sophisticated as Tange’s plan, they share similar thoughts, that objects with different quality were in different “metabolic cycles”: some are persistent while others are transient. [ii]With the advance technology of new materials and construction methods some elements would be able to be replaced as they deteriorate. Tange sees the city as an organic process that is constantly flowing and changing, thus he defined the infrastructure as long life span constructions, and houses and articles of daily lives as construction with shorter life span. [i] This system allows flexibility for users to change and replace elements over time. This is how Tange aimed to make architecture adapt to changes along with human activities.

Although Tange’s Tokyo plan was not realized, the scheme gained significant attention worldwide and has great influence on Japanese urban planning. He incorporated urban concepts such as mobility, urban structure, linear civic axis, and city as process into a powerful architectural language that cope with the demand of the contemporary society. However, his approach to these concepts was symbolic rather than practical, and some of ideology behind the design were questioned by both architects and politician which would be discussed in the next passage.


Work Cited

[i]  “A plan for Tokyo 1960 / Kenzo Tange,” in ArchEyes, January 26, 2016, http://archeyes.com/plan-tokyo-1960-kenzo-tange/.

[ii] Zhongjie Lin [2010]. Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. Routledge

Frampton, Kenneth [1980]. Modern Architecture a Critical History (Revised and enlarged ed.). London, United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson.

2 Comments on “1960 A Plan for Tokyo

  1. It is interesting that the urban planning of Japan was deeply influenced by the European modernism. As Tange’s Tokyo plan was not realized, did the later urban development in Japan have any reference back to his? I think this can be a great topic to be discussed.

  2. Kenzo Tange chose to transform Tokyo from a centralized city to a linear city with small towns and communities settling along a main axis, as a respond to Tokyo’s rapid urbanization. As an utopia, I believe it could be a useful solution for the city. Yet, when we consider the plan beyond an utopia, it appeared to be problematic as it sacrificed human scale in various aspect, such as his suggestion of separating pedestrians and automobiles.The decentralization of the city into small town also served as a barrier of inhabitants’ physical connection. With a deeper consideration on human needs, Kenzo Tange’s ideal city will work more as a practical plan, rather than a symbol.

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