Kyoto Tower: A symbol of Modernism

Kyoto Tower is the tallest observation structure located in the city of Kyoto, featuring a circular restaurant and observation deck 100 meters above the ground. Built as a symbol of the city’s modernity, the construction of the Kyoto Tower was one of the first architecture that flared up ‘keikan ronso’ (landscape dispute) in Kyoto back then.

Image Source: A Study on the Design Process of Kyoto Tower by Mamoru Yamada
Image Source: A Study on the Design Process of Kyoto Tower by Mamoru Yamada

In the 1950s, the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce initiated a conversation on constructing a ‘magnificent building’ in replacement of the removed Central Post Office. In 1960s, in view of the development of the bullet train that brought people all around the country, and the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964, there were opinions calling for an attraction in front of Kyoto Station for drawing more potential tourists. Eventually, the modernist architect Prof. Tanahashi Ryo. Yamada introduced a plan of building a 100 meter sleek tower which is supported by a nine-story building, making the whole structure in total of 131 meters tall.
The plan of Kyoto Tower was announced on Asahi Shimbun (Japanese Newspaper) after the construction started. The action sparked vigorous protests by scholars and citizens protested, claiming that the tower disrupted the traditional low-rise skyline of Kyoto.

Kyoto was one of the few cities that survived from the major bombing in World War II, in which its historical landscape remained intact. Given the need of restoration in other cities, such as Nagoya and Tokyo, the advancement in Western construction technology and design was introduced to Kyoto in a relatively later stage. Kyoto chose to held onto their traditional landscape for decades with slow progression in development. It was not until the city’s economic downfall in the late 1950s, when the municipal government and locals admitted that ‘ Kyoto cannot live on old things alone’. Proposals of ultramodern architecture, such as the Kyoto Tower and the Kyoto Station etc., were introduced followingly, as attempts of incorporating modernized elements into the historical city. However, such master planning was not brought into consensus of citizens.

Furthermore, the construction of the Kyoto Tower has marked a breakthrough of the city’s building technology. It was the first structure with a height over 31 meters, and adopted steel as its main material. Most of the buildings back then, such as the typical Kyo Machiyas, were low rise structures built with bricks, stones or wood. Yet, with the aid with advanced Western technology, the soaring structure was erected to withstand forces of both earthquake and typhoons. These advanced uses of steel in construction is also seen as a notion of modernisation in comparison to the low rise structure, stirring up debates on their effect to the cityscape.

The transformations in Kyoto over the years since the tower was built are part the reasons of why the opinion towards the issue was, and remains, diverged. Yet, with a splash of modernity, the Kyoto Tower should remain as a pleasant addition to the city. It has played a imminent role in suspending the mummification of Kyoto, and preventing it from alienation against the rest of the modernized Japanese cities.

Baba, Yoshihiko. ‘Modern or Unmodern?’ Understanding the landscape dispute of Kyoto Tower and Kyoto Station’. Accessed December 9, 2016

Christoph Brumann,Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past ( New York: Routledge, 2012), 16,57-58

2 Comments on “Kyoto Tower: A symbol of Modernism

  1. It is fascinating to learn that the tower is proposed because of an event that is mainly held in another city that is not that close by. Are there larger developmental plans for Kyoto due to the Tokyo Olympics 1964 to frame the context?

    • By the way, it seems that you and Karen are focusing on very similar sub-themes (esp with this post, for example) . Please just make sure that your blog posts do not overlap too much in content.

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