Kyoto (1960-1964)| Modern Architecture in Kyoto in 1960s: Driving force behind the construction of Kyoto Tower (Part 2)

Continuing from the last blog post about major modernist architectural development that took place in 1960, we were discussing about Kunio Mayekawa, one of Le Corbusier’s disciple and the leading modernist architects at the era. “We and the following generations can learn so much through these examples,” said Professor Hiroshi Matsukuma of KIT “such as how to combine Japanese tradition and modern techniques and how to create new buildings in tune with the existing environment of the city” Indeed, a lot of modernist architects had struggled a lot to strike a balance between traditional culture that had existed for thousands years, and introducing modern elements to the city.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, the first modernist architectural organization was established in the early 1920s (the Bunriha) but the beginnings of the modern architectural profession in Japan can be traced back to the middle 19th century when Japan first opened its door to the west. In 1920, the establishment of Bunriha, where the tower architect Yamada Mamoru was one of the leading members, followed the footsteps of European groups such as the futurists and De Stijl[1]. Yamada even made a pilgrimage to Europe. Yet, it is also important to note that the members did not forget their own origin as one of the member, Horiguchi Sutemi proclaimed “ There is no doubt that modern architecture could not have come into being detached from architecture of the past. In this sense, we have absorbed tradition deeply into our blood and muscle and it has matured in every cell in our bodies –  we could never just decide to separate ourselves from it” [2] To them, Japanese architectural heritage was as relevant as it has been to the architects of the previous generations. Therefore, they striked their best to draw way consonant with their principles and without trivializing the past.

We have discussed about the Tokyo Central Telegraph Office designed by Yamada, which was capped with slightly arched large gables reminiscent of French Gothic lancet windows and has a strong suggestion of medieval Europe, in the previous post. Another example would be Mountain House Project by Takizawa Mayumi, also from Bunriha, where its roof is alluded to Japanese traditional teahouse motif while western furniture and Le Corbusier windows can also be found. Since the group has investigated a lot on the European architecture, here comes the question of the authenticity of the design. Is the roof based on Dutch or Japanese vernacular? Are the windows traditionalist or modernist? The background where the Kyoto Tower was built was indeed complex, with overlapping layers of Japanese and European modernist ideas. Therefore, It would be over-generalizing to conclude that the Kyoto Tower was merely a symbol of Modernism, where its architects and his organization comes from such complex background, which strikes to pursue European modernism with a strong sense to preserve Japanese authenticity.

[1] Jonathan M. Reynolds, Maekawa Kunio and the Emergence of Japanese Modernist Architecture

[2] Jonathan M. Reynolds, Maekawa Kunio and the Emergence of Japanese Modernist Architecture



Sachiko Tamashige, 2011, Making Kyoto’s modern architecture part of the city’s heritage, The Japan Times

Jonathan M. Reynolds, Maekawa Kunio and the Emergence of Japanese Modernist Architecture

Mikiko Hirayama, Reivewed Work: Maekawa Kunio and the Emergence of Japanese Modernist Architecture, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.