Kyoto (1960-1964) / Kyoto and the rise of metabolism

The previous post I have hinted the resemblance of Nishiyama’s work with that of metabolism, an architectural movement led by the likes of Kenzo Tange. In the following I would like to elaborate more on that, especially relating it back to the Plan for Kyoto 1964.

Tange and Nishiyama represented opposing types of architects in postwar Japan. Their ideologies differed more than their design approaches: Tange was the champion of technocrats, whose projects expressed the ambition of elites and big corporations. Nishiyama was known for his studies for working class, and his work embodied strong social concerns for the low-income classes.

While the Plan for Kyoto 1964 embodied two important ideas from Nishsiyama – the Home City and Image Planning, it resembled Tange’s Plan for Tokyo in several aspects, most obviously in its linear urban form. Nishiyama introduced the thirteen-kilometer linear mega-structure to guide Kyoto’s future development in a similar way as Tange’s thirty-kilometer central spine that provided a vision for Tokyo’s growth. Both planners rejected the cities’ medieval patterns and existing planning perimeters, and they called for a radical reorganization.

overall master plan of the Plan for Kyoto 1964 by Nishiyama
overall master plan of the Plan for Kyoto 1964 by Nishiyama
Kenzo Tange's Plan for Tokyo 1960
Kenzo Tange’s Plan for Tokyo 1960

However, there are still a few significant characteristics in Nishiyama’s linear form indicated fundamental distinctions of his concept of a modern city from Tange’s idea. While Tange’s spine was intended to decentralize Tokyo’s business and administrative functions away from the city and to direct activities of urbanization to Tokyo bay, Nishiyama embedded his mega-structure in the historic center of Kyoto and anticipated the consolidation and growth of the urban core. Tange’s linear form was characterized by a futuristic highway system celebrating the age of the automobile. Nishiyama was in favor of mass transit systems like monorail, and prohibited automobile along the linear city. Finally, in Tange’s Plan for Tokyo, the central spine was reserved for the city’s ‘brain’ and ‘nerves,’ that is, the business functions and transportation which constituted the essence of a modern city; the residential activities were regarded as secondary and located along roads branching off from the center. In contrast, Nishiyama placed great importance on residential uses, putting them in imposing high-rise buildings along the central axis. Emphasis was also placed on open spaces in his Plan for Kyoto; they provided connections to the historic city. In particular, the architect designated several blocks on the axis adjacent to the Imperial Palace of Kyoto as a people’s square for uses like mass gatherings or everyday entertainments. The square not only tied the new district to the historic city, but it was also a political gesture: democracy could develop in a setting that welcomed open expression and assembly. The hierarchy of urban functions and arrangement of urban spaces in Tange’s and Nishiyama’s respective plans indicated their different social ideas: Nishiyama’s populist project represented an alternative to Tange’s technocratic Tokyo Bay Plan.

Their rivalry does not ended here. They competed again for the planning of the Osaka Expo 1970, that involved complex political debates, the tension between the two architects made it an uneasy collaboration for both sides. Also, Kisho Kurokawa, who became one of the founders and the youngest member of the Metabolist Movement, had been a student at Kyoto University and come under influence of Nishiyama. Kurokawa was also the organizer of the Tokyo World Design Conference, 1960, which materialized the Metabolist Movement, because of being one of Nishiyamas’ students.

All of the above has revealed the close affiliation of Nishiyama and the Metabolist Movement, although they have never agreed with each other. But after all, I was sad about the fact that while Nishiyama and Tange were the two giants in Japan architectural movement in the 60s, Nishiyama is almost being forgotten today, while Tange’s Metabolist Movement was still being widely studied. But Nishiyama is the one that exercised elaborated studies on various aspects like housing and urban planning. Why is it so?


Zhongjie Lin, Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. (New York: Routledge, 2010)


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