What Makes Japanese Architects So Significant? Vol. 01

The Pritzker Prize from Kenzo Tange 

Taro Igarashi
Taro Igarashi

Architectural historian, critic, and professor

Born in 1967, Mr. Igarashi graduated from the Graduate School of University of Tokyo in 1992 and later obtained a Ph.D and now serves as a professor at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. He was the commissioner for the Japanese pavilion at the 11th International Architecture Exhibition Biennale in Venice in 2008, and the artistic director for Aichi Triennale in 2013. He was the supervisor of the Legendary Houses in Postwar Japan exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in Saitama and served as curator for the exhibition of Architecture since 3.11 at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. He was ranked 64th in the newcomer category of the Ministry of Education’s Award for Fine Arts. Works include: What I Thought About While Walking the Disaster-stricken Areas(『被災地を歩きながら考えたこと』,Misuzu Shobo)
Now Japanese architects are conquering world’s architecture industry. In the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is known as Nobel Prize of architecture industry, Japan is ranked just after the United States by number of wins. Japan won consecutively in 2013 and 2014. Other than that, Japanese architects have had great achievements and have been stunning the world. Why are Japanese architects so remarkable? Architectural historian, critic and professor Taro Igarashi explains. (by XAMOSCHi staff)


In this 6-part series, we will discuss the Japanese architects who have succeeded overseas. In part 1, we will focus on Kenzo Tange, who created an overview of Japanese architects and increased worldwide exposure of Japanese architects by winning The Pritzker Architecture Prize. In part 2, we will trace the origins of Arata Isozaki and Toyo Ito while reviewing the Lion Awards of the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Part 3 will start with projects by Japanese architects who won in international competitions such as MOMA, Louvre-Lens, Centre Pompidou Metz and then go through pieces by Yoshio Taniguchi and Shigeru Ban. In part 4, we will be taking a look at the “JAPAN ARCHITECTS 1945-2010″ exhibition and the “Architecture since 3.11″ exhibition currently held in the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa and the architecture of SANAA. In part 5, we will go through the “Legendary Houses in Postwar Japan,” a traveling exhibition in Japan and consider the role played by private houses in architectural history and the track of Tadao Ando. In the final part, we will introduce modern architecture in Tokyo and some young architect’s projects while going through the “Architectural Map of Tokyo”.


Kenzo Tange / Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum(1952)

Kenzo Tange / Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum(1952) ©TARO IGARASHI

Kenzo Tange / Yoyogi National Gymnasium(1964)

Kenzo Tange / Yoyogi National Gymnasium(1964) ©TARO IGARASHI



Successive Winning of The Pritzker Prize


Japanese architecture is now held in high regard internationally. This can be clearly proven by the recent Japanese architects who have successively been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, also known as the Nobel Prize of architecture. The winner in 2014 was Shigeru Ban, known for architecture using paper, in 2013 it was Toyo Ito (born 1941), and in 2011 it was the architecture unit SANNA / Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (born 1956 and 1966). Needless to say, the Prizker Prize winner is not only chosen from Asia but from all over the world. This prize was founded in 1979 by the Hyatt Foundation and basically chooses one architect each year. Jorn Utzon (1918-2008), who designed the Sydney Opera House, Frank O. Gehry (born 1929), Rem Koolhass (born 1944), and Zaha Hadid (born 1950), who won the competition for the New National Stadium Japan, are among the past winners. The number of winners has been limited and the prize has a history of selecting the greatest architects from the world. Therefore, it becomes national news when there is a Japanese winner of the Pritzker Prize.


Among the Japanese winners, Kenzo Tange (born 1913) won in 1987, Fumihiko Maki (born 1928) won in 1993, and Tadao Ando (born 1941) won in 1995. In total, there are 6 winners from Japan, and this is second only to the United States. This is quite a change, since past winners have been mainly from Europe and the United States. In the first 10 years, there were 5 American architects, but in the quarter century after 1989, there were only 3. On the other hand, 3 Japanese architects won the award in a mere 4 years from 2011. From this you can see how the winners have been concentrated in recent years. SANAA is the next generation with members Tange, Maki, and Ando, who drove the era from modernism to postmodernism. Member Nishizawa was in his mid-40s when SANAA won, and was the youngest winner of the Pritzker Prize.


Osaka World Exposition (Scale model) ©TARO IGARASHI

Osaka Expo Festival Plaza(1970) Although taken apart, part of the roof is on display in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park. ©TARO IGARASHI



Kenzo Tange Connects Japan to the World


This time, we will focus on the first Japanese winner, Kenzo Tange. Tange specialized in monumental formatives based on modernism. His is known for designing the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (1952), a museum to display the devastation of the atomic bomb, Yoyogi National Gymnasium (1964) of the Tokyo Olympics, venue planning of the Japan World Exposition in Osaka, and the Osaka Expo Festival Plaza (1970). A part of the dismantled main roof is being displayed in a corner of the Expo’ 70 Commemorative Park. Tange was an iconic national architect who created unforgettable scenery for many Japanese, from the times of the postwar reconstruction to the high economic growth period. In Tokyo, he has designed many landmarks, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office (1991) in Shinjuku, the United Nations University (1992) in Aoyama, the Fuji Television Building of Odaiba, Tokyo and St. Mary’s Cathedral, also known as Tokyo Cathedral (1964). Tange’s dynamic space modeling, which reflects structural technology and the fusion of traditional Japanese architecture and modernism, was the reason for his Pritzker Prize win.


Kenzo Tange / Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office(1991)

Kenzo Tange / Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office(1991) ©TARO IGARASHI

Kenzo Tange / Fuji Television Building, Odaiba, Tokyo ©TARO IGARASHI

Kenzo Tange / St. Mary’s Cathedral (Tokyo Cathedral), Tokyo (1964)

Kenzo Tange / St. Mary’s Cathedral (Tokyo Cathedral), Tokyo (1964) ©TARO IGARASHI


His greatest contribution was that he raised the level of Japan’s modern architecture and brought it to worldwide attention. Ever since the Meiji Era, which comes after the long national isolation in the Edo Era, Japan had concentrated on learning skills of western architecture, but the emergence of Tange finally made Japan equal. In the 1950s, Tange participated in Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and has been invited to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). After the oil shock, Tange expanded his business overseas and realized projects in various areas, such as the Middle East, United States, Africa, France, and Singapore. Now it has become quite common, but Tange was the first Japanese architect who worked internationally. Tange was the one who opened the road to the world.



The Genealogy of Architects in Japan


One of the characteristics of Japan is that very often a prominent architect is born from a mentoring relationship. Many architects such as Fumihiko Maki, who won the Pritzer Prize, Arata Isozaki (born 1931) and Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007),both world-class architects, and Reiko Tomita (born 1938), who led the “Atelierzo, TeamZoo,” studied at the Tange Laboratory of Tokyo University. Also, Yoshio Taniguchi (born 1937), who was in charge of the extension and reconstruction of the MOMA in New York, is from Tange’s office. It was even noted in the judge’s comment of the Pritzker Prize that Tange is both a theorist and an educator. For example, in Tange’s “A Plan for Tokyo, 1960″, Isozaki and Kurokawa, who were then students, were each in charge of the office and traffic planning. Furthermore, Jun Aoki (born 1956), known for designing the Louis Vuitton store, is from Arata Isozaki & Associates, and Ryuji Nakamura (born 1972) became an independent architect from Jun Aoki & Associates. From this we can see the lineage of architects in Japan.


Jun Aoki / LOUIS VUITTON, Nagoya-sakae



However, Tange’s apprentice’s designs widely vary from Maki’s refined modernism, Isozaki’s postmodernism, Kurokawa’s metabolism, Tomita’s Regionalism, or Taniguchi’s delicate design. They are not copies of their master, but each has their own color. This is because Tange was not an authoritarian but instead preferred team work and allowed his staff to create ideas freely. Tange created an environment that allowed development of his highly skilled staff’s individuality while he judged of the staff’s ideas and integrated them. If the leader only collected a kind of staff who could perfectly copy his own style, the apprentice’s design will only be a reduced reproduction. In Tange’s case, he maintained the characteristics of his apprentices while working as a team. Ito’s office takes the same working style. The cultivation of various evolution from such a lineage is one of the strengths of Japan’s architecture. Now, Tange’s office has been assumed by his son, Noritaka (born 1958), and is creating new landmarks in Tokyo, such as the Mode Gakuen Cocoon tower, an outstanding building on the west side of Shinjyuku.


Norikata Tange / Mode Gakuen Cocoon tower

Norikata Tange / Mode Gakuen Cocoon tower ©TARO IGARASHI


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