top of page

Kenzo Tange, the japanese Antenna

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Kenzo Tange's impact in todays Japan architecture, and the effective transmission and interpretation of the world movement among his followers..

Without him Japan would have probably surrendered to the western architecture set by the west and perhaps the traditional Japan would be a forgotten image.

It was the mid 1930s and Japan invaded China, This invasion would provide unprecedented possibilities for new developments, a space where they could use their traditional Japanese heritage and merge it with the modern world to create a new content, a promise land for architects. Kenzo Tange was one of them who were debuting in the architectural world, with the competition for a new Japanese-Thai Cultural Center and the East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Yet In early August 1945 this dream became a nightmare, two atomic bombs completed the destruction of Japan. The winning forces imposed democracy on Japan finalizing the long combat.

The planners and architects that once projected new settlements in the expansion of Japan, where now living among the nuclear rubble. Nonetheless, modern architecture prevailed. There was a sense of complete stillness from which another history could begin and there was a particular figure that arose from the ashes. It is well know that the architectural universe is inhabited by two specific typologies, “thinkers” and “builders” coexisting with a mutual disgust. To the benefit of Japan, Kenzo Tange was both.

Kenzo Tange was convinced on his vision of an accelerated urbanism and country development. But the architecture profession was not seen as a reliable carrier for this task. He worked on the reinforcement of the career. Improving in this way the status of the architect and pass that identity to a next generation as a relay. The war affected Tange but his convictions remained still, his mother was killed by machine gun fire and he rarely spoke about those years. He seek for peace and with the winning of the Hiroshima reconstruction masterplan and the Peace Memorial Park in 1947 and 1948 respectively, he found his platform for growth and the beginning of an international recognition, the building shows a deep understanding of traditional culture while at the same time depicts a search for a modern style in Japan.

But in order to expand his knowledge and reach he had to gather several brilliant minds to do so. The metabolism is born, and with it the convergency of introverts, meditative poets, charismatics, and revolutionaries. Under the guidance and teachings of Tange they were willing to bring the rebirth of Japan, in order to do so, the group had to excel in three important powers: bureaucracy, business and media. The latter one accelerated the momentum of the group, bringing their ideas across the country. It was particularly hard for them to realize that the layer that made the reconstruction of Japan wasn't the scorched earth but a thick opaque layer of political, economic and social realities. Nonetheless, the architects found a way to transmit and be connected to the people. The post war Japan would offer a space to remodel Japan and even if the task was greater than the architects capabilities Rem Koohlhaas frames this attitude with the following quote;-“It is more crucial to exploit your limitations than to survive your gifts. As memory weakens, vision is your only ”.

Metabolism was perhaps a title given by Kawazoe. With its name, the metabolism was a movement, a traditional avant-garde, with a vision of a future constructed with fragments of the past. They searched for renewal and a quest for the artificial ground.

How is Tange an Antenna?

To start one must define what an antenna really is. This has been a repetitive question in the development of the class. And yet the answer is still unclear. An antenna can be a receiver and also a provider. The corners of this duality are yet too soft. Its picking up the radio signals, but it is also a wire coming out. It is the interface between the wired world and the wireless world. An antenna can be either thin sensory appendages protruding from the heads of insects, crustaceans, and some other arthropods or the small hairs spreaded all over our bodies. With these antennas the insect and the human experiment a higher reality of its surroundings. Its aware of the conditions and the possibilities of survival. It reaches out and selects the information coming in.

The antenna is a necessary tool, and sometimes we ignore their existence. Hence, the fact that in todays architecture world the antennas are blurred out of the buildings, and faded into the background. Some antennas are more refined or keen to receive a specific source of information, others are unaware of their possibilities and settle to the basic functions. The best antenna ever created in Japan is Kenzo Tange.

There is an anecdote by Salvador de Madariaga in his book titled “Spain” in 1930s, in it, tells the story about the republic and Andalucia. It was election time and the supervisor of the farms goes to the plaza to talk to the farmers and he gives them some coins to buy their vote for the cacique (political chief), but one of the farmers grab the coins and throws them at him saying “In my hunger, I am the boss” . What can you say to someone that has nothing. One can only claim for their consciousness, for their inner freedom. For their own acceptance.

Kenzo Tange was born one year before the first world war and was present during the second one. This catastrophic events had a great effect on him, but they didn't hinder him into submission. In a way he turned his convictions and dreams in a positive way. There is a recurring story today in the media, stories that surprise us and bring emotions to us all. They tell stories about people who were able to overcome a trauma y grow with this adverse reality. One tend to label them as people far away from normal. The latent pathological concept that one has on the weakness of the human been. One expects nothing but vulnerability against disaster. The only two paths after a traumatic event is autodestrucción or growth. The latter one is translated as resilience.

Tange used this residence to chanel his visions through the younger artist. He was a master at delegating tasks and open to new ideas. At the beginning of the Range Lab, he would first listen all of the ideas and then create something out of them. There was no hierarchy for them. It was an homogenous environment. Tange was rooted in Japan but craved the international recognition. He wanted to be connected to the outside world, transmit and receive. His work was highly influenced by LeCorbusier and the international modernism. In many ways The metabolism reinterpreted the worlds concerns in their own terms.

As seen in the previous page, Buckminster Fuller and Kenzo Tange shared similar approaches to the future of the building. Both wanted to be detached from the ground and use the central structure as an infrastructural core, where all the systems would convey. Perhaps the material of choice was not plastic as Buckminster Fuller proposed, but the conceptual approach to the building remained the same. The different capsules in Tanges building would be able to be attached to the central core. Creating a plug in building. Concept perhaps attributed to the Plug in City concept presented by Archigrams, Peter Cook and again revisited by Kikutake on the Tower-shaped community. Isosaki before leaving Tange Lab develops “Clusters in the Air” a more radical solution for Tokyo’s mess than Tange would allow, since he believed firmly that the reason for detachment and the use of pilots was because the ground belonged to the people and because of this reason it had to be freed.

Isosaki, ignoring in a way the chaos of Shibuya, the Clusters- a variation of the same joint core system- allow habitation that begin only at the limit of Tokyo’s building height law of 31 meters. “Tokyo is hopeless” he declares “I am no longer going to consider architecture that is below 30 meters in height…I am leaving everything before 30 meters to others. If they think they can unravel the mess in this city let them try”

Tange had awaked a desire for information among his students and the desire to create an architecture that respected the environment by creating as minimum contact with it as possible. they were seeking new solutions and finding examples that resonated with their beliefs. The influence of CIAM, Team10 and Archigram is noticeable among their results and expansion of thought.

1960 - Setting up the Antenna to the World 1959 was a year of changes worldwide. Many things were happening at the same time. It was the year of the microchip, the birth-control pill, the space race, and the computer revolution; the rise of Pop art, free jazz, “sick comics,” the New Journalism, and indie films; the emergence of Castro, Malcolm X, and personal superpower diplomacy; the beginnings of Motown, Happenings, and the Generation Gap—all bursting against the backdrop of the Cold War, the fallout-shelter craze, and the first American casualties of the war in Vietnam. As Fred Kaplan discusses in his book 1959 where he pieces together the untold story of a civilization and paints vivid portraits of the men and women whose inventions, ideas, and energy paved the way for the world we know today.

Before 1959, Kenzo Tange was receiving negative criticism in Japan because of the construction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (1958), people argued that a building clad in glass was not suitable for japan that is prone to earthquakes. It was not until Walter Gropius visited Japan and zealously praised Tange in America. Soon after that, the admiration from overseas was such that the Japanese commotion finally subsided. It was also 1959 that metabolism had its first international exposure during CIAM's 1959 in Otterlo, it was also after that meeting that the CIAM was disbanded. 1959 was laying the ground for what was going to happen in the future. Tange and his colleagues saw an opportunity to place Japan in the center of the design sphere, and bring their conceptual images to a realization. It was in 1960 that they created the World Design Conference in Tokyo (WODECO) and there they presented as individuals at the conference. Their main focus, the sense of rapid global change and the need for architecture to catch up. It was fascinating how the ideas based on individual buildings could take envision entire cities. They argued that the information technology has become extremely important in urban design. It was then that in 1960 Kikutake would write the article entitled “ Channel Development” where he proposes to redesign Tokyo and other Japanese cities by incorporating a network model. Again, the metabolist were going against the popular concerns, since all over the world, planners were talking about adopting the district planning model for urban design seen in the UK, but in the age of information the channel network model was the necessary mean. At the end of the conference Kenzo present “The Tokyo Plan-1960” a plan that argued that the normal urban patter of a radial centripetal transportation system was a relic of the Middle ages and would not handle the strain of a Mega city. He proposed a multilayered traffic system and a proposal that extended across the water of Tokyo bay. He would present these ideas on the TV. It was also the 1960s where Kenzo would develop a new set of ideas. He would take western ideas and adapt them to meet japanese requirements. As a result of this, and his eternal admiration for Corbusier and Eero Saarinen, he developed in 1961 The Yoyogi National Gymnasium and also to develop a book with Walter Gropius on the 17th Century Katsura Detached Paalace. As we know, Tange has been particularly keen to projects that are meant to reconstruct an identity or create a new one. The second opportunity after the Hiroshima one was presented in 1965, when the united nations asked Tange to enter to the competition for the redevelopment of Skopje, which was at that time a city of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The town was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1963, due to minimal difference among the first and second prize they were ordered to work together with the, more conservative second prize. As a result he abandoned the project.

 “Metabolism” is the name of the group, in which each member proposes further designs of our coming world through his concrete designs and illustrations. We regard human society as a vital process - a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals...-Noboru Kawazoe 

The Metabolists had a dual tendency on the emitted material, one was very formal, strong, and harsh the other was blurred, undefined and shapeless. This was the way the Metabolism was reaching so many adepts. They focused on aesthetic and historic identity. Tange was looking to exploit tradition as a means of innovation. Metabolism is also often described as an organic movement with no “in” and “out” mechanisms of exclusion; members came and members went. It was a flexible, organic organization It was also during the 1960s WODECO that the metabolism presented “Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism” where 2000 copies were sold at the entrance of the venue. This form of guerrilla communication system seemed to be very effective because soon after that the media was treating this particular set of architect like stars.

Tange and the media

Tange was aware of the approach of media, he looked to exploit this means to fulfill his goal. In the printed medium he had Noburo Kawazoe, who was the editor of Shinkenchiku (JA+U) he turned out to be one f the best allies for the metabolism and also a precise critic for them. He was also in charge of the organization of the WoDeCo. Tange and Kurokawa create and exploit the spotlight. The growth of tv in 1970(95% of the japanese population have a Tv) the weekly magazines and the architecture press transforms architects from fusty technicians or mere assistant to builders into gurus capable of reorganizing a nation. Serious attention is paid to the metabolists schemes and soon, to his cars, clothes, accessories and leisure time. In tandem with the architectural remaining in Japan, a project to create a new postwar, post imperial model of Japanese masculinity, part samurai, part dandy. Tange at the end of 1950s is the first that set the stage and benefit from the media spotlight, middle age, bow tie dandy, Tokyo university behind him, in the other hand Kurokawa , the handsome, witty, eloquent speaker in tv, (compared with Tange fragile voice) interviews with politicians and in a tv spot on the national channel. Tange got the Pan Pacific Art Award for the design of The Sogetsu kaikan art center in Tokyo and when it was completed he had one of his first major magazine features , "..the image of architecture and architect already begin to merge" The Media releases the Avant-garde is Japans favorite: 4 kings in architecture, drama, photography and painting where Tange is at the top.

He was also acclaimed as the best dressed man in the architectural circle.and the architecture he conceives is as urbane and articulate as his dressing . Tokyo Olimpics The upcoming Tokyo Olimpics provide the media with an occasion for transforming Tange into a national hero.

8 weeks after the same magazine gives a cover to another architect a metabolist. Kitutake who plays a role of serious, classic architect.

After the attention given in the printed media, the metabolists plan became a form of worthy TV entertainment for an exponentially bigger national audience their presentations alternate between theory, fantasy, and under construction projects. This form of communication among the masses was unprecedented.

Kurokawa’s popularity started to rise among the media sphere, he was a younger architect suitable for a new mode, lifestyle and political power. All of this was already sensed by the Mainichi Graph. Kurokawa speech is articulate and pleasant, avant-garde grade look. The tv stations were competing for his voice, from architect at work to architect at play. Kurokawa became a sex symbol, and the status of the architect became the status of a celebrity. It was not a concern for Tange, he preferred the academic world and kept his appeal from high political leaders. All of this build up turned Kurokawa into the new NHK Channel 1 commentator. The metabolism were all over the media sphere. This lead to the development of the Expo 1970. Where Kenzo range was the expos masterplanner. This expo represented the miracle that Japan represented. a moral and economic rehabilitation. This was also the Apotheosis of the metabolism. In this expo the metabolism design everything. They were able to realize the high-tech city with pumping vitality. This expo brought metabolism to the global sphere, but it was also the beginning of the decline. Three years after the expo japan faced an oil crisis and the economy contracts, suspending utopia indefinitely. This expo was dominated by the capsule, and the mega structural network of the future. The metabolism had no hesitation on these ideas.

The world was becoming an uncontrollable creature. Cities could be destroyed within seconds and the dream to reconstruct and create a new future with these technologies appealed to the architects of the metabolism. They aspired to disconnect from the ground and reach for the skies. They wanted to create their own earth and leave the other one to crumble. Tange was perhaps an individual with a desire for futurism, conflicted with his past he tried to use the past as a tool to create a new future. Fascinated with technology and the possibility to have independent cities floating over the sky, connected only to the earth for structural reasons. Tange portrayed the image of the Antenna and the wire. his buildings became that exactly. A representation of this interface of exchange. The Saint Mary's cathedral was in a sense the interface between god and the people, Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan and humbleness, The metabolism, Him and the world.

His vision of the world affected all future generations of Japanese architect. The innovation and creation of new standards the rebellious approach to the architectural canons was all funded by Tange. He tuned in Japan to a frequency that the whole world was craving to hear. And until now, his teaching reverbs in the anthropocene.

Boyd, Robin (1968). New Directions in Japanese Architecture. London, United Kingdom: Studio Vista. 
 Goldhagen, Sarah W; Legault, Réjean, eds. (2000). Anxious Modernisms. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-07208-4.
 • Kikutake Assocs, May–June 1970, "EXPO Tower", The Japan Architect 
 • Koolhaas, Rem; Obrist, Hans U (2011), Project Japan Metabolism Talks..., London: Taschen, ISBN 978-3-8365-2508-4. 
 • Kultermann, Udo (1970). Kenzo Tange. London, United Kingdom: Pall Mall Press. ISBN 0-269-02686-X. 
 • Sasaki,Takabumi, May–June 1970, "reportage: A Passage Through the Dys-topia of EXPO'70", The Japan Architect 
 • Sorensen, André (2002). The Making of Urban Japan - Cities and planning from Edo to the twenty-first century. New York, United States: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-99392-6. 
 • Tange & Kawazoe, May–June 1970, "Some thoughts about EXPO 70 - Dialogue between Kenzo Tange and Noboru Kawazoe", The Japan Architect
 1 Koohlhaas Rem and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Project Japan Metabolism Talks... (Köln 2011), p. 14 

23 views0 comments
bottom of page