Kenzo Tange

Kenzo Tange

Kenzo Tange

Kenzo Tange

Excerpt

A decade after the war in the Pacific ended, the Western world gradually began to realize that many important qualities of its accepted modern architecture were in fact very old. These qualities bad existed for centuries in many Japanese buildings. Japanese tradition contained not only the simplicity, lightness, and openness which contemporary Western designers had recently been advocating, not only the modulated repetition of elements so familiar in contemporary Western building, but it often demonstrated the same aesthetic values as well. It relied on the use of ingenuous construction and untreated natural materials to build a sort of refined extension of nature: a concentration of nature's own kind of beauty.

Thus Japan was rediscovered. European and American home magazines were enthusiastic over the shoji screen, bamboo, and colorless finishes--a new fashion trend was created. More serious architects and critics began to examine with curiosity and expectation the work of contemporary Japanese designers. It became apparent that there were three or four men of the highest standards and one or two who might be considered as belonging to the ranks of the world's leaders.

One building in particular stood out from the early postwar Japanese architecture. It was the Peace Museum at Hiroshima, a long, strong pavilion that looked entirely modern and yet had a curiously evocative Japanese touch. Appreciation of the dignity and confidence of this work, allied perhaps to a guilt complex that was readily stirred by the name Hiroshima, elevated this building to world prominence and its architect, Kenzo Tange, to recognition as a full member in the company of great contemporary architects. Commemorating the most momentous and disastrous innovation in human history, the Peace Memorial Museum (plates 1, 3-5), the design of which won a competition in 1949, is an astonishingly mature work for what is actually the architect's first building.

The hall is a long narrow structure, only one tall story high, but elevated some twenty feet above the ground on recessed concrete pillars, or pilotis (plates 1-5). The visitor mounts a central banging stairway (plate 3) to gain admittance to the permanent exhibition. Showing the effects of the Hiroshima bombing by means of an exhibition of photographs, models, twisted relics, and plaster dummies of charred bodies, the display finally turns to thoughts and hopes for peace. Was ever the expressive side of the art of architecture faced with a greater challenge? The task for Tange was to build a functioning building, not a piece of sculpture, yet a building which . . .

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