Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Architecture and the City

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Architecture and the City

Article excerpt

Architecture and the city

WHEN I graduated from university in 1938, modern architecture was already a prey to the snares of formalism. The modern movement, which styled itself rationalism or functionalism, had rejected all past traditions and styles and was dominated by the idea that the "white box' (which is actually only a starting point) was the ultimate goal. All negation of the past was willingly integrated. I could not help but think that this kind of contemporary architecture had already lost its vital force. At that time I was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier, who seemed to me to stand alone in setting his work on the level of architectural art.

I was also strongly attracted by Renaissance architecture and by Michelangelo.

Study of Michelangelo enabled me to understand the grandeur of ancient Greece and Rome. I was particularly interested in a series of vast drawings depicting agoras and forums. At the same period I was an enthusiastic admirer of classical Japanese architecture and above all of the temple of Ise, one of Japan's most sacred Shinto shrines, which seemed to me a prototype of Japanese architecture, and of the Katsura Imperial Palace at Kyoto.

In 1946 I was asked to work on the plan for the reconstruction of Hiroshima. This experience was of paramount importance for me, enabling me as it did to glimpse the difficulty of rooting contemporary architecture in Japanese reality, behind which we could still discern the weight of tradition.

At that time there was a growing debate about tradition. I felt my own interest shift away from the Yayoi tradition, the basis of aristocratic society, towards the popular Jomon tradition. In a sense the Yayci culture could be considered as refined Apollonian, and the Jomon culture as crude and Dionysiac. But if tradition acted for me as a catalyst, stimulating the development of my ideas and present at the conception and preparation of my projects, it did not appear as such in the final result. Concern with tradition was related to our design approach but our methodology was a question of a different order.

The starting point of our methodology was a critical attitude towards functionalism. The different functions of a building are as numerous as its users. The totality of these functions had to be taken into account.

In the case of a city hall, for example, it is clear that all kinds of requirements imposed by the mayor, the councillors, the staff, and visitors, must be considered. In view of this diversity, it is of crucial importance in a methodological approach to know what the real function of a city hall is. At this point the concept of typology of functions appears.

From all these arbitrary demands and functions we select those which seem the most human, the most essential, the most future-orientated: accompanied by a metaphysical content, the typology of functions thus comes to have a symbolic value.

My work on Hiroshima enabled me to develop certain concepts which brought into play the relationship between architecture and the city. The Centre and the Park of Peace became the heart of the city-memorial of Hiroshima . . .

I then came to realize the need for an additional element to the four functions defined in the Athens Charter*, one capable of endowing the city with a sense of entity and centrality. This element was the "urban core', a structural concept through which other cities could be provided with organic entity, like Hiroshima. I understood that where meeting places for the population were concerned, the architect's interpretation should go beyond the functional and should embrace more general concepts.

* The Athens Charter stemmed from the fourth International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) in 1933 and dealt with what were considered the four primary functions of the city: dwelling, recreation, work, and transport.

Strongly aware of the role of information in our society, I began to feel that urban and architectural space, formerly open and unconfined, actually exercised a force of attraction. …

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