Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Metabolism at a Crossroad Half a Century Later

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Metabolism at a Crossroad Half a Century Later

Article excerpt

A plan to demolish the former Miyakonojo Civic Center in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, has been decided. The building was the embodiment of Metabolism (see below), a Japanese architectural movement that was put forward in 1960 as the first architectural movement to emerge in a non-Western country.

Metabolist architecture was a sensation for young architects around the world and was very well received. Existing buildings of that style have been standing for about 50 years. Some have already been demolished while the existence of others is in danger. On the other hand, some other metabolist buildings remain in use, having been earthquake-proofed or repaired.

Demolish or pay to preserve

The former Miyakonojo Civic Center was designed by Kiyonori Kikutake (1928-2011), a prominent architect in the modern Japanese style. In accordance with the tenets of Metabolism, which is to design a structure that can grow -- similar to human metabolism -- along with changes in society and the times, the building was designed with a replaceable steel roof. Construction was completed in 1966.

The shape of the roof gives the building a distinctive profile reminiscent of a snail or a porcupine with its fan-shaped beams. In addition to being widely held up overseas as a prime example of metabolist achitecture, its use over many years for concerts and other events made it part of the lives of local residents and the identity of Miyakonojo itself.

However, a new hall came to inherit its role and the civic center was closed in March 2007. The building has stood idle since then, with debate surrounding its survival continuing to this day.

In July 2018, the city conducted a citizen's survey asking whether the building should be preserved or demolished. More than 80 percent chose demolition due to the preservation costs, which was estimated at up to around 4 billion yen (about 36 million dollars).

The preservation of architecture of high cultural value includes situations where proposals and management are entrusted to private businesses so a building can be repurposed, such as in the case of the former Nara Juvenile Prison in Nara, for which there are plans to give a new life as a hotel.

Miyakonojo also put out a call for proposals for the private use of the civic center, but no truly realistic proposals were received by the deadline at the end of January. So on Feb. 5, the city announced that the building would be demolished. About 200 million yen was subsequently allocated for the initial general budget for fiscal 2019 and the demolition project was proposed to the regular meeting of the city council.

The Architectural Institute of Japan wants the building to be preserved and has presented examples of its use as a sports facility, museum, or the like. It searched for companies or organizations that might be able to use the building, but was not successful.

Institute President Nobuaki Furuya explains that "the building is a valuable one, an emotional landmark for people who study architecture, both within Japan and abroad."

Crisis of preservation

Built in 1972, the condominium building Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo's Ginza district is walking a tightrope between preservation and demolition. It was designed by Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007), an architect known for works such as the National Art Center in Roppongi, Tokyo.

All of the 140 residential capsules in the two towers of the building can be replaced individually. The building is highly regarded worldwide as a representative piece of metabolist architecture.

However, none of the capsules have ever been replaced, and the building is experiencing typical problems of aging, such as rainwater leakage. …

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