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The Architecture of Kenzo Tange, and it’s Impact on Japanese Design

Kenzo Tange was a Japanese architect, and winner of the 1987 Pritzker Prize for architecture. He was one of the most significant architects of the 20th century, combining traditional Japanese styles with modernism, and designed major buildings on five continents. Discover how he earned these accolades, and what makes his design so impactful. 

His career spanned the entire second half of the twentieth century, producing numerous distinctive buildings in Tokyo, other Japanese cities and cities around the world, as well as ambitious physical plans for Tokyo and its environs. Tange was also an influential patron of the Metabolist movement. He said: “It was, I believe, around 1959 or at the beginning of the sixties that I began to think about what I was later to call structuralism”, (cited in Plan 2/1982, Amsterdam), a reference to the architectural movement known as Dutch Structuralism.

Influenced from an early age by the Swiss modernist, Le Corbusier, Tange gained international recognition in 1949 when he won the competition for the design of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. He was a member of CIAM (Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) in the 1950s. He did not join the group of younger CIAM architects known as Team X, though his 1960 Tokyo Bay plan was influential for Team 10 in the 1960s, as well as the group that became Metabolism. His university studies on urbanism put him in an ideal position to handle redevelopment projects after the Second World War. His ideas were explored in designs for Tokyo and Skopje. Tange’s work influenced a generation of architects across the world.


Kenzo Tange’s Life and Career

Tange spent his early life in the Chinese cities of Hankow and Shanghai; he and his family returned to Japan after learning of the death of one of his uncles. In contrast to the green lawns and red bricks in their Shanghai abode, the Tange family took up residence in a thatched roof farmhouse in Imabari on the island of Shikoku. After finishing middle school, Tange moved to Hiroshima in 1930 to attend high school. It was here that he first encountered the works of Swiss modernist, Le Corbusier. His discovery of the drawings of the Palace of the Soviets in a foreign art journal convinced him to become an architect. Although he graduated from high school, Tange’s poor results in mathematics and physics meant that he had to pass entrance exams to qualify for admission to the prestigious universities. He spent two years doing so and during that time, he read extensively about western philosophy.  Tange also enrolled in the film division at Nihon University’s art department to dodge Japan’s drafting of young men to its military and seldom attended classes.

In 1935 Tange began the tertiary studies he desired at University of Tokyo’s architecture department. He studied under Hideto Kishida and Shozo Uchida. Although Tange was fascinated by the photographs of Katsura villa that sat on Kishida’s desk, his work was inspired by Le Corbusier. His graduation project was a seventeen-hectare development set in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park. After graduating from the university, Tange started to work as an architect at the office of Kunio Maekawa. During his employment, he travelled to Manchuria, participating in an architectural design competition for a bank, and toured Japanese-occupied Jehol on his return.

When the Second World War started, he left Maekawa to rejoin the University of Tokyo as a postgraduate student. He developed an interest in urban design, and referencing only the resources available in the university library, he embarked on a study of Greek and Roman marketplaces. In 1942, Tange entered a competition for the design of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere Memorial Hall. He was awarded first prize for a design that would have been situated at the base of Mount Fuji; the hall he conceived was a fusion of Shinto shrine architecture and the plaza on Capitoline Hill in Rome. The design was not realised. In 1946, Tange became an assistant professor at the university and opened Tange Laboratory. In 1963, he was promoted to professor of the Department of Urban Engineering. His students included Sachio Otani, Kisho Kurokawa, Arata Isozaki, and Fumihiko Maki.


Tange’s interest in urban studies put him in a good position to handle post war reconstruction. In the summer of 1946 he was invited by the War Damage Rehabilitation Board to put forward a proposal for certain war damaged cities; he submitted plans for Hiroshima and Maebashi. His design for an airport in Kanon was accepted and built, but a seaside park in Ujina was not. The Hiroshima authorities took a lot of advice about the city’s reconstruction from foreign consultants and in 1947 Tam Deling, an American park planner, suggested to build a Peace Memorial and to preserve buildings situated near ground zero (directly below the explosion of the atomic bomb). In 1949 the authorities enacted the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Reconstruction Act, which gave the city access to special grant aid, and in August that year, an international competition was announced for the design of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Tange was awarded first prize for a design that proposed a museum whose axis runs through the park, intersecting Peace Boulevard and the atomic bomb dome. The building is raised on massive piloti (columns), which frame the views along the structure’s axis.

By 1957, Kenzo Tange and his associates had adopted the firm name Kenzo Tange and URTEC (derived from the term urbanist architect). It is most probable that this team approach was developed on the model of Walter Gropius and TAC (The Architects Collaborative). The international design community was focused on Japan and the Tokyo World Design Conference scheduled for 1960. As the program chairman for the conference, Kenzo Tange was inspired to work on a proposal for a large-scale urban design scheme. During his visiting professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959, Kenzo Tange worked for four months with a fifth-year design studio on an urban design scheme that would accommodate housing for 25,000 people over the Boston Bay. This experience helped to develop and clarify Kenzo Tange’s ideas on a plan for Tokyo.

Toward a Structural Reorganization the Plan for Tokyo was published and presented by Kenzo Tange at the Tokyo World Design Conference in 1960. The plan proposed a linear organized matrix for Tokyo Bay, which was to be an extension of the uncontrolled expansion of the city proper. This urban matrix was an adaptation of Kenzo Tange’s architectural notions of structural order, expression, and urban “communication space.” This approach to large-scale urban design was later applied to the award-winning proposal Kenzo Tange submitted for the reconstruction of the city of Skopje in Yugoslavia (1965). The Tokyo plan led Kenzo Tange to begin an architectural exploration of the plastic nature of suspended structural form in his design for Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo (1961-1964). This exploration demonstrated a significant break with Kenzo Tange’s Corbusian past and cul minated in his design for the Olympic Sports Hall, Tokyo (1964). In 1966, the first megastructural complex combining Kenzo Tange’s notions of structural expression and the metabolists’ notions of growth systems was constructed. Kenzo Tange’s design for the Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center, build in Kofu, Japan, allowed Kenzo Tange to give metabolic life to Arata Isozaki’s (URTEC) seminal studies for City in the Air (1962).

Kenzo Tange continued to develop the ideas brought together in the Yamanashi Press and Bradcasting Center. The KUwait Embassy and Chancery Building in Tokyo (1970) and the University of Oran proposal in Algeria (1972) each demonstrate further development of a metabolic architecture that suggests incompleteness, flexibility, and the potential for change and growth. The international oil crisis and popular skepticism, in the mid-1970s, of large-scale urban projects based on megastructures reduced the number of projects of this type in Japan. Most of Kenzo Tange’s practice shifted to the developing, oil-rich Arab countries where Kenzo Tange continued to apply his stmcturalist-metabolistic ideas to projects such as the Moroccan Capital and International Congress Hall (1978). Kenzo Tange’s smaller, individual projects reflect his return to the aesthetics of the late modern movement, as can be seen in the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts Building, Minnesota (1974), the Hanae Moi Building in Tokyo (1978), and the Akasaka Prince Hotel, Tokyo (1982). Kenzo Tange’s interest in old Japanese traditions, in which many of his aesthetic principles have their roots, has been demonstrated by Kenzo Tange’s collaboration with Naburo Kawazoe on the following publications: Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture (1960), foreword by Walter Gropius, and Ise: Prototype of Japanese Architecture (1965).


During the 1970s and 1980s Tange expanded his portfolio to include buildings in over 20 countries around the world. In 1985, at the behest of Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Paris at that time, Tange proposed a master plan for a plaza at Place d’Italie that would interconnect the city along an east-west axis. For the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which opened in 1991, Tange designed a large civic centre with a plaza dominated by two skyscrapers. These house the administration offices whilst a smaller seven-storey building contains assembly facilities. In his design of a high tech version of Kofu Communications Centre, Tange equipped all three buildings with state-of-the-art building management systems that monitored air quality, light levels and security. The external skin of the building makes dual references to both tradition and the modern condition. Tange incorporated vertical and horizontal lines reminiscent of both timber boarding and the lines on semiconductor boards. Tange continued to practice until three years before his death in 2005. He disliked postmodernism in the 1980s and considered this style of architecture to be only “transitional architectural expressions”. His funeral was held in one of his works, the Tokyo Cathedral.


As you can tell, Kenzo Tange was a prolific architect during his time, so let’s take a look at some of his most iconic designs. 


Kenzo Tange’s 15 Most Famous Buildings

1.Tokyo Olympic Arena

Built for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium has become an architectural icon for its distinctive design. Designed by one of Japan’s most famous modernist architects, Kenzo Tange, the gymnasium is a hybridization of western modernist aesthetics and traditional Japanese architecture. Tange’s innovative structural design creates dramatic sweeping curves that appear to effortlessly drape from two large, central supporting cables. It’s dynamically suspended roof and rough materials form one of the most iconic building profiles in the world.Sitting within one of the largest parks in the metropolitan region of Tokyo, Tange uses the context as a way in which to integrate his building into the landscape. The subtle curves of the structural cables, the sweeping roof plane, and the curving concrete base seem to emerge from the site appearing as one integrated entity. The gymnasium is the larger of two arenas for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games both of which are designed by Tange and employ similar structural principles and aesthetics.  

Influenced by Le Corbusier’s Philip’s Pavilion and Eero Saarinen’s hockey stadium at Yale University, Tange became intrigued with structure and its tensile and geometric potential. Similar to Saarinen’s design for Yale’s hockey stadium, Tange employs a central structural spine from where the structure and roof originates. Two large steel cables are supported between two structural towers in addition to being anchored into concrete supports on the ground. The suspended cables form a tensile tent-like roofing structure; a series of pre-stressed cables are suspended off of the two main cables that drape toward the concrete structure that creates the base of the gymnasium as well as providing the necessary structure for the seating within the stadium. It‘s flowing surfaces make the minimal surface structure appear as a fabric suspended by two simple supports that’s being pulled into tension by the landscape.  The fusion of Japanese architectural aesthetic and western modernist design, the gymnasium’s structural system resembles a snails shell, but in a more contextual sense, the gymnasiums low profile and sweeping roof forms some semblance to that of an abstracted Japanese pagoda.When the Yoyogi National Gymnasium was completed it was the largest suspended roof span in the world. It’s dynamic form and structural expressionism has made the gymnasium one of Kenzo Tange’s most important works, as well as a progressive architectural icon. Today, it is one of Tokyo’s most sought after tourist destinations, while continuing to be an international venue for sports and fashion.


2. Supreme Court Building of Pakistan

The Supreme Court building is situated on the Constitution Avenue and is flanked by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to the south and President’s House and the Parliament Building to the north. The Court Complex is comprised of Main Central Block (having Courtrooms) Judges’ Chambers Block and Administrative Blocks. The height of the Main Central Block is 167 feet above the ground. It is surrounded by Judges’ Chambers Block to the east and Administrative Block to the north and south.Designed by famous Japanese architect, Kenzō Tange, under the consultation of the EPA, the complex was engineered and built by the CDA Engineering and Siemens Engineering. The building was part of an effort by the government of Pakistan to incorporate modernism into the architecture of important government buildings, for which several world-renowned architects were invited; Tange, after initially rejecting the invitation, ultimately agreed to participate. The building evokes both a church and an ancient tomb, while using sharp modern lines and sleek off white stone. The symmetry and use of indented squares patterning the front of the facade creates a clean and strong aesthetic to the front of the building. 


3. St Mary’s Cathedral 

There are some buildings that do not belong to any time or age. The Saint Mary Cathedral of Tokyo by Kenzo Tange is definitely one of these. Of course materials and technologies make it recognizable as a project of the 20th century, but we could easily say that this project has been built yesterday the same as 50 years ago. It’s not usual, in terms of the quality of architecture. And it is not the only quality of this project.The Tokyo Cathedral has been completed in 1964, replacing the old wooden cathedral, in gothic style, burnt during wartime. Tange conceived the new church as a concrete structure, simple in concept and complex in shape, which recalls the lightness of a bird and its wings.

The eight walls – the elements which hold the whole structure – are at the same time roof and walls, enclosing the space and opening to the outside through vertical gaps. The walls are curved hyperbolically to express the tension to the sky, and turning the rhomboidal ground floor into a cross at the roof top. The different heights of the wings, asymmetrical, make it a dynamic shape on the sky background. The highest wing is 39,41 m high.The reflection of the sunlight on the stainless steel external cladding looks as a shining dress on the hard concrete slabs. Although it is a monochromatic cladding, the curves and the U-shaped profiles enhance the dynamicity of the structure. It all makes the church an iconic building in the dense urban context of Tokyo.At the basement level the stone blocks play in contrast with the metal wings, hanging to the ground the movement of the walls. The side entrance zone has a lower ceiling area which introduces the main hall.The effect of the light on the curved walls, changing at every hour, makes the interior atmosphere extremely involving: direct sunlight and diffused reflections accompany the bending surfaces, and the visitor can immediately see and understand the curving of the concrete walls. The light passes through the glazed gaps, four vertical in between the walls, and four as roof light – the cross at the top. It is a rather dark space, but the contrast dark/enlightened enhance the symbolism of the church as a religious space.

The bell tower follows the guidelines of the composition: its four vertical lines are in fact flowing into one, stretching up to the sky. The organ, especially designed to adapt to the space of the entrance, was made in Italy by Mascioni and installed in 2004.The Tokyo Cathedral is considered one of the most important of Tange’s work, and one of the most interesting architectures in Tokyo. The building puts together an occidental subject and the oriental culture and sensibility, resolving the complexity of the project in a brilliant architecture.


4. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office 

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building , is the seat of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which governs the special wards, cities, towns, and villages that constitute the Tokyo Metropolis. Located in Shinjuku ward, the building was designed by architect Kenzo Tange. It consists of a complex of three structures, each taking up a city block. The tallest of the three is Tokyo Metropolitan Main building No.1, a tower 48 stories tall that splits into two sections at the 33rd floor.The career of Japanese architect Kenzō Tange features a curious anomaly: he received the same commission twice. In 1952, during the early stages of his career, Tange designed an administrative building in Yūrakuchō, Tokyo, for the city’s metropolitan government. Over thirty years later, when the government relocated to Shinjuku, Tokyo, he again won the commission to design its administrative building. Completed in 1991, this would be one of his last, and most ambitious, projects. The second incarnation now dominates the city’s skyline, its highly distinctive design guaranteeing it landmark status. Nicknamed Tochō (an abbreviation of its Japanese name Tōkyō-to Chōsha), its architectural references to both tradition and modernity act as a visual metaphor for the eclectic city over which its inhabitants govern.

Though usually referred to as a single building, Tochō would be more accurately described as a complex comprising three structures. Though visually distinct and individually named, all three buildings within the complex are linked by pedestrian routes. No.1 Building is the tallest of the three; the main structure stands thirty-four stories high but its twin towers soar to forty-eight stories, making it the tallest building in Tokyo at the time of its construction. Clad in precast concrete panels, the façade is inset with light and dark granite to create a variety of geometric patterns.

At its base, the façade of No.1 Building forms a sheer face which becomes increasingly articulated as the two towers ascend. This irregular composition adds visual interest and prevents the building from appearing monolithic, despite its height. The articulated surfaces also perform a practical function by disrupting the strong winds which buffet the building at its highest points. Receding cutouts at the tops of the towers create a frame for a collection of satellite dishes, transforming aesthetically­ unappealing—though necessary—elements into intentionally decorative features.

To the south of No.1 Building stands No.2 Building. Its structure comprises three interlocking towers of increasing height, the tallest of which stands at thirty-four stories – level with the main structure of its counterpart. Again, no attempt is made to conceal less attractive architectural elements, with many of the building’s services displayed prominently on the large balconies formed by the rooftops of the lower towers; an example of the architectural honesty which typifies Tange’s work. The façade of No.2 Building features the same patterns of granite and concrete as its neighbor; by maintaining stylistic consistency across the complex Tange was able to create a visual link between its individual components.

The third building in the complex is the Assembly Building, an eight-story semicircular structure which sits at the foot of No.1. While the No.1 and No.2 Buildings primarily house government offices, the function of the Assembly Building is more specific: it serves as the meeting chamber for the councilors of Tokyo. The sweeping curve of the building encompasses an expansive courtyard which is sunk below street-level, separating it from passing road traffic to create a tranquil clearing in which open-air concerts, for example, can be held. As the building extends westward, its arms become high-level walkways raised on piloti. The southern arm intersects with a bridge spanning the gap between No.1 and No.2, binding together the three components of the complex through a system of pedestrian circulation.Tange’s architecture is characterized by an interplay between tradition and modernity; he believed that “the most vital task of today is creatively to elevate both past and future.”[1] Many of his early works lean heavily on the architectural traditions of his native country of Japan – particularly evident in his design for his own home of 1953.


5. Shizuoka Tower

The Shizuoka tower symbolises and puts forward the idea of the “three-dimensional” urban structure advocated by the Japanese architect: part of a new urban megastructure, the tower is a beacon, graspable at high speed, and indicates a new concept of city. The building houses the Tokyo branch offices the Shizuoka Newspaper Company; it is about a dozen stories high and occupies a site measuring about 2,000 sqm. Basically, it is a cylindrical shaft 190 ft. tall built of concrete and finished with cast aluminum panels, anodized a very dark bronze. This shaft contains elevators, stairs and utilities; and from it are cantilevered glass-enclosed capsules that contain the actual office spaces.

Kenzo Tange: “I came to the idea of building a “pillar of the city” with a meaning of indirect stimulus… I built this tower with the idea of bringing urban scale to this dynamic point of the town”. Structuring the functions of architectural and urban spaces is the theme of this building as well as of the original plan for the home office of the Dentsu Advertising Co., the Tsukiji Area Plan, and the Yamanashi Culture Center.The two methods used in this series of works are the high-rise core shaft and the multi-level dimensional lattice. The site of this highly symbolic, single-shaft building is cramped, but the building itself, particularly when seen from the nearby highway or from the windows of the New Tokaido Super Express train, is an important landmark in the townscape.  The controlling point in the design is the determination to create a building partaking of both the urban scale and the human scale. The methodology will find fuller application in the home ottice of the Shizuoka Newspaper, currently in planning.


6. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Peace Memorial Park, located at the epicentre of the atomic blast, contains a museum and monuments dedicated to those killed by the explosion. The cenotaph for victims of the bombing is shaped like an enormous saddle, resembling the small clay saddles placed in ancient Japanese tombs; it contains a stone chest with a scroll listing the names of those killed. A commemorative service is held at the park every August 6th. The museum and cenotaph were designed by the Japanese architect Tange Kenzō, and two peace bridges at the park were sculpted by the American artist Isamu Noguchi. Kenzo Tange was commissioned with the challenge of designing the reconstruction of Hiroshima. By designing the Hiroshima Peace Center and Memorial Park, Tange expressed the solidarity of human kind as well as symbolizing a commitment to peace.nevitably suggesting Le Corbusier influences, the museum is supported on pillars, like Le Corbusier’s patented piloti. Furthermore, the building is articulated with reinforced concrete, a natural convention of Corbu. Tange loved what Le Corbusier represented and was convinced that Japanese architecture would become enormous in scale, pursuing that large architecture built in social human scale was in demand.Tange combined Le Corbusier’s five points with elements drawing from Japanese traditions, such as the sun-screens and the modular arrangement of the facade. Moreover, the parabolic shaped sculpture in the garden resembles a saddle, evoking the way of the Haniwa, the habitual tombs of former rulers of Japan.

Inside, the museum succeeds in transporting the visitor into the catastrophe of the blast. The exhibition ranges technical data about the bomb to dramatic testimonies of victims, all in theatrically prepared halls.The location of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was once the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district. The Hall contains a number of displays. On the roof, near the entrance (the museum is underground) is a clock frozen at 8:15, the time the bomb went off. The museum contains a seminar room, library, temporary exhibition area, and victims’ information area. The Hall of Remembrance, contains a 360 degree panorama of the destroyed Hiroshima recreated using 140,000 tiles — the number of people estimated to have died from the bomb by the end of 1945.Hiroshima made it a rule to continue using the building as much as possible by maintaining it properly. Most modern Japanese architecture built in the 1950’s has been demolished, but this building still survives, pioneering all modern architecture in Japan.


7. Fuji Broadcasting Centre

Construction of Fuji Television’s new headquarters – the Fuji Television Building – in the waterfront area of Tokyo’s Minato district has been completed, and broadcasting from the new location commenced at the end of March 1997. The new building – designed by Kenzo Tange Associates – adds to the dynamic skyline and is a superb complement to the architecturally innovative buildings of the waterfront area.

More than just a building with a unique design, the new headquarters houses a high-profile next-generation broadcasting center with an eye to the future. The building, which in many ways captures the essence of what’s best about Japan, has quickly attracted attention and thus a crowd of visitors and is destined to become a Tokyo landmark. The headquarters has 25 aboveground and 2 underground floors. Just to the left of the media tower is a unique spherical observation platform, with 53 square meters of floor space and a 32-meter diameter. The building stands 123.45 meters high and comprises a total floor space of 142,800 square meters. Construction began in May 1993 and was completed in June 1996. The project totaled nearly 185 billion yen, with construction costs coming in at 130 billion yen.

An important consideration when designing this kind of building is ensuring adequate space for people to gather and exchange ideas. The headquarters’ 4.8-meter-wide corridors provide not only convenient walkways but valuable space for casual talk and impromptu discussion. The building’s design emphasizes space and openness, which are important concepts to the image that Fuji Television wants to project. Kajima engineers used the “Mast Column”construction method, which features four steel-frame pillars grouped together, symbolic of the consolidation of our group companies, each supporting the other. In addition, the corridors connecting the two towers strengthen the structure, making it highly earthquake resistant.The design of Fuji Television’s new broadcasting station, located within the headquarters, emphasizes the company’s concept of openness. Now open to the public, the spherical observation platform is certain to become a popular spot from which visitors can view the city. To the west are unobstructed views of such landmarks as Tennouzu-Isle, the NEC Corp. headquarters, Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, and St. Luke Garden as well as a glorious view of Mt. Fuji at dusk. The water provides a relaxing backdrop, and the night view of Tokyo is spectacular.


8. Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower is located in Tokyo’s distinctive Nishi-Shinjuku high-rise district and contains 3 different schools: Tokyo Mode Gakuen (fashion), HAL Tokyo (IT and digital contents) and Shuto Iko (medical treatments and care). The building’s innovative shape and cutting edge façade embodies our unique “Cocoon” concept. Embraced within this incubating form, students are inspired to create, grow and transform.Unlike a traditional, horizontally laid out school, we have designed a high-rese vertical campus that can hold approximately 10,000 students. We believe that a school structure should be more than just classrooms. It should also incorporate multi-purpose corridors and a schoolyard-like space, or atrium, where communication can flourish naturally. With this in mind, we have designed 3-story high atriums which we call the “Student Lounge”.The tower floor plan is simple. Three rectangular classroom areas rotate 120 degrees around the inner core. From the 1st floor to the 50th floor, these rectangular classroom areas are arranged in a curvilinear form. The inner core consists of an elevator, staircase and shaft. The Student Lounge is located between the classrooms and face three directions, east, southwest and northwest.Cocoon Tower is located directly in front of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo’s busiest train station and in close proximity to the Shinjuku CBD (Central Business District), where the Tokyo City Hall is located. Some of the buildings in the immediate area surrounding Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower have become old and obsolete. However this area is very important to connect Shinjuku Station and the Shinjuku CBD. Our aim is to use the building to revitalize and reenergize this area and to create a gateway between the Station and the CBD. The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower combines fresh visual dynamism with a novel school facility and a main hall open to the public.

The building’s elliptic form allows generous views and increased ground space at the top and bottom respectively. Greenery planted at the lower levels and unobstructed views of the sky form the upper levels, brings, the nurturing forces of nature close at hand. In total, the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower stands as a powerful learning tool, unparalleled in design, function and vision.


9. Kenzo Tange Home

The Tange Residence, also known as the Seijo Villa, was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and it is the only house the architect ever completed. The project was built in 1953, and the design elegantly reconciles Western modernism with the Japanese tradition.

Tange’s own house was inspired by Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and applied some of the principles the french architect had formulated years before, such as the Pilotis, the free ground plan, and the open facade. The house, now demolished, used a grid of wood columns that replaced the load-bearing walls to make the soil freely usable. The residence’s ground floor became a shaded and fluid space, both exterior and interior, where residents enjoyed nature. Two years before, this strategy was used by the Japanese architect when he raised off the ground at the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

Although the design was inspired by western architecture, it is fused with traditional Japanese techniques. The elevated interior, the use of wood, the two-tier roof, the engawa, and the use of fusuma and tatami, are all characteristics of traditional Japanese architecture. The house was based on the tatami mat module, with the largest rooms designed to have flexibility so that they could be separated into three smaller rooms by fusuma sliding doors. Similarly, the facade is designed with a rhythmic pattern; it comprises two types of facade designs (“a” and “b”) that are ordered laterally in an a-b-a-a-b-a arrangement. The house is topped with a two-tier roof. Three years later, in 1954, Kazuo Shinohara built a house in Kugayama that was clearly inspired by Kenzo Tange’s design, although it was built in steel and had a more straightforward facade rhythm.


10. Kuwait Embassy in Japan

Designed by renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in the late 1960s and completed in 1970, the embassy building comprises a series of stacked, cantilevered concrete boxes. These house offices on the lower floors, while the ambassador’s residence occupies the upper levels. Since the building program has these two distinct spaces, one chooses to place them according to their private or public appearance. Thus, on the first floors of the chancery building it is located while on top residence and dining room is located, clearly turned towards the courtyard as they would the typical Arab houses, giving privacy to the rooms. Despite this provision and space division, both have a common entrance.

The program centers around two vertical communication is distributed. On the ground floor is the entrance courtyard and lobby. From these one can go to the residence and access your waiting room or to access their respective embassy and waiting room. The basement is divided into two spaces at different heights containing the garage and the engine room. As one moves into the building first space is dedicated to the Foreign Ministry and then own the house of the ambassador. While the building is brutalist in many ways, the openness and space between the concrete blocks opens up an airy lightness that you don’t otherwise get in a brutalist building. Huge windows accentuate the entire building as well, opening up further the solid mass to becoming a porous interrelated being with the outside world. 


11. Nichinan Cultural Centre

Kenzo Tange created a crystalline internal space by opting for polygonal wall structures. The powerful concrete volumes are also an hommage to the cliffs on the coasts in the region. Here, concrete seems to be a “second nature”.The oblique volumes interpenetrate each other, creating a formal composition unique in its class. The auditorium rising up diagonally, is the key module on which, with certain variations, the rest of the buildings are based. Together, the exterior and interior spaces create an indivisible architectural whole. The area intended for large gatherings is preceded by a vestibule and other halls which can be used for a variety of purposes. Interior and exterior surfaces alike are of concrete. The slightly curving forms of the openings, the projecting ventilation shafts and guttering all serve to strengthen the play of volumetrics and the geometric character of the complex.

“Architecture always should be a reflection or expression of social structure…This structure should not be considered static, but dynamic—always advancing forward from the past to the future…This advancing social structure has some kind of energy inside, otherwise it cannot move itself. I think this energy is hidden or sleeping in the peoples’ bodies and minds but they do not recognize this energy in themselves. So we have to give the image to the peoples’ desires. In order to find new solutions to satisfy the peoples’ desires or energy, I myself, and other younger generations in our country are striving to overcome our traditional weakness and so-called modernism, by trying to create new spaces and forms more suitable to their energy. This energy, it may be called vitality.” – Kenzo Tange


12. Kagawa Prefecture Gymnasium

At about the same time as Kenzo Tange’s two huge Olympic arenas for the Olympic Games in the summer of 1964 in Tokyo, there was built in the southern part of Japan a much more modest sports arena of Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture between 1962 and 1964. More after the break.

Kenzo Tange designed the Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium with a Brutalist approach. The Gymnasium doesn’t believe in architectural context or establishing relationships with the surrounding buildings, but rather the surrounding buildings renovate to match the Brutalist gymnasium.

The hall stands on a square site with a lateral length of around 80 meters. The oval structure is carried by four enormous pillars and projects dramatically on both sides, so that the building gives the effect of a ship. The design of the approximately 20 meter high oval interior is determined by the suspended roof, which follows that basic type of the hyperbolic paraboloid.The hyperbolic paraboloid covering the hall with a maximum seating capacity of 2500 is formed by means of cables on which are laid pre-poured concrete slabs about 5 centimeters thick. The design of the building is determined by use of concrete and the resultant effects of heaviness, and for this reason it cannot be compared to the more generously conceived and functionally more appropriate Olympic arenas in Tokyo. In contrast to the solution adopted in the Olympic arenas, where one descends from the entrance to the main-floor level, Tange reversed the approach by ascending into the sports hall. On the ground floor underneath, are conference rooms, offices, a small training gym, technical installations and a kitchen. The building elements on the narrow ends of the hall, which project and dramatically accent the building, correspond to the ascending seating arrangement on the inside.


13. Bologna Fiera District 

The Fiera District in Bologna is the new business district of the Italian city: concerned with massive gentrification and suburban sprawl, the city authorities had asked the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange for a master plan for a new city, north of Bologna in the late 1960’s. The project, published in 1970, was considered too expensive and overly ambitious. Despite overwhelming opposition to Tange’s project, the Bologna City Council decided to stick to the master plan and establish a new exhibition centre and business district in it. At the end of 1978, the construction of the first skyscraper and various buildings began. The seat of the regional government or Emilia-Ramona moved in 1985 to the Fiera District. Meanwhile, the district is characterized by several large office towers and the exhibition centre. 

The structures of different sizes are bound together by a common design language and the uniform material being concrete. At the end of each of the buildings are cylindrical volumes, which emphasize this upward movement into the sky. In between the cylinders, there are rational grid-like facades that bring the eye back down to a horizontal and ground-level movement. There is a central courtyard that unites the entire space, paved in brick stones with some staircases separating different levels, as well as some brick or concrete features. One noticeable lack in the space is any greenery, which in a concrete jungle can make the world of difference. 


14. Shinjuku Park Tower

The Shinjuku Park Tower  is the second-tallest building in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was designed by Kenzo Tange and completed in 1994. Shinjuku Park Tower is a single building consisting of three connected block-shaped elements; S tower, which is 235 m tall with 52 stories, C tower which is 209 m  tall with 47 stories and N tower which is 182 m tall with 41 stories. Floors 1 to 8 are occupied by retail stores, floors 9 to 37 are office floors and floors 39 to 52 are occupied by the luxury Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel, which includes a swimming pool with panoramic views on the city.

The building is owned and managed by Tokyo Gas Urban Development, a subsidiary of Tokyo Gas, and was constructed on the site of a decommissioned gas storage facility. Tokyo Gas operates a regional cooling center on-site, which provides heating and cooling to the high-rise district of Nishi-Shinjuku, and supplies electricity to the adjacent Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The building, or shall we say buildings, are geometric and neat.Like many of Tange’s other buildings, they maintain a repetition and symmetry throughout the entire structure. Yet, there are some subtle differences that create interest and adapt at each level of scale. 


15. Singapore Indoor Stadium

The Singapore Indoor Stadium, known exonymously as the Indoor Stadium, is an indoor arena located in Kallang, Singapore. It is within walking distance of the Singapore National Stadium, and collectively form a part of the wider Singapore Sports Hub. It has a maximum total capacity of 15,000 depending on configuration, with an all-seating configuration of 12,000.

It regularly hosts events such as music concerts, badminton, basketball, netball, tennis, esports, pro-wrestling, mixed martial arts, kickboxing, and monster truck races.Construction began on 1 January 1985, and it was built at a cost of S$90 million. The arena was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, and it has a cone shaped roof and a pillarless arena. It was completed on 1 March 1987 and officially opened to public on 1 July 1988. The building structure is long and triangular, with a similar shape to Tange’s St Mary’s Cathedral, although longer, larger, and flatter. On the water, it somehow has a boat-like quality to it, while also clearly connoting historical Japanese buildings like temples. 


Kenzo Tange is perhaps the most prolific and important modernist architect to come out of Japan, and has designed such monumental projects that really speak to the collective cultural identity of Japan. 

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