Architecture in Tokyo, Japan

Ian Staples, a designer at Forum Phi, recently had an incredible vacation in Japan. Below is his portrayal of the trip of a lifetime. 

From the Ground Up

It isn’t often an entire section of a country has to rebuild its infrastructure from the ground up. Typically, if buildings, roads, or bridges are falling apart, they are replaced one by one. Japan turned a national tragedy into an opportunity after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and airstrikes during World War II had wiped out nearly a fifth of Tokyo. Countless pieces of traditional Japanese architecture that reflected centuries of tradition and culture had been demolished, sparking a necessity to lay out a revised urban landscape scattered with buildings with the intent to capture traditional Japanese accents in otherwise contemporary works.

This created an opportunity for Tokyo to leap into a more modern era without skipping a beat. This new era shed light on young architects, that would later go on to be Pritzker Prize-winning icons in the field. A few notable architects that have helped redefine the Tokyo skyline are Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, and Kenzo Tange. During my travels through Tokyo, I had the pleasure of visiting many buildings designed by these architects as well as many others.


Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Kenzo Tange

The Yoyogi National Gymnasium, by Kenzo Tange, is a perfect example of a modern-era building with contemporary practices used to convey traditional themes. The building was a large part of the 1964 Summer Olympics. The dynamic form is capped with a large, sweeping roof, resembling a contemporary take on Japanese pagodas. This traditional inspired roof is supported by an incredibly modern suspension system that was so ahead of its time, Tange had to design an entirely new support system, that hadn’t been previously used.

Traditional Japanese Architect, Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando is an incredibly well-known architect, acknowledged for his work throughout the years. His architecture finds subtle ways to intertwine contemporary and traditional Japanese themes in his work. His forms are simplistic to emphasize sensation and physical experience. One of Ando’s most widely-recognized work is comprised primarily of raw concrete blocks, with visible seams and a rebar end. With the use of only a few materials in simple forms, phenomenological qualities such and light and shadow, temperature, and the sensation of touch seem to be engaged to a higher extent. Ando’s goal is to evoke the sensation of Zen and create an effortless combination of site and structure. Japanese culture is largely centered around a spiritual connection between humankind and nature, and achieving a zen-like peace, and Tadao Ando’s work is a good representation of these values. Furthermore, the attention to detail paid to his concrete is unlike any other that has been previously designed. Each piece is exactly the same dimensions, based on prayer rugs used in traditional Japanese culture with 6 symmetrically placed rebar ends visible. Every piece has these 6 ends, perfectly and evenly spread from each other. This symmetry and consistency pay homage to his search for Zen within his projects.

To have the chance to experience buildings by these architects and more in Tokyo illustrates first-hand how architecture can bridge the gap between the past and the future and use sustainable practices, with contemporary building styles with traditional elements. Also, the food was really great. Highly recommended!