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Kenzo Tange

Tokyo, Japan
1 of 3

Kenzo Tange (September 4, 1913 - March 22, 2005) was a Japanese architect, and winner of the 1987 Pritzker Prize for architecture. He was one of the significant architects of the 20th century, combining traditional Japanese styles with modernism, and designed major buildings on five continents.

Strongly influenced by Le Corbusier's books, Kenzo Tange was also an influential protagonist of the movement structuralism. In 1949, Tange won the architecture competition for design of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima city, four years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. His design for Peace Memorial Park owes much to Le Corbusier. For Tange it was the city's 'spiritual core. In 1961, Tange became the principal of the firm Kenzo Tange & Urtec (the present day Kenzo Tange & Associates), and then won international fame for his design for the gymnasium for the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo. His Pritzker Prize citation described it as "among the most beautiful buildings of the 20th century." In 2005, his funeral was held in one of his works, Tokyo Cathedral.

Early life

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.

Early career

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.

Post war reconstruction

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.

Design in the 60s, 70s and 80s

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).

Later career

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.


The modular expansion of Tange's Metabolist visions had some influence on Archigram with their plug-in mega structures. The Metabolist movement gave momentum to Kikutake's career. Although his Marine City proposals (submitted by Tange at CIAM) were not realised, his Miyakonojo City Hall (1966) was a more Metabolist example of Tange's own Nichinan Cultural Centre (1962). Although the Osaka Expo had marked a decline in the Metabolist movement, it resulted in a "handing over" of the reigns to a younger generation of architects such as Kazuo Shinohara and Arata Isozaki.

In an interview with Jeremy Melvin at the Royal Academy of Arts, Kengo Kuma explained that, at the age of ten, he was inspired to become an architect after seeing Tange's Olympic arenas, which were constructed in 1964.

For Reyner Banham, Tange was a prime exemplar of the use of Brutalist architecture. His use of Beton brut concrete finishes in a raw and undecorated way combined with his civic projects such as the redevelopment of Tokyo Bay made him a great influence on British architects during the 1960s. Brutalist architecture has been criticised for being soulless and for promoting the exclusive use of a material that is poor at withstanding long exposures to natural weather.

Tange's son Paul Noritaka Tange graduated from Harvard University in 1985 and went on to join Kenzo Tange Associates. He became the president of Kenzo Tange Associates in 1997 before founding Tange Associates in 2002.

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Tokyo, Japan
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ludmilla, February 20th, 2017
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