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Kenzo Tange centennial celebrations

by Julian Worrall

Kenzo Tange, one of the most significant Japanese architect of the 20th century, was born 100 years ago this year. Tange spent much of his childhood in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, on the Seto Inland Sea, and all of the most significant of his early works dating from the 1950s, from the Hiroshima Peace Center to government offices in Takamatsu and Kurashiki, are dotted around the region.

With the centennial coinciding with this year’s Setouchi Triennale, a series of symposia and architecture tours has been organized in venues around the Inland Sea, along with an ambitious exhibition exploring Tange’s works and legacy at the Kagawa Museum in Takamatsu.

Tange’s great achievement was to develop an architectural language that could fully express Japan’s postwar aspirations for modernity while staying in close communion with the wellsprings of its cultural heritage, a quest that offers some guidance for those navigating the trackless oceans of globalized cultural production today.

“Kenzo Tange: Tradition and Creation — from Setouchi to the World” at the Kagawa Museum runs till Sept 23; ¥1,000 (¥500 for Setouchi Triennale passport holders). www.tange100.jp

Ryue Nishizawa and Setouchi

The conversation between art and architecture was an essential part of Tange’s approach to making resonant places. He worked with many major figures in the postwar Japanese art world, including Isamu Noguchi and Taro Okamoto. This conversation increasingly animates festivals of contemporary art in Japan.

The Setouchi Art Festival, born from the successful marriage of art and architecture over two decades on Naoshima, is one of the leading examples. Along with the harvest of art comes a new crop of interventions by architects. Notable among these is an elegant pavilion by Ryue Nishizawa, installed as part of the new Fukutake House facility at the port of Fukuda on Shodoshima.

Like most things by Nishizawa, the concept of the pavilion seems effortlessly simple — resembling two pieces of bent paper lying on each other — yet enfolding rich spaces and vistas within. In its realized form, the paper has become sheets of steel, which support each other in a balance of tension and compression. A minimal seating ribbon winds loosely between the two sheets and a tree rises through them. The effect is striking, delightful and inviting — when I visited, local kids were using it as an impromptu gaming surface. Unusually for Nishizawa, the project is painted in a sandy beige rather than his usual pristine white — the better to integrate with its environment, he says.

Fukutake House, Fukuda Port, Shodoshima. www.fukutake-house.or.jp

‘Eastern Promises’ in Vienna

The prominence of architectural interventions at Setouchi is a reflection of an idea that has been gaining traction around the world: that architectural, or more accurately, spatial approaches have the capacity to bring both cultural meaning and social vibrancy to places suffering a loss of both. This is in part an outgrowth of the disdain with which many of the gaudy products of property bubbles in much of the world in the mid-2000s are now viewed, but it also reflects a general reorientation toward the social dimensions of the profession.

A wide-ranging exhibition that recently opened in Vienna explores practices that are pioneering such approaches in East Asia. Encompassing work from more than 40 practices across four East Asian nations (Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan), the show focuses on “actors who see architecture less as the production of iconic objects and spectacular forms than as a catalyst for a structural reorientation of society in its spatial dimensions.” Nishizawa is among the Japanese contributors, who include a number of others now also building on the Setouchi Islands. The Seto Inland Sea remains as fertile for the genesis of Japan’s future architecture as it was in Tange’s day.

“Eastern Promises: Contemporary Architecture and Spatial Practices in East Asia” at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, runs till Oct 2013. www.mak.at