World Monuments Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization aiming to preserve imperiled cultural heritage sites, has named the Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium, designed by the late renowned architect Kenzo Tange, on its 2018 World Monuments Watch list.
The gym in the city of Takamatsu faces possible demolition due to a leaky roof and issues with earthquake resistance.
The concrete structure was built in 1964, the same year that the construction of Yoyogi National Gymnasium, another building designed by Tange, was completed.
For the Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium, Tange used modern materials to evoke the form of a traditional Japanese wooden barge, as well as the strong and supple body of an athlete, according to the fund.
The Kagawa gym is among 25 sites named by the World Monuments Forum as cultural landmarks around the world that face extinction but are considered worthy of preservation. The watch list is issued every two years. Since the program’s inception, over 800 sites in more than 135 countries and territories — including those on the 2018 list — have been included.
The gym hosted local sporting events for 50 years, but it was closed to the public in 2014 after its suspended roof of thin concrete slabs started to leak. Prefectural officials have given up repairing the building due to the massive costs involved, opting to build a new sports facility in the city instead.
Noriyuki Kawanishi, a Takamatsu-based architect who has campaigned to save the gym from demolition, welcomed the news, expressing hope that it would help locals become more aware of the historic value of the architecture.
“The building has been seen by some locals as a negative legacy,” said Kawanishi, who heads the local group Association for the Preservation of Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium. He added that some local residents have resented constraints posed by the gym’s unique design, such as low ceilings and low seating capacity. “But the gym has a unique place in the nation’s architectural history, as it was built at around the same time as the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. The builder of the two gyms — Shimizu Corp. — is said to have used the Kagawa gym as a prototype for the Yoyogi building, which some architects are now trying to get designated as a UNESCO world heritage.”
“The construction of a new sports facility in Takamatsu, scheduled for completion by 2022, means that the future of Tange’s midcentury landmark currently hangs in the balance,” the fund announced on its website. “The 2018 World Monuments Watch supports local advocates, including Japan’s architecture community, in their campaign to stimulate social demand for the preservation of the Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium, with a new vision for its future use.”
Several other sites in Japan have also been picked for the watch list, including the traditional wooden machiya townhouses of Kyoto and early 20th-century buildings in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district.