Tuesday, February 23, 2016

JAPANESE METABOLISM AS CATALYZER OF POST WAR RECONSTRUCTION - RIBA



The following is an excerpt of an article presented as a "piece" at the exhibition "Creation from Catastrophe: How architecture rebuilds communities", presented by the Royal Institute of British Architects - RIBA -  in London, UK,  from January 27th to 24 April 24th 2016. This exhibition "considers the evolving relationship between man, architecture and nature and asks whether we are now facing a paradigm shift in how we live and build in the 21st century" and presents samples from London in 1666, 18th century Lisbon, 19th century Chicago, 20th century Skopje, and current day Nepal, Nigeria, Japan, Chile, Pakistan and USA.


I would like to express my appreciation and thankfulness  to RIBA for inviting me to contribute to this important event. The concept behind this piece is to structure the ideas and works that defined the Metabolism Movement in Japan as a response of the reconstruction that followed World War II. This process has been divided in particular stages: the Event, the Iconic Building, the Symbolic Reconstruction, the Genesis of the Movement, Experimentation, Climax and Worldwide Influences.

Finally it insinuates a resemblance with a more recent tragedy that hit Japan: the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

JAPANESE METABOLISM AS CATALYZER OF POST WAR RECONSTRUCTION

THE EVENT
At 8:15 in the morning of August 6th 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped over the hustled streets of Hiroshima. Living beings and buildings alike were devastated under that gigantic blast. However, there were survivors, both humans and edifices, who managed to withstand that hellish event.



THE ICON
One of the few surviving buildings became an icon and it was preserved as a symbol of the Japanese resilience in the difficult years of the post-war reconstruction: The International Promotion Hall, worldwide known nowadays as the Atomic Dome. This building became later so important that was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.



SYMBOLIC RECONSTRUCTION

This symbolism is evident in Kenzo Tange’s plan for Hiroshima’s Peace Park, built just 4 years after the end of the war. Arranged around a linear axis pointing at the Atomic Dome and framed by monuments and a museum raised from the ground by columns. Tange underlined a connection between the past and the future, between a horse seat samurai monument and modern architecture heavily influenced by Corbusian principles.




How come a defeated Japan would embrace Western Modernism to express its reconstruction? The answer perhaps was given to me by an atomic bomb survivor while I was visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park some years ago. I asked the old gentleman an impertinent question: “What do you think about the Americans now?” The unexpected answer was: “I respect them because they were the victors”.

GENESIS OF METABOLISM

15 years later Japan’s economy was growing fast along with an unprecedented urban sprawl. In 1960 Japan’s most renowned architect detached himself from Western Modernism and mentored the most important Japanese architectural movement of the 20th century: Metabolism. During the 1960 World Design Congress Kenzo Tange and a group of his young disciples –Kisho Kurokawa, Kiyonori Kikutake, Fumihiko Maki, Masatu Osaka and others- produced a manifesto called “Metabolism: Proposals for a New Urbanism”. 

On January 1st 1961 Tange presented his Plan for Tokyo Bay, a visionary proposal composed by megastructures displayed along the water to host the huge urban expansion of the city. Megastructures composed by modules that would grow like in a living organism or a meccano were characteristic of Metabolism. The proposal consisted of a fleet of units up to 300 m wide, with roofs resembling  Japanese temples that seemed to be floating in the water, containing residences. The proposal differed from the ideas of CIAM, which was in favor of "urban centers" and proposed "civic areas" instead. Even if Tokyo Bay was never built, it allowed Metabolists to be exposed to a much wider public.


Kenzo Tange in front of his Plan for Tokyo in 1960


EXPERIMENTATION

The Tokyo Olympics of 1962 sent a message that the agonic years of the post-war were being left behind and they were replaced by an optimistic vision of the future. The National Gymnasium designed by Tange in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo was a unique expression of modern Japanese architecture, which however reminded me in some details of the traditional shrine of Ise. This reference also evocates the idea of regeneration cycles, so present in Shito shrines and embraced by Metabolism.


In the following years many urban utopias were proposed by the Metabolists, such as the renewal of Tsukiji District by Kenzo Tange (1963),the  City Farm by Kurokawa, (1960), the Helix City, by Kurokawa, 1961 or the City in the air by Arata Isozaki, 1961.


Renewal of Tsukiji District. Kenzo Tange, 1963.

International Conference Centre, Kyoto. Sachio Otani, 1966.

THE CLIMAX

Besides architecture and urbanism, art was deeply involved in Metabolism, primarily through two events: the exhibition "Environmental Space", 1966, and mainly the Osaka Expo in 1970 (whose urban planning was also designed by Tange). This was a chance for artists like Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and Kiyoshi Awazu to develop creations based on the principles of Metabolism. For example, in the central square a Tower of the Sun was located, created by sculptor Taro Okamoto, which still stands today.

The Expo 70 was an outstanding occasion to show up the ideas and products of Metabolism. One of the most popular examples was  the Beautilion Pavilion, by Kisho Kurokawa, 1970.Obsessed with the idea of capsules, Kurokawa organized a structural frame to which cube capsules were attached. The unfinished aesthetic conveyed the idea that it was a constantly growing project.

Beautilion Takara, Osaka Expo. Kisho Kurokawa, 1970. Obsessed with the idea of capsules, Kurokawa organized a structural frame to which cube caps were attached. The unfinished aesthetic conveyed the idea that it was a constantly growing project

This idea led to the construction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, perhaps the most emblematic building of the Metabolist Movement. Kurokawa's project was a bit more ambitious than the one that was actually built, and consisted of two towers housing the capsules, that could be growing organically according to future needs, according to Metabolist principles. The buildings consisted of two components: a mega-structure of reinforced concrete containing the elevators, stairs as well as bridges that interconnect to other buildings, and the capsules, which would anchor the structure in just 4 points for easy replacement every 25 years.


Ironically, these events marked the decline of Metabolism, as the energy crisis of the 70’s forced to rethink the role of urban growth and cities.

INFLUENCES

Metabolism had repercussions way far beyond Japan, in places like Peru, Macedonina and United States.
Kiyonori Kikutake’s proposal for the Marine City in Hawaii, in 1963 was a series of  cylindrical buildings that accommodated housing units, which were attached to a fixed core. As the units became older, they were replaced by new ones, similar to regenerating cells. This was a much earlier version of Kurokawa’s Nakagin capsule tower.

Marine City, Hawaii. Kiyonori Kikutake, 1963. These "rollers" were cylindrical cores from which housing units were born. As the units became older, they were replaced by new ones, similar to regenerating cells.
Photo courtesy of mr. Prudence .

In 1967, Peruvian President architect Fernando Belaunde, promoted experimental housing systems called PREVI, to which Metabolists were invited, along with other famous international architects. The proposal of Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa and Fumihiko Maki was characterized by a long and narrow layout of the dwelling units, that regulates the rigid division between the services and living functions.

Another example is the 1967 Master Plan for Skopje, carried out by Kenzo Tange. After a strong  earthquake that devastated the Macedonian capital, the UN organised a competition for an urban plan for the new city. A winner Tange envisioned a capital structured around two concepts: the "City Gate", which was the hub of entry into the capital, comprising all transportation systems, and the "City Wall", consisting of apartment buildings, simulating a medieval wall, which would incorporate housing to the downtown areas.


Plan reconstruction of Skopje, Macedonia. Kenzo Tange, 1965. This proposal won an international competition and it was structured around two concepts: the "City Gate", which was the hub of entry into the capital, comprising all transportation systems, and the "City Wall", consisting of apartment buildings, simulating a medieval wall, which would incorporate housing to downtown

THE EVENT
On March 11 a huge earthquake hit Tohoku, northeastern Japan, whose intensity (9.0 on the Richter scale) was the highest in the country's history. Japan sits atop the Eurasian tectonic plate and is pushed by the Pacific plate and the Philippine plate. Every 30 years it is expected a 7 to 8 magnitude earthquake will occur in this area (Miyagi Jishin), due to the tension of the Philippine plate. What nobody expected, since it happens every 1000 years, is a 9 magnitude earthquake, resulting from the breakup of the Pacific plate (Miyagi Oki Jishin).
Because the frequency of tsunamis in this area, given the intricate coastline profile that reverberates water waves , the coast is protected by dikes and barriers up to 4 m height. However, the strength of the earthquake made the whole coast to sink up to 1 m. Besides, nobody could expect the super wave of 7 m that surpassed the concrete defenses as if they not exist at all. Moreover, large blocks of those became a moving wall of mud and debris that collided with the wooden houses that were standing on the shore.




THE ICON
On May of the same year I was standing upon the site where once stood Minami Sanriku, a fishing village resort located in Miyagi Prefecture. As much as 95% of the village was destroyed and at least 60% of its population perished (10,000 people). The survivors lost everything.
The tragic panorama  reminded me of the pictures of the atomic attack on Hiroshima. A thick haze wrapped a landscape of death and seemed  to still carry the heavy load of thousands of moans, cries and tears of so many people, making us breath the scent of the tragedy.
One of the surviving structures was Disaster Prevention Center, although only its steel frame could be seen. After experiencing an earthquake for five long minutes, Miki Endo, a worker Disaster Welfare Service received a tsunami alert and began to broadcast alarm messages to the population. Many people looked for safe places, like the roofs of the few tall buildings in town. 40 minutes later, a big wave came to town, dragging everything in its path, and becoming a deadly wall of debris, cars and boats that reached a speed of 100 km per hour. The public servant heroically continued broadcasting without trying to seek refuge, managed to save many lives, until she was engulfed by water.
The building became a symbol of her heroism and Japanese resilience facing catastrophic events.




WHAT IS COMING?
The huge scale of this disaster mobilized the whole country and a plethora of architectural proposals were developed throughout Japan. To the widely discussed ideas of Japanese masters and Pritzker awardees Toyo Ito and Shigeru Ban, many other ideas had been discussed in academic circles.
Perhaps, like in the past, this is a new chance for the development of new urban and architectural ideas and theories.

 
Toyo Ito presenting its ideas on House for All during the UIA World Congress of Architecture, Durban, South Africa. 

SEE ALSO 
- Kenzo Tange WORKS
- Kisho Kurokawa WORKS
* SPECIAL FEATURES


Thank you very much to Charlotte Broadribb and Michelle Alderton from RIBA for inviting me to participate in this event and for sharing this screen grab. I hope some day I can replace it with a picture of us together.






Tuesday, May 19, 2015

PROJECT FOR THE REGENERATION OF VLADIVOSTOK'S WATERFRONT

ESPAÑOL

The following is an excerpt from an article published in the specialized Russian magazine URBAN, about a project I had the honor to lead, in collaboration with my colleague Sergei Mostovoi and students from the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.


The Russian government has been paying special attention to Vladivostok in recent years. The APEC summit held in September 2012 gave a fresh impetus to the development of the city as a centre of business and innovative cooperation between Russia and Asia-Pacific countries.
Preparations for such a significant international event called for serious efforts to create and improve Vladivostok’s infrastructure with upwards of 50 projects around the city having been completed or restored. Among them, the Far Eastern Federal University, a medical centre, three bridges, a theatre of opera and ballet, international airport and etc.
Notable changes have occurred in the infrastructure of Russky Island, where the summit was held. The mighty bridge across the Eastern Bosporus Strait incorporated the island into the transport network of Vladivostok and made it part of the city.
The rich natural landscape of the island makes it a good place to create a unique tourist and recreational zone, which would have a positive impact on the socio-economic life of Vladivostok.
Today the city’s development is gravitating towards the model of sustainable development combining an effective economy, harmonious social space and a comfortable urban environment.




For all their effort to improve the urban environment, however, the city government has been unable to resolve long-standing problems which go back to the past. In the 1960-ies the prominent architect E. Vasiliev who studied the urban problems of Vladivostok criticized the city’s greening policy (1).
According to Vladivostok’s Master Plan, the key objective is preservation and restoration of the city’s historical centre, which includes Main Square, the embankments of Amur and the Golden Horn Bays (2).
The historical centre, an iconic signature of Vladivostok, reflects the evolution of the Russian Far East and plays a key role in the city’s tourist infrastructure.
Given this, the policy-makers should take into consideration the problem related to construction of new high-rise tower blocks in the old centre as they clash with the city’s architectural heritage.
The creation of public open spaces will improve the architectural image of Vladivostok and its environment.
Vladivostok is rich in urban heritage, however the urban space is mostly occupied by parking lots that block the view of the monumental area.


However, there are some obstacles to be cleared. One of them is the lack of a comprehensive systematic approach to formulating and developing urban spaces in central Vladivostok. Solution to this problem is a top priority of the comprehensive plan for the development of Vladivostok’s waterfront, which is conducted by Prof. Carlos Zeballos (from Peru) and Prof. Sergei Mostovoi from the Urban and Landscape Design Laboratory of Far Eastern Federal University.
Despite the potential that waterfront areas offer, Vladivostok, unlike many other port cities, has very few public spaces, where people can enjoy contact with water. Paradoxically, most waterfront areas with a unique natural landscape are  occupied by industrial estates, parking lots and disused beaches. Meanwhile, the existing public spaces, relatively small and scattered across the waterfront, have a weak connection with the city limiting the access of residents to the seaside.


Large waterfront areas with great potential for development are occupied by industry or neglected uses.

Proposal of a metro park, social housing and improvement of environmental conditions of industrial facilities. 


According to recent world trends, waterfront areas possess specific social and ecological resources. Architectural and spatial rearrangement of these areas could help the city to achieve a goal of harmonizing the urban environment in the context of sustainable development.
The development of open spaces in Vladivostok should be based on the  identification of urban interfaces – the areas of contact between ecosystems, through which multiple levels of interrelation as well as flows of materials, energy and information can converge. From the viewpoint of communication, interfaces can be positive when they allow and cause the transmission of information, or negative, when they do not. In addition, interfaces can be social or active when they have a unifying function, assuming the role of a node or institutional link, or they can be physical or passive when functioning at the edge or boundary between the active areas of the urban "tissue" they bind.


Analysis of interfaces. The darker red spots show the more feasible areas for intervention.


The interface method differs from traditional urban planning because it focuses on key, sensitive points where the city develops. Rather than investing a great amount of resources that standard urban plans generally involve, the efforts are focused on solving the interfaces, which are especially sensitive to the needs of people and their environment. Also, interfaces can serve a catalyst for urban change channeling positive and controlled impacts in their surrounding areas, which in turn affect others.
In order to identify the location of interfaces, several indicators or types of information related to the physical and socioeconomic characteristics of the area were used. Each indicator was mapped and values were assigned according to their positive or negative impact on the development of a public waterfront area. Prior to the analysis using Geographic Information Systems (specifically QGIS), these data were systematized, geo-referenced and rearranged in thematic layers according to the subject of research.
The layers were combined into a single map of interfaces. The darker areas correspond to the zones of major interfaces located on the waterfront and suitable for intervention.
Clearer tones correspond to either areas far from the waterfront or where intervention is neither feasible nor convenient.
The analysis of passive or physical interfaces identifies not only the location of the most sensitive areas, but also the characteristics of their environment. Additionally, active or social interfaces suggest the cultural features and the patterns of appropriation of public space. This study allows us to consider three main axes that structure the master plan for the development of the downtown and its waterfront.


The interfaces were arranged into three main axes: recreative, monumental and civic.

The first one is an axis connecting spaces located on the northern edge of the Golden Horn Bay, such as the Main Square, Korabelnaya Embankment, and  Tsesarevitch Embankment. This axis extends eastwards through Svetlankaya Street, which houses some of the most important examples of the city's architectural heritage. The second axis runs parallel to the coastline along the Amur Bay and contains sports, tourist and recreational facilities. The third axis runs perpendicular to the Golden Horn Bay, connecting Pokrovskiy Park with the Main Square along Okeanskiy Prospect.
These three axes articulate a multipolar structure that establishes a street circuit encompassing ecological and recreational activities, transportation, tourism and preservation of the urban heritage.
However, it is arguable whether the mere presence of these axes would ensure a fluent dialogue between the city and the sea.
Jane Jacobs emphasizes the importance of access to urban spaces in order to prevent them from becoming abandoned areas that promote vandalism and crime(3).
Based on this analysis a spatial model of Vladivostok City was proposed, including the location of key projects and their interconnectivity through spatial axes or corridors. The plan proposes a continuity of urban renewal activities as well as links between the downtown, the Golden Horn Bay and the Amur Bay.


Master plan of Vladivostok, based on a network of public spaces, linked around three main axis


The master plan comprises the following projects:
Waterfront Metropolitan Park, located on the coast of the Amur Bay in the central part of city, is to become the biggest single multifunctional green space of around 20 hectares, home to both recreational and cultural activities. Currently it is a heavily polluted area with parking lots, industrial warehouses and garbage dumps. It would have a connection with Pokrovskiy Park via the extension of Krasnogo Znameni Prospect through a succession of embankments and boulevards. Realization of this project would contribute to the development of the green infrastructure in downtown Vladivostok.
Waterfront public green areas. Creation of a system of green areas would involve tackling three tasks: the improvement of existing parks and embankments along the coastlines of the Amur and Golden Horn Bays, the creation of new public spaces with beaches, fishing piers, bikeways and the articulation of these by means of corridors or pedestrian malls.
Integration of Power Plant #1, situated on the coast of the Amur Bay, into a large recreational complex would help to transform its territory into an attractive landmark in the urban landscape.
However, it is first necessary to reduce the power plan’s emissions and pollution level.
Pedestrian precincts. A network of paths injects the flow of the pedestrian traffic away from the city and along the coast. Construction of a new plaza under an existing railway would connect recreational zones on the coast of the Amur and Golden Horn Bays. Creation of pedestrian paths would provide a system of corridors with waterfront zones promoting a better visualization of the historic heritage buildings.
While working on this plan its authors took due account of the latest trends in contemporary urban design. According to European experts, future cities will be energy-efficient and green. New buildings will not burn fossil fuels and generate their own electricity.
The use of asphalt and concrete will be minimized. An abundance of urban greenery makes people feel more comfortable (4).



Two proposals for the pedestrianization and recovery of urban space for the people and its connection with the sea through new urban spaces. 


Recently in Europe, non-car mobility has gained popularity and public transport is now accessible throughout the city. The new Vladivostok master plan should reflect such trends.
The development of public spaces and formation of a single recreational zone in Vladivostok tailored to the unique characteristics of the Amur and Golden Horn Bays represents a well-balanced dialogue between the city and the sea. The realization of this project will substantially improve the social and environmental situation in the Vladivostok.

Recovery of the waterfront area and its link with the upper urban spaces through vertical accessibility


1 Vasiliev, E.A., Orlova, M.V., Sukhova, V.I. Problems of greenery in Vladivostok. Vladivostok, 1962. PP. 3-14.
2 The Master Plan of Vladivostok Metropolitan Area. Regulations on regional planning. 1028-PЗ1. Vol. 1. 2011. P. 13.
3 Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities / translated from English. Moscow. 2011. 460 p.
4 Cities of tomorrow – Challenges, visions, ways forward / European Commission – Directorate General for Regional Policy.
Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2011. P. 43–46.

 I would like to thank my dear students for their support and enthusiasm during the field work and proposals.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SHIGERU BAN AT THE GORKY PARK, MOSCOW

ESPAÑOL

"I follow the Moskva 
down to Gorky Park, 
listening to the wind of change ... " 
Scorpions, from the song "Wind of Change"

The Gorky Park is one of the most famous if not the most emblematic park in Moscow, especially linked to political events during the Soviet revolution, since it was conceived as an open space for the society dedicated to leisure and culture for the working classes. 


It was designed by the renowned constructivist  architect Konstantin Melnikov ( whose house and studio was discussed earlier in this moleskine) and dedicated to the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky. 

The park takes advantage of its position besides the Moskva River and it is organized around a major axis that runs roughly parallel to it. The slight inclination of the axis in the composition is due to its perpendicularity to the Krimsky Val Avenue -which crosses the river at the Krimsky bridge- and establishes a balance between the irregular geometry of the trapezoidal plot occupied by the park. 


This monumental axis is dominated by a large entrance with a colonnade that reminds me of something to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin , only the muscovite version presents solid bodies at each side of the gate, which accommodate Soviet iconography. The Gorky gate is a classic example of Stalinist monumental architecture. 


Around the axis there is a series of pools and iconic statues as well as games and recreation for children and adults, which made the Gorky a very popular area, especially in summer. 


Aditionally, Gorky Park has hosted numerous exhibitions to disseminate culture among the population.The exhibition pavilions were a typology favorited by Soviet architects, as they could experiment new proposals representing ideals of what Soviet society should have been. 


After the collapse of the Soviet Union the park began to deteriorate, filled with cheap attractions and junk food stalls. However, in 2011 the park underwent a complete renovation, including large areas of landscaping, a huge skating rink, bike lanes, and free WiFi access. 


In 2008 the Center for Contemporary Culture Garage was formed and since then it has become a great promoter of art and culture in the park, holding exhibitions and education programs and inviting great exponents of contemporary art. 



Among other activities, Garage invited architect Rem Koolhaas for a renovation project of the once famous restaurant Vremena Goda (Year Seasons). The OMA's project  included a 5400 m2 building, including two levels for exhibition galleries, a creative center for children, a shop, a café, an auditorium and offices. 
The conclusion of this building was scheduled for 2014, but has been postponed given the economic situation in Russia. 

Model of OMA's proposal for remodeling the Vremena Goda restaurant 

Furthermore, Garage, which owes its name to have originally been housed in the former bus garage- organizes frequent events and exhibitions that promote the exchange and development of contemporary artistic and cultural activities.

Place for summer 2013. Structures on paper.

In October 2012, Garage organized the exhibition "Temporary Exhibitions in Gorky Park: From Melnikov to Ban". The center of this exhibition was a temporary pavilion designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who was later awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2014 (the most recent, at the time I write this post). 


Ban has been internationally renowned for its ephemeral structures and  his contribution has been invaluable especially after tragedies that required the implementation of cheap and quickly erected buildings, like the Cathedral built after the earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand or shelters built after the terrible tsunami in Japan in 2011 , financed by his own resources. 

Detail of the model for the pavilion in Gorky Park. 

Shigeru Ban's architecture is characterized by the use of recyclable materials such as cardboard or paper. In this regard, the proposal for the pavilion in Gorky Park comprises a sequence of cardboard tubes describing a ​​2400 m2 ellipse and enclosing a transparent structure of metal and glass comprising a 800 m2 rectangular exhibition area​​. 



The cardboard tubes, in addition to their aesthetic character, have a structural function since they support the entire load of the roof. Shigeru Ban's called them the "invisible structure". 



At the intersection of both geometries there is a café and towards the other end there are other services. The café is wrapped by a warm atmosphere due to the use of simple materials such as wood and cardboard, contrasting with the white rectangular prism. 


This simplicity in both materiasl and composition allowed the pavilion to be built in record time and at a very low cost. The pavilion should have been demolished in December 2012, but fortunately Garage has decided to keep it, and it was on display at the time of my visit in September 2014. 



The proposal is simple, but it offers an interesting play of light, which is filtered through the separations between the tubes. These support  the roof which crowns the composition of the facade, which at times seems to be levitating given the lightness of the material. 


Inside, the Japanese architect has also made use of cardboard tubes for the composition of furniture such as the  reception and some of the tables. 


At the time of the visit, the pavilion inside did not include the original exhibition of the work of Melnikov and others, but works  under the title The New International, an exhibition that shows a way to describe how individuals share, understand or experience specific context situations without universalizing their results. 

"warmth I was interested in working in russia first and foremost because of Russia’s culture, architecture, music and art and due to its geographic connections with Japan… although Russia and Japan are neighbors, we have very different cultures. Garage is well-known in the international art community for its progressive projects. the construction of the temporary pavilion is both efficient to construct and affordable by using local materials produced in St. Petersburg "
Shigeru Ban


SEE ALSO 

- Urban Parks