Friday, October 14, 2011


Photo courtesy of wakii


The Saint Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo is a project by the celebrated architect Kenzo Tange , the greatest exponent of modern architecture in Japan and the first Japanese to be awarded the Pritzker prize. Tange's project is at the midpoint between Modernism and Metabolism, between the abstract and the symbolic, between the bright and polished exterior and the dark and rough interior... in sum, between the East and the West.

The first Catholic cathedral in Tokyo was built in wood, in Neo-Gothic style in 1899 (there are still some of these churches in Japan, as in Nagasaki or Meiji Mura ).

Oura Church, shows the importance of Catholicism in Nagasaki

In its beginnings it was simply the chapel of the Seminary of the French missionaries, until 1920 when it was converted into a cathedral. At that time the parishioners used to remove their shoes before entering the church, just as they do when entering a Buddhist temple.
The cathedral was completely devastated during the bombing of the Second World War in 1945. In 1960 a competition was organized to design a new cathedral, which was won by Kenzo Tange, who prior to preparing the design had visited many medieval European cathedrals.

"After experiencing their grandeur, trying to reach the sky, and their ineffably mystical spaces, I began to imagine new spaces, and I wanted to create them using modern technology."

The cathedral, of 15.098 sq. meters and a capacity of 600 seats, was built between 1963-64.

Process of scaffolding the impressive concrete structure.

One of the things that struck me from the church, especially when compared with other Catholic cathedrals in Europe, Latin America or Asia itself (I mean the Philippines ) was it secluded character. That is, there is not a square or a public open space preceding the cathedral, as it is common in the Western tradition. On the contrary, the church is located next to a highway, hidden behind other buildings, and one can only have an idea of its size and magnificent proportions when viewed from a nearby pedestrian bridge .

This may be due to the secluded character of many Japanese temples, or perhaps it has to do with the little relevance of Christian churches in Japanese daily life (only 1% of the population in Japan are Christians).


The complex consists of a group of structures, among which are the cathedral and bell tower.

The cathedral is based, as many ancient Christian churches, in a cross layout. The arms of the cross measure 55.5 and 40 meters respectively. However, contrary to what is seen in the West, Tange depressed the cruise raising each of the arms of the cross to a height of 39.4 m.

The plan layout is a diamond, which sides are joined to the vertices of the cross using 8 curves called hyperbolic paraboloids. At this stage, it is evident the tendency of the architect to develop monumental buildings using concrete and steel structures such curves, also present at the National Gymnasium for Tokyo Olympics of 1964 (that I will review in the next post in this moleskine), designed more or less at the same time of the cathedral. In fact this technique had been previously used by Le Corbusier in buildings such as the Legislative Assembly of Chandigarh .

To this sculptural structure wrapped in stainless steel, which symbolizes the "light of Christ shining upon the world and the hearts of men", the architect added other small cubic volumes, such as the baptistery.

Simplicity and elegance in the exterior surface coating.
Photos courtesy of kazbow .

Access to the lateral nave is reached by one of these added volumes. In fact you might think of it as a transitional space between the profane and the sacred, a kind of liminality, a resource that was also used by the Filipino master Leandro Locsin, a modern architect and a contemporary of Tange.

But while the exterior facade catches the eye due to its metal tones, especially glaring on a sunny day, the interior captivates with its grim tones and unfinished texture, just like the Japanese concept of wabi sabi , that is the aesthetic pleasure of unfinished things , also used in works by other architects, such as the famous Church of Light by Tadao Ando.

The grim concrete texture evokes the Japanese concept of wabi sabi.
Photo courtesy of kazbow .

The exposed concrete also symbolizes a biblical concept: "The Lord is my rock and my fortress in whom I take refuge ..." ( Psalm 18:2 ). Hence, the architect wants to express strength in its proposal, which at the same time seems to levitate through its sculptural form.

Details of the cruise. Photos courtesy of Liao Yusheng .

These concrete walls provide a dramatic spectacle in their contact with light, which seeps through the studied openings located in the zenith, or through the elongated windows on the sides of the cross (the reader can find a similar use of light in the Cathedral of Los Angeles by Rafael Moneo).

Light, volume and texture, masterfully dominated by Tange.
Photos courtesy of kazbow .

Details of stained glass behind the altar.
Photos courtesy of Liao Yusheng .

Light effects on the nave.
Photos courtesy of Liao Yusheng .

"Purified by light". Photo courtesy of L2 .

Replica of "La Pieta" by Michelangelo. The original is in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The light coming from above causes a dramatic effect in the statue.

Sculptural baptismal pile.

Detail of the organ. Photo courtesy of scarletgreen .

The biggest attraction of the church is the space, modeled, sculptured and monumental. In some occasions, a light and musical show is featured, providing the visitor a both mystical and theatrical experience.

Lighting effects in the cathedral.
Photos courtesy of Sasami .

Outside stands the superb bell tower, reaching a height of 61.68 meters.

Other facilities include parish offices and children's games, where there is also plenty of artistic inspiration.

"Architectural creation is a special form of comprehending reality. It works upon and transforms reality through the construction of a substantial object of use. The artistic form of this object, on the other hand, has the two-fold quality of both mirroring and enriching reality. This understanding of reality which takes place through architectural creation requires that the anatomy of reality, its substantial and spiritual structure, be grasped as a whole... "

Kenzo Tange.



  1. thanks heaps for the amazing information

  2. nice images! for some more pictures:

  3. Nice blog... keep-up the good work... May I share a blog about the Notre Dame in Paris in
    Watch also the video in youtube

  4. 뱃할맛이 나는곳 먹튀검증 안전한메이져