Critical explorations of metabolist avant-garde architecture
The Principles of Metabolist Architecture:
between Imitation and Analogy
Architectural Analysis 2018
The topic of this architectural analysis course has been the exploration of some key aspects of the Japanese Metabolist Movement. Seen from a contemporary perspective, the movement’s foremost, concern was cultural resilience as a notion of national identity. Metabolism responded to the human and environmental catastrophe that followed the atomic bombing of Japan and vulnerability to natural disasters such as earthquakes, with architecture envisioning the complete transformation of Japan as a system of political, social, and physical structures into resilient spatial and organizational patterns adaptable to change. Projecting a utopia of resilience, Metabolism employed biological metaphors and recalled techno-scientific images which, together with the vernacular, evoked the notion of a genetic architecture able to be recreated again and again. A specific concern was to mediate between an urbanism of large, technical and institutional infrastructures and the freedom of the individual.
During the course, the architectural qualities of some iconic buildings have been extensively analyzed as Kisho Kurokawa’s Expo ’70 pavilion and Nakagin Capsule Tower, Kenzo Tange’s Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Tower and Yamanashi Broadcasting and Press Centre. The main purpose of the analysis was the exploration of the implicit and explicit relations between significant Metabolist theoretical principles and the representation of these principles by the design of these buildings. As we know, Metabolist principles in the field of architecture have been based on analogy of nature. Urban and architectonic structures are interpreted as dynamic phenomena, having the ability to grow as well to shrink down is size, flexible, changeable, in short dynamic and without tectonic finality. However, the detailed exploration of these iconic buildings had led to unexpected conclusions, even slightly to an intellectual disappointment. It became apparent, that the principles of changeability and substitutability are more illusory than real; they only imitate the logic of nature, instead of producing an analogical perspective. None of the buildings have really designed to remain as a convincing example of endless transformation. This insight has resulted not only in a sharp decline of appreciation of Metabolist architecture in general. It rather has led to the fundamental question if natural phenomena could be at all effective theoretical parameters of cultural phenomena.