Day 4-5 Tokyo to Yokohama to Nagoya
From Tokyo, we drove to the Yokohama Port Terminal, which is looking even better than it did when I visited in 2010, as the wood decking continues to age to an ash grey. While still impressive in concept and execution, the building does now seem a bit a pre-recession relic, it's formal exuberance completely unnecessary for the program (though we did see a few wandering locals, using the roofscape as intended, a public park with a spectacular view of the bay.). (In a few days, we'll see SANNA's Naoshima Ferry Terminal, a minimalist response?)
Passing Toyo Ito's now-unimpressive Tower of the Winds, we speculated on the state of the industry in 1980s Japan, and the impact of responsive, digital architecture that we now take for granted. After visiting Tod's, Mikimoto, and ZA-Koenji Theater, we're left mostly cold on Ito, questioning the architect's place in the canon of Japanese architecture.
At the Kanagawa Prefectural Youth Center, we were able to see two buildings by Kunio Maekawa: the 1954 concert hall and library, and the 1962 Prefectural Youth Center. In the former, post-war international modernism merges with traditional vernacular ideas of screening and layering of space, to quite nice effect. In the latter, these qualities are subsumed by a monolithic Corbusian Brutalism, still an attractive building to connoisseurs, but lacking the subtlety of the earlier work. The two are arranged to create a civic plaza, unfortunately occupied by surface parking.
After a drive, we wandered through Itsuko Hasegawa's Shonandai Culture Center (1990). Ostensibly an urban renewal project, the complex today is desolate, giving the impression of an abandoned amusement park. First impressions aside, the building was still open, and we passed a group of locals doing exercises in the central plaza. Urbanistically, it seems to work, somewhat, though the style (giant spheres!) is now hopelessly dated.
Finally, we ended the day at Fumihiko Maki's Keio University Shonandai Fujisawa (1992), an expansion of the urban ideas we saw Maki dealing with at the Daikanyama Hillside Apartments (1968-1998), on a slightly larger, suburban scale.
From there, we drove on to our hotel in Toyota, near Nagoya.
The following day, we started with Sejima's Aizuma Hall before continuing on to Kengo Kuma's Prostho Museum, an office building an gallery fronted by a gridded matrix based on traditional wood craftsmanship from the area. The wooden grid is carved away to create interior space: the result is, I imagine, like crawling inside a Sol LeWitt sculpture. The grid here seems to represent Kuma's sophisticated engagement with traditional vernacular architecture. The joinery method is, frankly, hard to check, but we noted that the ends of the wooden members were painted white where cut, a technique we've seen at several shrines and temples.
Continuing, we drove to Meiji Mura, the open-air architecture park where the lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel has been reconstructed. Given Wright's debt to Japanese Architecture, it's somewhat surprising to see Wright in California-Mayan mode here in Japan, where his (albeit, earlier) Prairie style would seem more appropriate, both climatically, and stylistically given its potential resonance with Japanese culture. In our discussion of the building, we considered the role of Wright's ego: given his self-promotion as a solitary genius, perhaps acknowledging a debt to Japanese traditional architecture was unthinkable. The hotel is worth studying in detail, especially when one considers that the designers Arata Endo and Antonin Raymond both worked on the project, and would go on to help define Japanese modernism, both pre- and post-WWII.
From Meiji Mura, we drove to the Meiso-no Mori Funeral home by Toyo Ito (2006), which did a lot to improve our opinion of the Pritzker winner. The undulating roof sits remarkably well in the landscape, occupying a zone between ground and sky, reflected like a cloud in the adjacent pool. The glass walls add to the sensation of weightlessness.
The next and last stop of the day was the Ise Shrine, which deserves its own post.
Thoughts on the M.Arch I program at the Ohio State University, 2005-2009, plus additional work with OSU as a critic and lecturer.