KSA Japan Day 11: Hiroshima - Okayama - Kyoto
After departing Hiroshima, we headed towards Kyoto, picking up a few sights on the way. Our first stop was the Kurashiki City Museum (former government offices) by Kenzo Tange, 1960. A massive, solid block of a building, it lacks the subtlety of Tange's Kagawa Prefectural Office Building (which we saw earlier) but continues several of its themes in interesting ways. Earlier, we noted Tange's riffs on Le Corbusier, such as the raising of a building on piloti to free the ground plane for public program, his 'honest' use of materials, for example revealing the texture of the board-formed concrete. Here in Kurashiki, the Corbusian riffs are more explicit, and their integration into Tange's project - of finding an architectural language that operates within the framework of international modernism, yet draws on the craft traditions of pre-modern Japan - is less successful.
Here, the massing and form is pure Chandighar brutalism, with a massive slab topped with sculptural forms - in this case a pair of triangular 'ears' top the building. On the interior, the main lobby space features a wall of blind windows - smaller frames set back slightly off-center, lofted to the outer edges - a severely flattened-out version to the punch windows at Notre Dame du Haut (Ronchamp). In the upper-level auditorium/lecture hall, the rough wall white surface seems to come directly from Ronchamp's exterior treatment. That Tange was aware of Le Corbusier's recent work is unquestionable - he would have surely seen the magazines, andmay have been in direct contact via CIAM meetings, or academic circles (we'd have to check their respective timelines). In any case, it's clear that Corbusier was a big influence on this phase f Tange's career, and here at Kurashiki, the Tange's own idiosyncratic style is almost lost beneath the references. In the corners of the lobby, we do see a bit of Tange's synthetic project: The structural grid is shifted down vertically, creating a clerestory zone above, just as in traditional Japanese homes. As in the Kagawa office building, the structural connections of in concrete are modeled after wood joinery techniques.
Next, we visited Koraku-en, "one of the three great gardens of Japan." At first, I was unimpressed. This was not as immediately scenic as Ritsurin Garden (which we saw a few days ago), on further reflection, I like it more and more. The garden is anchored by a large open plain of short grass, with paths etched into the surface and waterways carved into the plane of the grass. At the perimeter, densely forested areas block the views to the surrounding city, but distant hills are still visible - captured views, a well-known technique. In the center of the plain, a small hill gives an elevated view, showing the systems of waterways and pathways, and their interaction.
With my background in China, it's impossible to avoid comparison with classical Chinese gardens, such as those in Suzhou. In the Suzhou gardens, the primary elements of water, rockery, path, planting, pavilion, etc, are integrated in a way that the garden becomes a synthetic whole, blurring the lines between interior and exterior, between enclosure and exposure. This impulse toward wholeness occurs at different scales and within each element of the garden: for example, in Suzhou, rockeries are monolithic things, with voids carved away (by hand or by carefully directed erosion). In the suzhou gardens, the emphasis is one integration and wholeness. In Japanese gardens, by contrast, the emphasis is on separation and difference, on the independence of discrete elements. At Koraku-en, for instance, the detail between the grassy plain and the water's edge is detailed in such a way as to make a clear distinction between the two. The plane of the field slops down geometrically - it's almost a true arc in section, meeting the plane of the water at near-perpendicular, where the edge is emphasized by a band of small rocks. This small detail serves to separate the water from the grass field, and the result is somewhat astounding: you now read the water features as a continuous planar surface, with the grass carefully placed atop it, as in a scale model.
Elsewhere in Okayama, we toured the Orient Museum, a great collection of middle-eastern antiquities (Shinchi Okada, 1979). The interior was a shock after the dull, dirty, tiled exterior, with a complex internal atrium, great natural light, and varied concrete textures inspired by the patterns of the artwork in the collection.
On our lunch break, we stumbled upon an interesting modern town center, with a government building we guessed was 1950s Maekawa. After some research, we identified it as the Okayama Prefectural Office Building (1952-1957, plus later additions), by Maekawa, with many smiilariites to the architect's Kanagawa Concert Hall and Library of 1954 (seen earlier). After a long drive to Togo Murano's 1965 Takarazuka Church, we proceeded on to Kyoto, where we stopped briefly at Shin Takamatsu's Ark and Pharaoh dental clinics, two surprisingly well-detailed works of postmodernism.
Thoughts on the M.Arch I program at the Ohio State University, 2005-2009, plus additional work with OSU as a critic and lecturer.