Competing Visions of Modernity in Japan

The course will trace the parallel trajectories of two of modern Japan’s most influential schools of architectural thought, represented by Kenzo Tange (1913–2005) on the one hand and Kazuo Shinohara (1925–2006) on the other, and situate their contributions in the broader development of international modernism in the postwar period. Tange and his protégés in the Metabolist group dazzled the world with radical proposals for urban communities built either on the sea or elevated in the sky. Shinohara rejected this techno-rationalist stance through the slogan “A house is a work of art” and turned to the single-family house shunned by the Metabolists.  The House of White by Shinohara achieves an almost oceanic spaciousness through abstraction and precision. 

The course will be structured as a series of discursive narratives and debates, such as tradition, transparency, lightness, and technology, which defined architectural practice and criticism in Japan after 1945. Major figures, notably Toyo Ito, successfully overcame these differences and established new paradigms. We will also position young Japanese architects today, Ishigami, Fujimoto, and Hasegawa, in terms of these historical genealogies and the evolution of a critical discourse.  

The course will make extensive use of the Kenzo Tange Collection housed at the Loeb Library.  We will also engage recent exhibitions on modern Japanese architecture, including Constellations exhibition at MoMA, the Japanese House at the MAXXI and Barbican Center, and #SOSBrutalism at German Architecture Museum, and examine the framing of modern and contemporary architecture in Japan to public and professional audiences.