Innovative Constructions: cases in modern Japan

Modern Japanese architecture has been much admired in the West for its attention to materials, its refined construction details, and its ability to integrate traditional design principles into works that simultaneously push the forefront of technology. This seminar looks in depth at significant works by contemporary Japanese architects, analyzing both their detailed construction and the larger cultural and theoretical contexts in which they are produced. Individual buildings will thus serve as vehicles for exploring the relationship between design theories and construction technique.The panorama of personalities and exuberant design strategies that make up the Japanese architectural scene today is one of the most diverse internationally. Yet the common context of Japanese architects working within an intimately connected profession and highly organized construction industry (also serving a relatively homogeneous society) brings remarkable uniformity to the issues relevant to this study. In surveying significant works from the past century, several broad themes will recur to guide class discussion and research, related to Japan\’s unique points of geography, climate and culture; its symbolic and spatial traditions; problems of urban context and the value of basho-sei (\’place-character\’); the education of architects; and issues of globalization. Finally, of the many factors that have brought modern Japanese architecture international esteem, perhaps none is as important as Japan\’s commitment to cutting-edge technology; to better understand the mechanisms of technological innovation in Japanese architecture, we will study the unique organization of Japan\’s building industry.The core experience of class sessions will be the study of individual works of modern Japanese architecture, particularly those of the last quarter-century, focusing on issues of structure and constructive detail. Analyzing buildings by designers as diverse as Tange, Murano, Maki, Isozaki, Ando, Ito, Taniguchi, and Ban may reveal, among other things, a consistent evolution of technical and expressive trends. One of the most enduring legacies of Modernism in Japan, for example, has been to give primacy of expression to structural elements; post-and-beam construction in steel and concrete, resonant with traditional wood building techniques, has long been a favorite architectural paradigm. Yet recent Japanese architecture has explored other modes of expression, de-emphasizing the structural frame and instead calling attention to construction as the assembly of ever more specialized parts. Simultaneously, the reassuring solidity of older massive concrete structures is giving way to ever-lighter structures that permit a greater amount of light transmission to the interior. Could such an evolution be merely a response to current fashion? Or have trends in manufacturing and construction also played a part in changing the \’rules\’ of Japanese architecture?The course is structured in three parts: 1.) a series of lectures and readings aimed at understanding the historical, cultural, and technological context of modern architecture and urbanism in Japan; 2.) a series of in-depth case-studies of significant buildings from the last twenty-five years, focusing on construction technique and the thought process of the designer; and3.) student presentations on research topics, to be developed together with the instructor.Course work will consist of weekly readings in preparation for class discussion, a brief analysis project to be presented at midterm, and a term paper. Proposals for the term paper topics are due in the fourth week of classes; they should be based on one or more works by a contemporary Japanese architect and explore in depth thematic issues raised in readings, lectures, and discussions. A revised proposal is due three weeks later in the form of a thesis statement; the new proposal should also i