Tectonic Visions Between Land & Sea: Works of Kiyonori Kikutake

For more than half a century, visionary architect Kiyonori Kikutake (1928–2011) pursued Metabolic architecture, embracing forces of renewal, recycling, and transformation. Following the debut of his Sky House and Marine City at the 1959 C.I.A.M. (Congrès Internationale d’Architecture Moderne) Conference in Otterloo in the Netherlands, Kikutake became a leading voice of Metabolism, the architectural movement launched at the 1960 World Design Conference in Tokyo. His work was presented on another important international stage at the New York Museum of Modern Art’s 1960 “Visionary Architecture” exhibition. More recently, Rem Koolhaas has revived within contemporary discourse the Metabolist cause of “immense optimism…and ambitious vision of accelerated urbanism and advanced technology existing in parallel with an untainted nature” in his book Project Japan (2011). For Kikutake, such transformative architecture drew on the centuries-old tradition of wooden structures in Japan to rebuild a nation ravaged by war and natural disasters, and then continuously evolved to address societal and technological changes up through the present.

As Kikutake’s first solo North American showing, this exhibition highlights his lifelong creation of a dynamic platform for living, floating above land and sea. This pursuit spans the scales of the individual dwelling unit, the public scale of landmark works such as Hotel Tokoen and the Izumo Administration Building, and the urban scale of his ongoing Marine/Ocean City project, spanning from the late 1950s to today. These works follow a dialectical process of ka, kata, katachi, inspired by Hegel’s trilogy of essence, substance, phenomenon, as well as theoretical physicist Mitsuo Taketani’s Doctrine of the Three Stages of Scientific Development (1936) that in architectural terms can be understood as the process of schematic/design/construction design development. Within this framework, Kikutake sought from the outset to maintain an ecological balance with the built environment and people’s activities, rather than linearly pursuing a positivist notion of modern progress.

While maintaining an outward appearance of serene optimism, Kikutake designed with dogged determination, constantly reconsidering and developing projects such as Sky House and Marine City through his entire life. Through the sketches, drawings, models, and photographs on display here, the strength of Kikutake’s work can be seen in its tectonic construction, human-scaled spatial character, and capacity to embrace change over time. These key aspects have been highly influential for those who worked closely with him, including Toyo Ito, Itsuko Hasegawa, Hiroshi Naito, and a new generation of young architects—such that his vision lives on beyond his recent death, according to cycles of continued metabolic change.

Ken Tadashi Oshima, guest curator

Related Exhibition

Related Event
“Tectonic Visions between Land and Sea: Works of Kiyonori Kikutake,” Panel Discussion with Ken Oshima and Mark Mulligan
Tuesday, September 11, 06:30pm–08:30pm
What Was Metabolism? Reflections on the Life of Kiyonori Kikutake – Toyo Ito

Related News
“Future Man: Gund Hall exhibit explores floating worlds of Kiyonori Kikutake,” Harvard Gazette, October 3, 2012.