Nice Art: Metabolism

We also stopped by the “Metabolism, the City of the Future” exhibit, again at the Mori Art Museum.

Here’s a “Metabolism in a minute” introduction to the Metabolism architecture and urban planning movement, which principally developed in post-World War Two Japan.

I’ve had an interest in architecture and urban planning since high school, when I studied drafting instead of painting in art class. Today, I still enjoy taking photographs of buildings inside and out. Here in Tokyo, the Tokyo Kokusai Forum in Yurakucho is one of the first places I visit to test a new camera or lens.

(Later, an online personality profiler identified architect as my best-fit profession; teacher was near the bottom. Go figure: what does the Internet know?)

Such exhibitions can be hard to pull off, since unlike paintings or sculptures you can’t bring the original indoors for display. Photographs and blueprints go part of the way to represent the designs, but it’s the diorama which really draws the viewer’s imagination into the work.

The Metabolism exhibit had dioramas a-plenty, plus videotaped interviews with some of the chief Metabolist architects such as KUOJAWA Kisho, blueprints, and even some pictures of the few Metabolist projects which actually made it off the drawing board, such as the (since torn down) Nakajin Capsule Tower, and the Osaka Exposition of 1970.

Another, international, example of Metabolism might be Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67.

Perhaps the highlights of the show were the examples of capsules on-site: a disaster-relief building made of cardboard which saw service after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and a prototype capsule apartment located just outside the entrance to Roppongi Hills, the location of the Mori Art Museum.

My final impression: relief that the Metabolists were not allowed to go ahead with their  wholesale reconstruction of postwar Japan, and Tokyo in particular. While their mass-production friendly, pre-fab inspired “megastructures” might have made sense in the anxious, post-war years when Japanese authorities had a whole nation to re-build and a population to house, today Tokyo’s architectural diversity is one of its most compelling features.  As well intentioned as they no doubt were, the Metabolists simply lacked the imagination to foresee the creative synergy of a Santa’s-Village love hotel next to a Shinto shrine around the corner from an internationalist-inspired opffice complex – and a “Piss Alley”-esque squat of shops and restaurants at its base.

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