Japan – world of the future

Japanese do not lack architectural imagination… some of the buildings look like aliens have just landed, while some look like a big joke.

When we think of Japanese architecture, one usually comes to mind their temples and traditional wooden houses that we remember from Kurosawa’s films. In reality, Japan is cross-linked with concrete and steel, probably more than any other rich industrial country. Japanese architecture (and we primarily refer to Tokyo as one) is characterized by the fact that westerners sometimes have a sense of urbanism that gives them the impression of chaos. But looking at buildings that rise above city streets gives the impression that the Japanese do not lack architectural imagination (some would say courage, but we don’t understand why original and extraordinary ideas should be equated with courage). Indeed, some of the buildings look like aliens have just landed, while some look like a big joke. However, one thing is for sure, when there is a new construction project at the pier it will, certainly not be boring.

Four tectonic plates are encountered in Japan, which is why earthquakes are frequent and severe in the area, so the Japanese have almost no building that has withstood for centuries. Most of the famous temples, pagodas, and palaces have been rebuilt from the ashes, so tourists will often admire the Samurai temple, while the building in front of them dates from the sixties of the last century. The Japanese certainly have pretty damn good documentation when they reincarnate their ancient heritage with such ease. The earthquakes and the atomic bombs, as well as the bombing during the war, secured the Japanese with often construction and the opportunity to always try out the newest materials, and follow the latest architectural movements, so it is no wonder, that in Japan we find the breathtaking buildings. Not only because of its magnificence but also because of its completely bold shapes and interventions that profoundly alter the face of the city and leave neither passersby nor residents indifferent. From impressive and strange facades to unusual forms and buildings that sometimes aggressively overwhelm the view. Sometimes their peculiarity is only gradually revealed in the viewer’s eyes. But one thing is for sure – Tokyo is a paradise of modern architecture.


The most modern Tokyo neighborhood

Trapped in its tidy and perfectly organized world without too much outside influence, the Japanese have long been ahead in technology, so it makes sense for architecture to follow this course of progress. Nowhere is this more expressed than in the most modern Tokyo’s neighborhood – Odaiba.

While Tokyo’s old core is a conglomerate of traditional, urban and modern, Odaiba is located on an artificial island built by human hand that flourished in the 1990s, representing exactly how the human race imagined the beginning of the 21st century. The island can be reached via a grand suspension bridge named Rainbow Bridge. It is named after its white columns that glow in different colors at night with built-in reflectors powered by solar energy collected during the day. Just when you think about the amount of pollution that the powerful neon lights and the watery 3D show that takes place in front of the bridge each night, we are surprised by thoughtful performances that should not surprise us when it comes to one of the most rational consumption nations. To them, recycling is as natural as wearing too short flip-flops (it is chic to them).

The one-lane, driverless, overground automated train will take you from Tokyo to Odaiba while giving you a glimpse of the architectural splendor Odaiba has to offer. Yurikamome monorail leaves travelers with the first of a series of magnificent buildings next to which you feel like Alice in Wonderland: Tokyo International Exhibition Center, popularly known as Tokyo Big Sight.

This congress building consists of four upside-down pyramids interconnected by a glass facade and placed on four supporting pillars. When looking at a building, you inevitably have to wonder if the construction workers may have turned the scheme wrong and rolled up their sleeves. The building is located on a plateau of a larger complex. Besides elevators placed in the columns, the upper stories are reachable with the exterior escalators which connect the upper floors with the base. In front of the congress building is an unusual sculpture, Saw-Sawing, which seems to want to cut the city in half – the work of Oldenburg and Van Bruggen (the duo known for oversizing everyday objects into big city sculptures). Its construction also had to meet strict building regulations for earthquake safety.

As in the traditional architecture is used wood, in modern architecture, due to frequent earthquakes, the most commonly used materials are steel and reinforced concrete. For the same security reasons, tall skyscrapers specific to New York or Dubai are hard to see in Tokyo. In this futuristic district is situated Miraikan, Museum of Science and Innovation (literal translation is “Museum of the Future”), headed by astronaut Mamoru Mohri. There is also a Maritime Museum built in the shape of a ship, as well as Palette Town, a small town of intertwined shops and restaurants that houses one of the tallest panoramic wheels in the world. At the Toyota Center on several floors, you can see, among other things, what kind of vehicles Toyota is preparing for the future (and try out electric self-driving cars). In the very unusual Venus Fort shopping mall, you will encounter Japanese kitsch that has come to its fullest glory here – the whole complex is a replica of Venice with artificial skies where every half hour alternates night and day.
The most impressive building in Odaiba, however, is the Fuji Television Building, designed by masterful Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.


Winner of the Pritzker Architecture Award

Kenzo Tange was active in post-war Japan and quickly became interested in urban architecture. He was long under the influence of Le Corbusier and has achieved his first significant work by winning the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Contest. Tange also won the competition in 1965 with his proposal to reconstruct Skopje after a major earthquake that destroyed nearly 80% of the city. He has built all over the world, but most of his works are concentrated in Tokyo, of which the most impressive is the Fuji television building already mentioned. The indulgence, flexibility, and constant change that the observer experiences depending on the position are the main features of this very fascinating and demanding work. The intertwined celestial corridors support a ball that tops the structure, weighing as much as 1,200 tons, measuring 32 meters in diameter. The building coated with aluminum and titanium is specially secured against earthquakes and truly represents one of the masterpieces of world architecture.

Kenzo Tange has built all over the world, but most of his works are concentrated in Tokyo, of which the most impressive is the Fuji television building.

Tange’s oeuvre is great and colorful. Tokyo is also home to one of the few Christian churches. The building was supposed to be a reconstruction of a Gothic-style wooden church that burned down in World War II, but Tange had something completely different in mind. The floor plan of the church reveals the shape of a cross whose tops rise into the air, with the upper arm whose slope angle is maximal, symbolizing the ascent to the sky. The building is lined with stainless steel, which contributes to its elegance, and with the brilliant glare of light, it further aligns its shape with the purpose of the building. Smaller Tange’s projects can be found all over Tokyo, so with the Hanae Mori building, he returns to the aesthetics of the postmodern yet clean lines and neatly structured order with the Sogetsu Kaikan building.

The dynamism of Japanese architecture lies in the intertwining of the new and the old. Because of the so frequent reconstructions of their buildings, they have created a seemingly chaotic mix of styles, although this may not have been their intention. But it is precisely this that enables them not to be ashamed but to draw the best out of that diversity. The view of the Tokyo skyline will not be impressive for its height, but for the richness of human imagination and ideas, as well as the feeling that anything is possible in the absence of restriction. The main praise and merit of Japanese modernism, or better to say futuristic architecture, is that it inspires and convinces us that dreams are possible and that humanity is nevertheless capable and ready for the coming space age.

TEXT & PHOTO – Lora Suljic