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Walter Gropius (Bauhaus Manifesto, 1919): ‘Together we will want, think up, and create the new building of the future, which will be everything in one shape: architecture and sculpture and painting which from millions of hands of craftsmen will rise once towards the heavens as a crystal symbol of a new coming belief.’

Sony Tower (1976)

Kisho Kurokawa is a Japanese architect/town planner most well known for the Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972) and the Sony Tower (1976). He is of interest to me (and should be to everyone) as his concepts make him a predecessor of ‘fluid’ architecture, which is endlessly updated by the occupants’ lifestyle/work, technological developments and the property market. He founded the Metabolist movement in 1960, the key principle being Symbiosis. Moving away form the centralised prototype of the European city (centralised squares for example), it was a radical vision of cities without centres, a web of decentralised cells or modules. Metabolism proposed building spaces and structures in relation to metabolistic structures, which constantly undergo the process of growth, change, circulation and recycling. It was a Symbiosis of culture, design and nature (a biological, relative and variable model) versus Modernism (a mechanical, industrial model). His description of the future of architecture was Abstract Symbolism, the abstract being the global, information society we now live in and the symbolism reflecting local beliefs and culture. Sorry for the long quote below but he makes some really valid points in regards to modernism.

Kurokawa on Bauhaus and Modernism: ‘Bauhaus was a reform movement which introduced Modernism into architecture. It was directed against the then academism, which was dominated by neoclassicism. They continued to fight against the academism as such and in the end their style dominated the architecture of the following period such that Bauhaus itself has now become an academism. Today we present-day architects fight against the new academism or Modernism, which really has become over powerful. This is because with my symbiotic thinking I oppose the fact that the so-called International Style that arose from modernism has to be carried over everywhere throughout the world independent of the culture of the particular country, right into the last jungle.

What academism did later incorporate from Modernist architecture was simply the construction style, which was then spread world-wide in the next generation in the name of Modernism and the International Style. However, that was fundamentally industrialism, having little in common with the original Bauhaus. Since then, this industrial style determines 99% of public buildings, as you can see there outside the window.’

Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972)

The modular construction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower was the world’s first example for capsule architecture built for actual use. Prefabricated capsules were attached or plugged into two circulation towers with built in stairwells and elevators, making it possible to exchange, replace and convert the components according to need. From the outside, the tower looks like a bunch of giant washing machines stacked together or a space station somewhere far away. The interior gives one the feeling of being in a submarine or a space capsule but the important point to consider here is the lack of space in most urban environments. Of course, looking at these structures today, they seem in a state of disrepair even though the highest-level technology and materials were used so the concept hasn’t taken off entirely. The design and feel might seem monotonous but it is the concept of individual elements linked to a single, asymmetrical, free form, growing structure that sticks in the mind.

Kisho Kurokawa: ‘The architecture of Metabolism was based on the image of a living cell. That image encompasses notions of growth, division, exchange, transformation, autonomous parts, deconstruction, temporariness, recycling, rings ad a dynamic stability. Capsule architecture was an architectural expression of the living cell.’

Of course, Kurokawa has been involved in many other projects worth discussing, especially the relationship between architecture and nature in his work. Or man made ‘second nature’, an intermediary space where the indoors and outdoors, past and present and universal and local meet. I think his ideas are very relevant in the 21st century and beyond, particularly the notions of cultural identity and sustainability. I haven’t read it but Kurokawa’s book ‘Each One a Hero: The Philosophy of Symbiosis (1997)’ seems to be the book to get if you want to delve any further.

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