Japanese Architecture: Metabolism
Sustainable design is hugely important in Japan because land is very limited – it is a small country with a large population. Between the 1960s and 70s there was a movement called Metabolism.
The architect Kiyonori Kikutake stated:
Unlike the architecture of the past, contemporary architecture must be changeable, moveable and capable of meeting the changing requirements of the contemporary age. In order to reflect dynamic reality, what is needed is not a fixed, static function, but rather one which is capable of undergoing metabolic changes.
These are like changes in the human body, so it’s a metaphor. The buildings became mechanised in almost biological way. An example is the Yamanashi Press and Radio Centre in Kofu (1961-7). It has solid, static service towers, which hold the lifts and give structural support. But the horizontal decks are interchangeable and can be clipped on or removed. So the overall form is changeable.
The Metabolists produced utopian cityscapes in the same way that Modernist architects had done. Arata Isozaki designed a Metabolist housing scheme that never got beyond the model stage (1963). This demonstrates a fantastical use of technology – it is top-heavy and on an almost insane scale. Metabolist works often look like self-indulgent fantasies, using engineering for its own sake. Consequently, many of them could not be built.
A similar thing was achieved at the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo (1972). This was designed by Kisho Kurokawa. It consists of individual flats each in a pre-formed box or capsule, which are then plugged into the superstructure to form this tower. Each capsule is pre-assembled in a factory, including furniture and appliances like phones and televisions. It is then hoisted by crane and fastened onto the concrete shaft.
The capsules are designed for individuals, so if a family wanted to live there it would have to collect several of them. The overall form is not fixed. The units are detachable and the building evolves as people add to it. This is an attempt to create a sustainable architecture using exchangeability and recyclability.