Finally made it to the exhibit!!!
Struggling Cities from Japanese Urban Projects in the 1960s
by Naohiko Hino, Architect and Supervisor of the exhibition
What is a city? There can be no single answer to this question. For over 5,000 years cities have developed all over the world. In each, a unique material culture and lifestyle has formed to reflect local conditions and history. For example, there was a fortress of a city surrounded with walls in preparation for foreign invasion, a market of a city where various people met on trade routes, a city developed by industry, and a city where all the power of the government was concentrated. Thus, cities have been built in various ways.
In the 20th Century, influenced by modernization, cities changed themselves by rather stylized methods. A mesh of modern urban planning covered cities. As if to replace their local culture, cities were rationalized to fit the modern social system, planned according to an ideal based on an archetypal European city.
In the mid-20th Century, only 25 percent of the world's population lived in cities, in 50 years this figure rose to 50 percent. In light of the fact that it took 5,000 years for the urban population grew in the latter-20th century.
This rapid urbanization caused drastic change to cities and forced governments and cities to adapt to new conditions. Modern urban planning is less effective in larger-scale cities because of the difficulty of maintaining organic consistency while overcoming urban problems caused by modernization. Megacities are at the forefront of this problem.
In the 1960s Tokyo became a megacity. The population reached 20 million and continued growing rapidly. Newspapers were filled with articles about the problems caused by modernization: traffic congestion, pollution, housing shortages and sinking ground. In order to find a way out of these critical situations and to renovate the city, Japan mobilized industrial productivity during a high-growth period of its economy. In response to this increase in momentum, architects announced quite ambitious urban projects through mass media such as TV programs, newspapers and magazines. The project aroused the interests of a public caught in the waning mood of the times, a people that still believed modernization's promise of a brilliant future.
Representative examples are Kenzo Tange's "A Plan for Tokyo - 1960", projects proposed by the Metabolists, a group that included the four architects Kiyonori Kikutake, Masato Ohtaka, Fumihiko Maki and Kisho Kurokawa, and Arata Isozaki's "Cities in the Air". Although they were announced in tandem, in their details these projects have different meanings. Tange made a rational and systematic response to the problems. The Metabolists used fear of crisis as a springboard for proposing progressive images of future cities. Isozaki thought that an essential problem existed in the fact that cities came to refuse urban planning itself. The differences between these projects emphasize the changing consensus from the modern to the contemporary age. The times steadily moved toward skepticism about modernism.
While none of these projects were realized in Japan, globally many urban plans by architects were implemented and modern cities emerged such as Brasilia by Locio Costa, the capital cities of Nigeria and Macedonia by Kenzo Tange, and Chandigarh by Le Corbusier. In most cases the architect's intentions were not fully realized. Part of a given city would be built to plan only to be surrounded by chaotic areas. As such it's ambitious city planning was unstable and failed to keep its consistency. This reality reveals the essential difficulty in modern urban planning, which Isozaki pointed out; it's extremely difficult to set visions for idealized cities and share the visions with people, and then realized them consistently.
Rather than difficult, urban planning may simply be unnecessary. Tokyo serves as a good example. Thinking back to the critical atmosphere of the 1960s, it's significant that today few of its citizens are aware of Tokyo as the largest megacity in the world. They merely feel inconvenience with that huge Tokyo. There is no vision of an ideal shape or consistency for Tokyo, it looks like an impromptu patchwork. The reality of Tokyo shows that expanded megacities can be functional.
So far as these megacities are concerned, why does ideal vision or consistency matter?
In some sense, cities resemble living things. Figuratively speaking, Tokyo is a self-indulgent creature tending towards schizophrenia. Why did this happen? It's hard to tell where Tokyo's unique characteristics end and where general characteristics of megacities begin. As stated above, other megacities continue to grow according to their own characteristic identities. We can at least recognize that like Tokyo, many megacities have a patchy structure in which old cities overlap new ones, and planned areas are adjacent to unplanned.These patchy structures exhibit a flexibility suggesting that development aimed at meeting practical needs is more efficient thatn building cities to strictly rational plans. It may sound strange, but it seems to be a natural fact that megacities themselves are irrational.
It's not easy to plan new city blocks to have true organic relationships which existing urban context. If new blocks are only planned to be in harmony which the rest of the city, cities as a whole would fall into things of the past. To keep cities active, it's necessary to have projects that can continually revitalize the context of a city. In this regard, Tokyo has few good examples to show. Even if we recognize Tokyo as a self-networking system with multiple variables, we are still searching for a way to lead and support the system. Facing the reality that many megacities are shifting to patchwork-like structures, it's clearly nonsense to consider cities as extensions of tree structures. A new vision for cities is needed, one which can connect unrelated things and create a new organism. This is a big and challenging problem for us.
Our understanding of architecture and cities has been depressed by Globalism and Neo-Liberalism. We need a vision that can release us from this depression and allow us to take the next step. We need to build momentum in order to develop cities with identify out from under of these banners of universalism.