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Professor Il Kim Researches Yukari Cultural Kindergarten, Tokyo

Yukari Cultural Kindergarten

This summer I will be at Tokyo University of the Arts as a visiting scholar, conducting research on the kindergarten building designed by Kenzo Tange.  

Tange was one of the most influential architects in the post World War II era not only in Japan but also in the international context of architectural movements.  Today he is best known as the architect of Tokyo Olympic Arenas (Yoyogi National Stadium, 1964), for which he was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1987.  

A children’s room

A children’s room

Invited to CIAM (Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne) in 1951, Tange joined the young architects who criticized the Athens Charter (Chartre d’Athènes) published in 1943.  The Charter was based on Le Corbusier’s urban planning concept “Radiant City” (Ville radieuse) which showed no sympathy toward existing historical urban settings.  In 1959 Tange attended Team X where he presented new architectural developments in Japan, including Kiyonori Kikutake’s proposal “Marine City,” a scheme of inhabitable pods attached to vertical shafts.  The scheme had a great impact on Western urban design movements in the 1960s, particularly Archigram in the UK.  In his Tokyo Bay Plan (1960) and in his speech delivered at the Tokyo World Design Conference (1960), Tange deployed the concept of “cell” and of “metabolism” in urban design, accommodating the life cycle (birth, growth, and decay) of a city.  This led to the birth of the Metabolism movement in Japan.  In urban planning, Metabolists proposed large scale artificial terrains and infrastructure (whether built on land or water) while individual buildings tended to have primary structures such as vertical and/or horizontal core(s) clustered with flexible, changeable secondary structures, often built with a module.  (Metabolism should be understood as an amalgamation of the Japanese traditional view of nature, Japanese traditional architecture, and Western architecture and urban planning developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.)

Covered walkways

Covered walkways

Tange’s Yukari Cultural Kindergarten was designed in the early 1960s.  It is located in a suburb of Tokyo, Seijo, whose design laid out in the 1920’s was based on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept.  It was a neighborhood favored by intellectuals and artists.  The kindergarten was opened at the end of World War II by a progressive couple, Matao Fujita, a Surrealist painter, and his wife, Taeko.  Taeko Fujita, daughter of the prominent composer Ryutaro Hirota, was a classically-trained musician and painter who had spent her childhood in 1920s Berlin, studying both music and modern dance.  The Fujitas visited Tange who was living in Seijo at that time in order to ask for an introduction to an architect who might design a new kindergarten building for them.  Tange, already involved in many projects, including the Yoyogi National Stadium, was impressed by the couple and offered his help.  Following that first meeting Tange frequented the kindergarten (ten minutes walk from his home) for a full year before starting his initial designs.  He observed the couple’s very unusual and very progressive approach to early childhood education which consisted primarily of children, aged from 3 to 5 years, alternatively singing and dancing to music composed by Taeko or immersing themselves in unregulated art making with various materials led by her husband Matao.

Tange’s design for the kindergarten was unprecedented.  Taking advantage of the slope of the site, he proposed two tiers of fan-shaped artificial terraces on which pre-fabricated pre-cast concrete panels of walls and roofs were assembled.  With each room being a free-standing unit and connected to other units by covered walkways, there was little distinction between interior and exterior.  Outside terraces seamlessly extended from the walkways, providing areas for children to paint, to play, and to look at picture books.  Light permeated much of the building, but Tange who was interested in Surrealism and Primitivism intentionally inserted dark, mysterious corners here and there that varied the kinds of spaces experienced within the building.  While walls and ceilings were painted white, the wood mullions of the glass walls surrounding the rooms were carefully composed in Mondrianesque patterns and painted brown.  Concrete floors were divided into geometrical patterns, and many areas were covered with polished pebbles, evoking paths in a Japanese tea-ceremony garden.

Plan

Plan

There has been revived interest in Metabolism and Metabolists, including Tange, since the publication by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist of Project Japan: Metabolism Talks…An Oral history by Koolhaas and Obrist documenting the first non-Western avantgarde movement in architecture and the last moment that architecture was a public rather a private affair…(Taschen, 2011)  The year 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the completion of initial stage of the building.  

I will conduct archival research at both the Yukari Cultural Kindergarten and Tange Associates’ office this summer in order to record the history of this unique building and the cultural context within which Tange conceived the design.  The outcome of this research will be an extended essay.

Faculty: