CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE ARCHITECTURE: 1985-1996

30 April, 2002 - 15 May, 2002, Vilnius Picture Gallery
17 May, 2002 - 31 May, 2002, Klaipeda Picture Gallery

This exhibition introduces contemporary Japanese architecture from a recent ten-year period. The first part of that period coincided with an era of economic prosperity in Japan, and the architectural world too was full of life. However, a bubble economy fed by abnormal growth developed, and architecture followed suit with designs characterized by excess. Eventually, of course, the bubble burst. Today, the banquet is over and severe social conditions prevail.
The Japanese have engaged in a great deal of sober reflection since then, but the bubble era is not entirely to be repudiated, since it opened up many new possibilities for architecture and culture in general. Architecture must choose a new direction, for there is no turning back. Nevertheless, architects continue to make use of the experience gained in the bubble era, and the diversity of architectural expression that was achieved then is now maintained on reduced budgets. This demonstrates that architecture is a part of culture and not driven entirely by the
economy.
With respect to the organization of this exhibition, the transformations that took place in architectural design in the short ten-year period have been recorded in straightforward fashion. The works have been divided into seven categories - “metropolises”, “medium-size cities”, “towns and villages”, “suburbs”, “reclaimed land”, “countryside”, and “resort areas” - in order to better show how architectural expression responded to changes in social conditions in Japan. These are not only geographical but social classifications. They provide a better understanding of the nature of Japan and its architecture today.
It is hoped that this exhibition vvill communicate not only the surface aspects of architectural design but the fact that architecture is the product of climate, society, and, especially, the times.

The Japan Foundation
Architectural Institute of Japan

Tokyo Institute of Technology Centennial Hall (Design - Kazuo Shinohara; 1987)Metropolises (Capital Region, Kansai Region)
The vitality of Japanese architecture is most apparent in metropolises such as the Capital Region, of which Tokyo is a part, and the Kansai region, to which Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe belong. Any description of them is apt to include words such as 'confusion' and 'energy'. The majority of the population are concentrated in these metropolises and live as uprooted strangers. Large amounts of capital are invested in land and buildings. In districts where the flow of capital is intense, the money invested in a commercial building may be recovered in just a few years. The building may be torn down to make way for something else even though it has not yet reached the end of its lifespan. These circumstances are reflected in the landscape. Everything is ephemeral and mirage-like. Architectural designs are highly conceptual, provocative and self-assertive, but they cannot help but be artificial. After the bursting of the bubble economy, land prices fell. Today, vacancies abound because of an oversupply of offices and housing and reinforce the eerie quality of Japanese metropolises. However, that vacuum is itself indicative of the enormous energy metropolises possess.

Medium-size cities
The majority of Japanese cities are medium in size and have a population of several hundred thousand persons. They include many cities that evolved from castle towns. Typically, a feudal castle town had a concentric structure. In the middle was the castle, built on a hill and surrounded by samurai residences. This spatial organization survived in the modern era and remains in place even today. Public buildings such as city assembly buildings, prefectural government buildings, libraries and educational facilities are constructed in such central locations. This produces an environment that is easy to understand and human in scale. In a city of this kind, finances are not strained to such an extent that the municipality is dependent on subsidies, and speculative land development does not threaten to create chaotic conditions. The local government exercises control over its own destiny. Such cities, with their stability, human scale and neighborhood relationships, constitute for many Japanese the primary world of experience.

SYNTAX, Shop (1990) Art Tower Mito (Cultural complex: art gallery, theater, concert hall, observation tower), 1990 Toyota Municipal Museum of Art (1995)

Towns and villages
There are also many towns and villages in Japan with a population of several thousand persons. Such areas are blessed in their natural environment, but they have only small-scale industries at best and would have difficulty maintaining their environment without subsidies. Many youths move to metropolises to seek better opportunities. As in metropolises, a sense of community is difficult to maintain, but for entirely different reasons. The aging of the population exacerbates the problem. In the name of 'town development' or 'village development', such municipalities nurture local industries, plan various projects and buildings that might attract tourists, and make efforts to create a more attractive regional environment. Measures are devised at various levels, from the local government to the prefectural government, so that municipalities might survive. Construction is not simply a means to an end but a matter of life or death for a town or village. In the case of one community center, the cost of construction came to a million yen per resident. Construction obviously takes on much greater significance in such a context.

Nasunogahara Harmony Hall (1994, Otawara, Tochigi) Shimosuwa Municipal Museum and Akahiko Memorial Museum (1993, Nagano)

Suburbs
The process by which suburbs have been formed in Japan is not very different from that in Europe. The 'Garden City' ideas of Ebenezer Howard were quickly translated into Japanese, and developments such as Den'enchofu were begun. Cities were places with bad environments, and people moved to the suburbs to escape their harmful influence. The creation of bedroom towns in the outskirts of cities and the growth of cities as these suburbs absorbed additional population are phenomena that have occurred throughout the world. The extremely powerful desire of the Japanese to live in their own detached houses has produced distinctive landscapes. Even now the suburbs remain laboratories for exploring new forms of community and new relationships with the environment that take into account the impact
of buildings on the scenery. However, the suburbs may not continue to display such vitality in the future. The Japanese are having fewer children, and statistics forecast a decline in the population of Japan in the 21st century.

Shinchi Housing- A (1991, Kumamoto, Kumamoto) Waseda University-School of Human Sciences (1987, Tokorozawa, Saitama) Rokko Housing II (1993, Kobe, Hyogo)

Reclaimed land
Since the feudal period, those in power in Japan have undertaken reclamation. Sea transportation was a major part of the infrastructure in feudal Japan, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Osaka and Tokugawa leyasu in Edo carried out reclamation projects toNippon Convention Center "Makuhari Messe" (1989, Chiba, Chiba) construct harbor facilities and areas for commoners that were essential to cities. They thus laid the foundation for their authority. Special international significance was also attached to reclaimed areas, as witnessed by the foreign settlement on the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki. Such arrangements have survived into the modern and contemporary periods. Harbor facilities and factories such as steel manufacturing plants and oil refineries essential to modern industry have been located on reclaimed land. The construction of key facilities such as office buildings, exhibition halls and airports on reclaimed land in the 1980s was in a sense also in keeping with a long, centuries-old tradition. Japanese cities in fact depend on reclaimed land. However, that brings with it problems. Reclamation work consumes an enormous amount of energy, damages the natural environment and in many cases is tied to vested interests. Japan is an island nation that does not share a border with any other country, and reclaimed land represents for it a frontier, a place fantastic in character that is cut off from the existing landscape.

Countryside
The city and the countryside were once considered antithetical concepts. The idea behind the Garden City was that the city is an evil place where the air is polluted and morality is in crisis and the countryside is a good place blessed with nature. However, today, when everything has become urbanized, the countryside perhaps ought to be understood, not as a specific place, but a certain cast of mind, one that is oriented toward the landscape and scenery. The bubble era of the 1980s was characterized by the consumption of signs, in the sense that architects indulged themselves in allusions to architectural styles of the past. The 1990s have seen a heightened awareness of the environment and greater interest in the relationship between scenery or the landscape and architecture. The world is no longer considered merely an architectural construct. Architecture is seen as only one part of the entire environment, a part that must moreover be reconciled to the whole. In that sense, it is interesting that many cultural, religious and industrial facilities are among the works that demonstrate a careful consideration of the relationship between architecture and the environment or scenery. A consciousness of scenery now signifies a distinctive state of mind.

Kihoku Astronomical Museum (1995, Kagoshima) Hahrukaburi Kisokama Yataimura, shop (1991, Nagano) Water Temple (1991, Awaji Island, Hyogo)

Resort areas
The idea of resorts was introduced into Japan by Europeans during the era of modernization, though traditional antecedents exist. In the 17th century, the abdicated emperor Hotel Kawakyu (1991, Wakayama) Go-Mizunoo constructed Shugakuin Detached Palace and Prince Toshihito of the Hachijo no Miya family and his son Prince Toshitada built Katsura Detached Palace for the purpose of artistic diversions such as flower-viewing, moon-viewing, poetry and music. At the end of the 19th century, Aritomo Yamagata built Murin'an in Kyoto and integrated the architecture and the garden. Spas such as Beppu, Hakone and Atami have existed from olden times. In the Kanto region, resort areas first developed when foreigners built retreats in highlands such as Karuizawa to escape the hot Japanese summer. Today retreats are becoming even more mass-oriented. They are becoming an industry tied to leisure activities such as golfing, yachting and skiing. As a result, when large real estate companies spend enormous amounts of capital to develop new resort areas, the result is apt to be the destruction of the environment and the creation of expensive, short-term retreats such as resort hotels. Companies are looking for an efficient way to recover their investment. The enactment of the so-called “Resort Law” in 1987 promoted this trend. The last ten years have seen the large-scale development of resort areas and some second thoughts about the wisdom of such projects.

 

  Lithuanian Art Museum, Fund of Samogitian Culture, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics 
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