Kenzo Tange (1913 – 2005) is a continuously celebrated architect across the globe – but his home country is Japan. Born on Shikoku Island – Tange decided at an early age that architecture intrigued him. According to some versions of his story – a failed design of Le Corbusier’s work sparked an interest in the young Kenzo. In 1938 – he graduated from Tokyo University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. His first job after leaving the university was in the office of Kunio Maekawa, who was said to have been a disciple of Le Corbusier. This did not satisfy Tange for long – seeking higher education he returned to Tokyo University in 1942 for graduate school. From here, he was able to become an assistant professor – and influence a great number of future architects through his power at the university. During his entire adult life after his first degree – the world around him was in turmoil. The second world war was in full swing during his time at the office of Maekawa – and when he entered graduate school. After the war ended in 1945 – Japan was looking to rebuild the areas of destruction from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tange enlisted to present his ideas for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial – a combination of traditional ideals and Le Corbusier’s modernism. After this accomplishment – he went on to design several other buildings – while maintaining his job as a professor until 1974 when he retired from the University of Tokyo.
For the 1964 olympics – Kenzo Tange constructed a series of 5 gymnasiums for the 163 sports that would ultimately be competing for medals. For this structure, he took in the ideals of traditional japanese architecture and his influence of Le Corbusier’s modernism. In this, he created designs that were aesthetically pleasing on the inside and outside, while also creating an open and functionable environment while on the campus. Each design was thoughtfully prepared for the type of competition that was to be had in each of the gyms – and for how the audience was to enter and observe the competitors. He wanted to create a vision of fluidity and light, ensuring that no one felt crammed inside of an arena. It was also stated that the elimination of straight lines brought about a feeling of unity – forcing everyone on the inside to pay attention to bodies around them in a respectful manner – a unified purpose of watching the greatest of the great perform their talents. In this it seemed that he was creating art, rather than just a building or gym.
In my opinion, I feel that the gymnasiums reflect the intentions of the Japanese during that time period. Whilst there is need to hold on to traditional ideals – Japan wanted to essentially show the world that they were a progressive and recovered nation – especially after the chaos of the second world war. To me, I see more modernism – rather than traditional structure – but it appears that this will keep up with the times – at least for the next three decades or so. There is always a question of how well the design will do when its 100th birthday rolls around. As for the topic of functionality and beauty – I believe that this can be taken several ways. In one way, it depends on the type of environment that the piece would be serving. To have something that is not aesthetically pleasing in a city that is counting on tourism from an economic standpoint – an eyesore would definitely have an impact of visitation or residency. On the other hand, if you take the meaning in a figurative way, functionality can also be a component of beauty. Seeing the way a building or system functions, or the simplicity of function, could be beautiful to the observer. With these points both in mind – I see the truth to what Tange stated and I agree with him. I personally love the structure of these gymnasiums. This is one of my favorite designs of the olympic stadiums, mainly because of how he went about designing this piece. Taking into consideration the needs of his nation, and the traditional ideals of his culture, he was able to create a building that is on its way to testing the sands of time. Just coming up on the building’s 56th birthday – and in retrospect to history, this is one movement of progressiveness that brings positivity from a dark past.