Japan Architecture Part I
Architectural historiography relating to modern and contemporary Japanese production takes into consideration, from 1868 to today, at least three distinct phases concerning: the first the Meiji period (1868-1912); the second the period between the two world wars, and finally the third phase which begins after World War II and takes us to today.
This schematization is connected to precise stages in the political, economic, social, history of customs, etc., and consequently proposes in itself the parameters according to which Western and Japanese critics have analyzed the architectural production in Japan span of about a century. These three periods in fact correspond to the stages of a progressive intertwining of Japanese economic and cultural interests with Western ones, according to a progression that, after World War II, led Japan to place himself in the most advanced positions in the economic, cultural and political area. typical of countries with industrial and technological development of the Western model.
As regards architectural production more closely, this has meant that the critical analyzes have been aimed at highlighting above all the themes that are more closely linked to the problems of Euro-American architecture, so that, on the whole, Japanese production is was considered a particular chapter, closely interconnected. The new generation of Japanese critics have placed themselves on the same level (we mention E. Inagaki, N. Kawazoe, M. Tajima and all the collaborators of The Japan architect magazine, the main organ of diffusion of Japanese architecture in the West), and The best of the Japanese architects of recent years actively participate in the international debate connected with the events and developments of the modern movement in architecture.
And this, as well as with their works, also in university teaching, in publications, in congresses and competitions of an international nature and in general on all occasions for exchange. Japanese architects have also frequently obtained architectural and urban design assignments in European, American and so-called developing Third World countries.
The Meiji phase (1868-1912) corresponds to the consequences of the opening of the Japan to Euro-American markets and the establishment in Japan of western residents. The themes of this period therefore refer, above all, to residential, hotel, commercial and office construction, as well as to the construction of Western religious buildings.
According to HEALTHINCLUDE, the cities involved are those affected by the new trade relations, in particular Tokyo. We remember the Tsukiji Hotel (1868) and the headquarters of the Mitsui Company (1872) by K. Shimizu. Later, from 1870, two Western architects, Th. J. Waters and J. Conder, initiated the training of Japanese architects. The first fired from the Imperial School were in 1879. Meanwhile, the government initiative, entrusted to Waters, to build the so-called “brick district” in the Ginza district, destined to become one of the main arteries of modern Tokyo, in connection with the new terminal station of the Yokohama-Tokyo railway.
At the end of the century, also German architects appeared in Japan who introduced the Neo-Renaissance style of their country. Obviously, this first age of Japanese-Western relations results in a direct importation of fashions and techniques. The colonial character is made evident not only by the typology and the search for Western models and stylistic features, but also by the fact that Japanese architects at the turn of the century (such as M. Katayama, K. Tatsuno, T. Niinomi, Y. Watanabe) can operate only in the provinces, while European architects focus on Tokyo. The exception is Katayama who, having become a sort of court architect, built numerous palaces and the museum in Nara and Kyoto.
In the second phase, between the two world wars, 1923 (year of the great earthquake that destroyed Tokyo and Yokohama) or 1926, the end of the Taisho period (1912-1926), can indicate the date of the start of a process of empowerment of Japanese architects in the construction and reconstruction of the country. Three important episodes constitute the premise. The first, the construction of the Hotel Imperiale by F. Ll. wright (1918), although it marks a fundamental stage in the history of architecture in general, lacks an effective impact on Japanese architectural culture, except for some sporadic mimetic attempts. The second episode is the installation in Japan, in 1921, of a European architect, A. Raymond, who, with his operational continuity, determines a notable influence on young Japanese architects. The third episode, perhaps more decisive, is the series of contacts that prof. K. Imai establishes with W. Gropius, L. Mies Van der Rohe, B. Taut and Le Corbusier.
While Taut himself took up residence in Japan, starting from 1933, K. Maekawa and J. Sakakura worked for some years in Le Corbusier’s studio. Thus the architects who, starting from 1923, first founded the Shinko Kenchikuka Remmei group and later the Nihon Kosaku Bunka Remmei (H. Kishida, S. Horiguchi, K. Ichiura, K. Maekawa, Y. Taniguchi, S. Koike) constitute, through Maekawa, the autonomous pole of the modern movement in Japan.