Tuesday, March 22, 2005

RIP, Kenzo Tange

Somewhere or other in the material I read today about the late Kenzo Tange I saw that he was 5’ 5”. I remember seeing him at the groundbreaking ceremony in Chicago for the AMA building on State Street in 1989. A tent had been erected for the event just a block north of where I used to work , and I remember that the architect was indeed a short man. I don’t remember exactly, but I think he only said a word or two, perhaps all the English he had, and other dignitaries did the rest of the talking. I didn't see the finished building until much later, since I left Chicago for Osaka while it was under construction. Not a bad piece of modernism, a genre all too often misused.

Coincidentally, my first week in Japan I wandered around Tokyo quite a bit, and rested myself on a park bench within sight of another of his buildings—also under construction at the time, the new Tokyo City Hall. At 48 stories, it dwarfed most of the other buildings around it, since Japanese cities are mostly low rise. I didn’t see that building completed for some years after that, either. It’s an impressively solid design, and stands out in Japan's mostly dreary urban landscape.

I never made a study of his career, so I didn’t realize until today that both the master plan for the 1970 Osaka Expo and the Peace Center in Hiroshima were his as well. The site of the expo is now Expo Park, a pleasant enough place to while away a warm afternoon. The Peace Park buildings, unfortunately, struck me as dated. Very modern in the 1950s, but sterile not long afterward. A much more affecting monument in Hiroshima is the Genbaku Domu (atomic bomb dome), the much-photographed but still haunting ruin with a skeleton dome—the only building I know of that became a ruin in an instant.

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