In the Japan the 1980s, asserting one's identity gained increasing respect and efforts to clearly express one’s individuality were even considered laudable. As society became affluent amid a growing tendency to value one's actual intentions above one's words, assertion of personality rapidly became mainstream.
Against this background, there appeared numerous enterprises which regarded architecture as one more part of their business strategies, generating a tendency to look upon buildings as an object of investment. In so doing they came up with various rationalizations, such as the necessity of fully utilizing vigor in the private sector, expanding domestic demand to eliminate economic friction with other countries, or promoting the globalization of corporate activity. Surplus corporate financial liquidity also contributed to this trend, which triggerd the emergence of the architectural phenomenon that critics have come to call “post-modernism.”
More than a decade ago, some people had already begun to feel that so-called modernism had reached its limits, and architects sensitive to the changing times devoted their attention to increasingly creative activity, groping their way forward to see where the “post-modern” era might lead. They did not band together to assert any specific ideas, nor did they start a movement any sort. In fact, they were simply reacting to the general criticism of modernism.
However, mass media and historians, always fond of discovering trends and blowing them up into “booms,” were quick to conjure up a “post-modernism” boom, thus putting pressure on every architect to work within the framework of this boom. A glance at the offerings of architects at numerous regional expositions throughout Japan in the l980s reveals that architecture became a mere mode of transmitting “information” on “post-modernism”—a pawn in maneuvers to manipulate urban and corporate images.
No matter how much individual architects assert themselves, they are bound to be treated as a “romantic minority” by the awesome forces of economics and politics. Hence, they allowed themselves to be swept by a current of “post-modernism” and devoted themselves to creative work behind a facade of unity.
Things went reasonably well, with these “post-modernist” architects sailing smoothly with the currents of society and the age. Now in the l990s, as whispers are being heard about the end of “post-modernism,” these architects, who exemplified architecture of the l980s, may perhaps be trying to mutually ascertain exactly what identities they themselves have created.
In the city setting, where the physically and mentally strong are constantly vying for power and glory, architects will probably develop the skill5 necessary for their survival and overcome the present buffeting waves without much difficulty.
It was in the second half of the 1970s that a series of buildings representing a departure from what had generally been thought of as “modern architecture” gave rise to the term “post-modern” in Japan. Generally speaking, what occasioned the creation of such buildings was the structural conversion from a society Seared to high economic growth to one of sustained low growth. In the 1970s, Japan's traditional concept of machinami (streets lined with stores and houses) was newly explained as embodying a palpable “harmony” and anonymous cityscapes were created through a uniform visual manipulation based on that idea.
Then “post-modernism” came along and infiltrated the cities as a sort of catalyst, which transformed the concept of machinami into an ideology of “environment.” This led to efforts to create “spaces” in which both humans and buildings assert their “identities.” Various problems, including energy, ecology, coexistence with nature and “limits of technology,” came to attract attention among the general public, inclining people to pause a while to think about their significance. But social currents were not so placid as to allow them to take time out for that. As a result of the “bubble economy” resulting from skyrocketing had prices and the expansion of public works, architecture itself became distorted , presaging the tragedy of “post-modern” architecture in the 1980s.
Various other distortions arising from excessive concentration in metropolitan areas - especially astronomically high land prices - assumed stupendous proportions, and cities, originally created by man, became so bloated and degraded that they escaped his control. Against this background, an incessant “scrap-and-build” process made cities look like something unreal- almost fictitious. Of all the countries in the world, perhaps nowhere are things consumed as fast as in Japan. Indeed, things art consumed almost the moment they are made. The cycle of fashion is only several weeks to three months, while even buildings are “consumed” within 10 years.
In Tokyo, both philosophical language and artistic concepts hare already found their way into the daily lives of the people at large. It's an age in which things that go beyond the rational are preferred.
Avant-garde is no longer avant-garde, and fakes look more real than real things. Even buildings look like superficial billboards.
In Tokyo today the disorderly and the noble stand Side by Side, resisting each other here and oblivious to each other there. The town is so magnanimous, its potential so limitless, that it apparently can tolerate, without resistance, even “guerrilla-like, “ subversive trends which Western mentality could never tolerate, much less dream up. One can feel Tokyo's awesome energy- an energy that makes some believe it can even regenerate nature-and its boundless admiration for technology.
It must be noted, however, that at the moment people began to criticize the homogeneity and uniformity of modernistic theories about cities, differences and diversity started to dominate cities in a commercialized form. Many of the buildings born of the vortex degenerated into expendable “commodities.“
Take two tragic examples that would have been unthinkable in any previous age. First, “Bizan Hall,” a work by ltsuko Hasegawa which earned her the Japan Society of Architecture prize as the year's most outstanding architectural work, was tom down, a victim to the sale of land on which it stood. The second example is Kessho no Iro (Crystal Colors), designed by Masaharu Takasaki. This building, a tool of business strategy, was torn down after about two years during which it was never once treated as an architectural work. Left behind were only some 1,000 drawings and photos of the structure.
These phenomena provide a glimpse into the inherent tendency of the Japanese to be always “on the move” and to respond “as occasion demands.“
Yatai (stalls) - thou temporary, movable structures to be seen everywhere throughout Japan - symbolize the fact that the idea of constant movement and change has helped to energize Japanese cities. Indeed, it can even be argued that cities have been able to survive by leaving no traces of their pasts behind and even forgetting their own history.
The life cycle of Japanese buildings, made of wood, paper and earth from ancient times, has been influenced by the Japanese people’s valuing of the ephemeral as a kind of virtue as well as their theme of coexistence with mother nature. But in today's information- intensive society, buildings have acquired a diversity of meanings that determine their life cycles and eyen when their lives “must” come to an end.
For architects to present any new building paradigms, it will be incumbent upon them to make more fundamental probings of those elements which support architectural expression, including technology, history, society, style, government, city and the masses.
When the “bubble economy” burst at the start of the l990s, various private building projects throughout Japan were forced to slow down. By contrast, projects spearheaded by the central and local governments continue uninterrupted, as if nothing has happened. A majority of the architectural works introduced in the preceding pages represent such projects. In other words, it is the central and local governments that are taking the first step toward creating a rich urban environment on the strength of their highly-informed, flexible systems. This phenomenon, born of the end of “post-modernism” and bolstered by the concepts of “public interest” and “sociality,” will become one of the themes that characterize the 1990s.
Overwhelmed by the tremendous pressures of big cities, Japanese architecture today may appear to be standing bewildered and motionless. But this relative quiescence holds a kind of nostalgic allure, the travelers able to relax after a long journey. Maybe we should think of it as a kind of pause for recharging batteries- in readiness for a new departure.
Written and supervised by Hiroshi Innami 1992/12