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steel design

Out on the south-west edge of Tokyo is Kamakura, a place of temples, and the Museum of Modern Art. It is by Junzo Sakakura. He's dead now but he worked for Le Corbusier in Paris in the 1930s. There's a lovely photo of Sakakura showing Le Corbusier round the building. Corb has a slightly sour look on his face - which I've always taken to be a little case of professional jealousy at his former assistant producing such a simple, beautiful thing.

I like it because it's a very elegant pavilion which defies, but doesn't hide, its very low cost. It was built during the post-war period when Japan was extremely poor. There is a bit of worm-eaten marble around the base, but both the stone and the tacky cement-board panelling of the upper levels are obviously hung on a steel frame which is sometimes (but not always) exposed. You know that the walls will go 'bonggggggg!' if you knock them - meaning that it feels like a steel building. Mies van de Rohe's buildings tend to go 'kthmp'.

The steel frame is not especially celebrated in the building in the sense that it's not pushed in your face - but it just permits the building to feel fresh and light, and allows the walls to have the character of thinness (and tackiness) that is usually found in traditional Japanese architecture.

It's a great little building, and, as with most great little buildings around the world, it's permanently under the threat of demolition and replacement by something more heavyweight and heavy-handed. It's a fate which is being staved off for the moment by 'maintain-it' campaigners (as opposed to 'preservation' campaigners), and by Japan's timely economic implosion.

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